The Alimond Show

Farris Saber - Antiques & Furniture Restoration Inc

March 28, 2024 Alimond Studio
The Alimond Show
Farris Saber - Antiques & Furniture Restoration Inc
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

From the bustling markets of Egypt to the artistic enclave of Sterling, DC, our latest episode weaves a captivating narrative around a family's journey in nurturing a furniture restoration business to its flourishing state today. When a skilled craftsman embarked on a trek across the world, little did he know that his passion for precision would lay the groundwork for a legacy. Join us as his son takes us through their story, revealing how a blend of old-world artisanship and fresh, digital-age marketing is reinventing the family business.

This week, our candid discussion delves into the heartbeat of a company where every brushstroke tells a story, with our guest detailing the meticulous care that goes into restoring each piece of furniture. But it's not just about the past; it's also about securing the future. The business’s voyage towards new horizons, including a possible expansion back to where it all began – New York – is a testament to the dream that drives this family. Our conversation uncovers the delicate dance of honoring a father's craftsmanship while embracing the son's vision for growth, set against the ever-changing tapestry of consumer tastes.

As we wrap up, the episode takes an intimate turn through the cultural mosaic that shapes business and social interactions, contrasting Egyptian warmth with American efficiency. We delve into practical strategies for navigating today's digital marketplace, including the shift away from subscription-based web services. And for a tantalizing teaser, we offer a glimpse of the 'Automat Inspired' chair, a symbol of innovation in a craft steeped in tradition. Tune in for an episode that's as much a celebration of family heritage as it is a masterclass in entrepreneurial resilience.

Speaker 1:

You guys have a family business. Yeah, yeah, who was it? Who's all involved in it?

Speaker 2:

So my dad started it when he came here to New York it was like 1991. Ok, and he worked for a guy. He was an Italian guy.

Speaker 1:

Well, he came to New York from where Egypt.

Speaker 2:

Ok, yeah, so we used to do refinishing, mostly just selling in Egypt. So they had, like we had a store in Egypt, a really small one. We would sell antique furniture.

Speaker 1:

OK.

Speaker 2:

And my dad had a passion for it. So when he came here to New York 1991, he was like OK, let me go back to what I know. So he worked for a guy he was an Italian guy and he taught him everything he knows about, like refinishing pole streaks, everything in the craft. And after a while my dad spent six years there and then he was like OK, it's time for me to continue to make my own legacy. So he came to how many years? Six years Six that's 60.

Speaker 1:

I'm like wait a second.

Speaker 2:

No, no, six years. Yeah, yeah, six years. So yeah, he came to DC and started a shop in Sterling.

Speaker 1:

Why DC?

Speaker 2:

I think the main reason was because it was stability and because of kids, Because the schooling system in New York at that time I think you wanted to stay away from it. So he was like, let me get those things.

Speaker 1:

I'm going to stay cool and calm yeah.

Speaker 2:

So, yeah, he came here and then he started it and actually he was an apprentice to the Italian guy. So the guy actually came and helped him for about a few years, helped him start out the business, and then so they had a good relationship. Yeah, a very good relationship. Yeah, he looked up to him.

Speaker 1:

Nice, yeah, that's so cool. And now, how did you enter the fixture?

Speaker 2:

So I've always been around, like I've always been helping, so I've always been like just helping for free. Sometimes too, when I was a kid, I was taking the deliveries, the child labor.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it was crazy, but it's OK, it's my parents. So, yeah, I always helped him around and I was in college and I was doing my own thing. I was doing marketing, a lot of content creation, and I was like, why don't I just implement this into my dad's business at the same time? So I just graduated, like a semester ago and I was like, let me just go more effort into this. So I decided to help him out and yeah, it's been pretty good.

Speaker 1:

So what are?

Speaker 2:

you doing so I do everything now. So, yeah, I'm kind of implementing everything. I used to just help him with pickups and deliveries, but now it's like I run the business with him. I do the marketing, I do the website. I made the whole website myself Videos, reels, just everything. I'm trying to expand it in that sense of social media presence.

Speaker 1:

OK. So what is your dad doing now? What?

Speaker 2:

part of the city you play. He's still, he likes doing work himself. He is like so yeah, he's a really strong.

Speaker 1:

He's got that air of blood. My dad's from Iraq.

Speaker 2:

Oh, really, that's awesome. Yeah, that's awesome, my dad.

Speaker 1:

He's like the traditional car salesman.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. He still wants to like sell and he has a passion for it.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, he's like, because he actually lives on our property. When I bought my house, I made sure that there was another house for him.

Speaker 2:

Because that's the way we do it. You know our culture.

Speaker 1:

And he's like can I just start buying cars and putting them here in the driveway? I'm like no dad, that's a neighborhood.

Speaker 2:

And that drive never ends. They always just want to work. Right, that's right, yeah, yeah. So my dad just loves working. He loves doing all the work himself and he's a perfectionist. So sometimes he'll get something done. I'll see it like it's beautiful, perfect, everything. But he'll be like, OK, there's something wrong with it and I can't see it and the customer won't be able to see either. But with him it's like there's something wrong with it, so I got to fix it. He does the whole thing over again.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, you're like, that wasn't necessary. That ate into our bottom line, dad.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, of course.

Speaker 1:

So what do you see? The future of the business.

Speaker 2:

Truthfully, I want to expand it, so that's what I'm trying to do. I just want to get it to a point where it's very productive. But it's also hard because in the crafts, where you have to refinish stuff and it's an art piece, so every piece is like another piece of art, so you have to make sure it's perfect. The customers need the same time, so you don't want to expand too much where you're pushing the perfectionist side and you're going more for like a contractor type of work. So it's very hard because it's like we have to find the right people to do the work, so we can't have this is going to say if it's not your dad doing it, do you have other people that are helping?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, we have about four people with us right now. Yeah, we've been a poster man, but everyone's one-to-one, so our poster man is only one person. And the reason he's one person is because we can't really find a poster man Like we've had multiple other poster men, but he does a perfect job, like he's also like my perfectionist, so if he's one thing wrong, he does the whole thing and that's like the quality way to keep up.

Speaker 1:

Are you charging appropriately for that type of artistic work? Yeah, of course. Okay, good, Of course yeah, okay, yeah.

Speaker 2:

And then the refinishing my dad's on top of that and I got to learn that soon too, but I'm more in the business, I don't know yeah and yeah. And then the chair I bought outside that's a, that's Kane, so we caned that chair and we also refinished it.

Speaker 1:

Some of the story behind that chair.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, a customer brought it and they were just saying like it's a very old piece and my dad, he has a vision for it, he has an eye for it. She's like this is an Ottoman piece. The way it's low on the floor, the way it's built, there's like certain carvings, you can tell this is like an Ottoman times. And the customer was like, yeah, you're actually correct. And so, yeah, very, very important to them, so we're taking our time with it right now.

Speaker 1:

So they brought it to you for you guys to refinish it.

Speaker 2:

Yes, and Kane it.

Speaker 1:

Okay, kane it. What is this? You got to explain this to the like. Dumb it down.

Speaker 2:

So it's like you know what the C is at right now when you sit. That's like the Kane part. Okay, so that is actually a seagrass. Okay, that's the material we use for caning.

Speaker 1:

How do you get these materials?

Speaker 2:

I'm not too sure that's our King guy. Our King guy is just everything's authentic and everything's authentic we obviously it's not from the Ottoman times, but yeah but they're restoring it, yeah, restoring it to the how they would build it at that point in that time period, yeah.

Speaker 1:

Very cool. Yeah, that's so cool. That's that's especially in the day and age of Ikea, and you know yeah. I forgot the other name of the story, where you just buy everything online. Now, in terms of, you said you want it to grow. You're saying like to sell more pieces. Are you saying to attract a different market? That has.

Speaker 2:

I'm definitely trying to attract a different market, because right now it's every piece is by itself and I want to be able to do more projects in like in a year than we're currently doing.

Speaker 1:

What type of projects do you want to be doing?

Speaker 2:

Honestly, doors. I really enjoy doors, because doors are fun, because it's very, very simple for me to do it as myself. You take the door, you finish it and then you drop it back off.

Speaker 1:

You're talking about like a door.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, like a door, like a wood door, like a front door, okay, like there's some like embassy doors where they're Embassy doors.

Speaker 1:

Okay, this is different than like just a regular.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, no, it's a solid like big door. So, okay, yeah, I enjoy that personally. Okay, other things there's carving, so like when there's a, say, a dresser, there's a bunch of carving and stuff that takes a lot more time. So if we do something that is shorter, a shorter period of time, you can do more projects in a longer period.

Speaker 1:

Do you feel like you're being taught like the skill set from your dad?

Speaker 2:

You know what I mean Almost like preserving like a family legacy. It's definitely frustrating. It's definitely frustrating because he wants to teach me everything like the way he thinks it. But there's like a little conflict in there because I think stuff differently and he thinks stuff differently and he recognizes that at points it's definitely hard to access you with a Egyptian dad. They're very, very, very.

Speaker 1:

Very specific, yeah, and they're cheap. This is obviously a not everybody, but very like specific with how they teach you.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, they want you to know it perfectly, exactly. Yeah, but they're good parents. They're good parents for sure. Yeah, he's a good dad.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so in terms of like, if you weren't doing this, if you were doing something that was unrelated to this family business, what would you be doing?

Speaker 2:

Definitely marketing. I used to do a lot of marketing when I was in college so we would do like even photography, content creation. We'd go to dentists in the area and we would do headshots videos. We did a couple hook up hook-a-lounge just in the area.

Speaker 1:

That's a lot of them.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, I did a couple of them, and but in that space I feel like marketing is also very, very saturated, like a lot of people are doing it, so there's not very many people that know how to do it well.

Speaker 2:

I agree. Yeah, of course, but it's very saturated in a way where, like, If I put this amount of time into it right now, I need to dedicate all my time to it. I can't be focused on my dad's business at the same time doing marketing, because marketing is a lot SEO. There's so many factors to it. We had to fill the funnel. Yeah, funnel, social media, everything yeah.

Speaker 1:

Get all the behind the scenes.

Speaker 2:

Website creation. There's a lot of factors, I know. Yeah, it's not easy.

Speaker 1:

That's why I think it's brilliant. So I always say this to people that are like I love marketing, I want to go get a marketing job. I'm like, eh, why don't you find a product or a service that you can do a really good job marketing? Because that's where the money is going to be. It's because then it's going to pay off. It's because then you're not being paid X amount dollars per hour but you can sell a thousand units a week Because of your marketing skills. Well, that's where you're going to make that money.

Speaker 2:

That's skill set not and at your own rate too.

Speaker 1:

Yes, correct, whatever you put in.

Speaker 2:

That's the goal. True, that's right.

Speaker 1:

So, in terms of 100 years down the line, which is a long time, I know where do you see the business.

Speaker 2:

Truth be, I want to expand it to get to New York at one point. I know it's like a long time from now, but it would be cool 100 years.

Speaker 1:

I mean, yeah, it's, you could do it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

What do you mean by in New York too?

Speaker 2:

So I want to be able to do like the East Coast, like we would do refinishing for the whole East Coast. So New York probably be the second spot I would stop at, because Manhattan has a lot of old buildings and a lot of old furniture there. So that would be cool. And my dad also started in, I think, lower Manhattan or not sure exactly where he started Manhattan. So it would be cool to go back to Manhattan and like Back to the roots, yeah, back to the legacy.

Speaker 1:

Us roots yeah, very cool. Do you guys still have family back home in Egypt?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, all our families back home. We should sell us.

Speaker 1:

Do you visit often?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah. And over there we have two, two big auction houses part of our family, so they do auction. They sell like antiques and stuff Not refinishing, but it's just mostly selling. And we used to sell and I think before 2008, sell a lot of furniture. But ever since the two I think it's 2007 when they crashed the big crash happened and we just stopped selling completely.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, here.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, because then a lot of people's tastes changed and stuff. So now who aren't really interested in buying old, antique looking furniture? They want modern and stuff they want. If anything, they take the antique thing and like spray paint it with like white, yeah, with spray paint, white, yeah, yeah, put it in. It looks good. I think it looks good.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I like it too, but still if it's antique, you gotta like preserve those, of course.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's how my dad thinks. He's like why are you spraying it with white? Yeah, we get a lot of them now. We get a lot of jobs where we're just making it white or blue sometimes.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, that's crazy. Yeah, but if that's what the client wants, Of course yes. If you're like who you are as a person, what are you doing your free time?

Speaker 2:

Free time. I love to work out, I like to play soccer and I love to learn, so I read a lot of books.

Speaker 1:

What type of books.

Speaker 2:

Business books mostly.

Speaker 1:

So you're a nerd like me.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, no, it's fun. My brother has a bunch of books. I just come in steal, read a few pages and then go back to my room.

Speaker 1:

Is your brother older.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, he's like he's 30.

Speaker 1:

Okay, does he help with the business at all?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, he used to help a lot more. Yeah, he used to do a lot, but he's an e-jigger. Now he's taking a little break and figuring stuff out.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, we all need to do that surprise.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, he's enjoying it for real. But I believe he did everything before me. He's the one who designed the website for me and I kind of like he kind of inspired me to do more. So I'm like I'm kind of, in a way, competing with him. I'm like I'm trying to outdo you. You stayed this period of time with dad. I'm gonna say this period of time, let's see you can do more.

Speaker 1:

Double it. Yeah, so I'm trying to double it. That's the truth. Healthy competition that's why our parents have so many kids, that way there's always somebody there to help.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, my dad's always throwing around. He's like your brother did this, by the way. Okay, now I'm more aggressive, yeah.

Speaker 1:

A little manipulative, but I like it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's the Arab mentality right.

Speaker 1:

That's right. Keep us on our toes In terms of do you see yourself with the business, at least for a while.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, my dad's planning to retire soon, so I don't want it to go to waste. That's a big thing. I've seen him put countless hours into it. I remember going to soccer games. I know my dad can't come because he's working and he has to provide. So I've seen him go through a lot of stuff, a lot of downfalls, so I'm like he's been through a lot and for that to go to waste is not fair. I feel like. And also I can implement what I want to do with it at the same time implement what he wants to do with it. So that would be cool. That's like the dream.

Speaker 1:

What are some of those biggest tribulations that you saw him go through?

Speaker 2:

In 2008,. 2008 was a big crash. If we didn't have the refinishing business alive, it would have been very hard for us, but the refinishing business would have kept us because it's like a service, so people kept asking for the service and people need pieces to be fixed all the time, so the service that never stops right. But with furniture, people sometimes want to buy your product, right. So it's like every product has its time period and then people don't want any more. They want a new product, they want the more modern looking product, they want the cheaper looking product and made in China, so it's a lot cheaper.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, whatever's on trend.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, whatever's on trend.

Speaker 1:

Have you guys thought about creating your own lookbook?

Speaker 2:

Lookbook, as in our own furniture and stuff.

Speaker 1:

I know everything's a one of a kind piece.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

So that you're kind of saying, well, this is what the trends are.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I'm trying that right now. We just got a guy that makes tables. He makes really good tables. He's from Egypt also, he does a wonderful job and we're trying right now to make handmade pieces. So if a customer wants a handmade piece anything like a stand, a stool, a chair, a table we can make that. And my plan right now is to see if you can make us a table and see how much it's going to cost us to make that table and then see if I can sell on Amazon to see if I can really expand it and if it works, then I'll get more.

Speaker 1:

It's an Amazon Abyss, though, to like work with. Yeah, but they, I mean they'll sell a lot of units.

Speaker 2:

They sell a lot of units, but yeah it's hard to the price margins, right, yeah.

Speaker 1:

And then the shipping, the shipping.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I think Amazon has a fulfillment service where you can ship it to them, give them and then they handle.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, they order.

Speaker 2:

You get a order, they ship it out for you.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I know that would make it a little bit easier.

Speaker 2:

A lot easier. Yeah, of course.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think Amazon now has like service Like you could be a service. That's something that you A service. Yeah, they have service providers on Amazon now, so, like as a photographer, you could list yourself as a.

Speaker 2:

Amazon photographer yeah, and then they can get contact yeah.

Speaker 1:

Exactly Then, like as a furniture refinisher. That's another thing, like home services are big on there.

Speaker 2:

Well, I didn't, I didn't know that.

Speaker 1:

I don't know if it's a good idea to do it. That's awesome yeah.

Speaker 2:

I mean, the more channels, the better. That's right, I know that.

Speaker 1:

What type of? What are the differences between Egypt and the US Culture and business?

Speaker 2:

Culture, wise People there are definitely a lot different People here tend to be more honest Egypt everyone. When someone tells you something like, let's say, you're buying a piece of furniture from them, you gotta bargain with them. I mean, here you're not really bargaining, you're like, okay, you're just someone's buying the furniture, that's it, the price is this and. But Egypt it's a lot of uh, a lot of talking, a lot of um background, a lot of background ideas and stuff in people's heads. So you don't, you can't really understand someone in Egypt Really hard unless you're born there. Um different, two different cultures, completely yeah.

Speaker 1:

In terms of like um. What do you mean by background?

Speaker 2:

Um, with background. So let's say I'm, I'm, I'm selling a piece of someone. They won't tell you what they're thinking, so and they could have a manipulation game.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, they could have a huge manipulation game and they could have a completely different idea in their head, and you have no idea what they're like. They could be asking oh, I want to buy this from you, but and their idea, they're trying to get the price for the piece. You know what I'm saying? They're trying to sell, they're trying to sell the piece you have. Um, so there's a lot of that. It's a lot of.

Speaker 1:

It's just they're just trying to go and like undercut you, yeah, yeah, yeah, and they're gonna like open up shop right now and it's not a bad way it's, it's in a good way, it's a very friendly way.

Speaker 2:

They don't want to talk, it's very you want to realize it, um, but yeah, it's completely different.

Speaker 1:

It's funny because I definitely um notice that is. That is a culture difference in terms of like we don't get it anymore, but at the beginning, when we started our business, a lot of our Middle Eastern because they people know that would know that I'm Middle Eastern, and so we would give them a price for something and they're like is it really?

Speaker 2:

Like, are they still buying? Yeah, yeah, of course, they're always bargain, right yeah?

Speaker 1:

And so I never lived more than you know. I would visit for three months or so, but I never like lived in the Middle East. And so I go and complain to my dad. I'm like I told him the price is this and they're trying to come in at like 50% of what I told him. I'm like what the heck is wrong with these people and that's like that's the way we do it.

Speaker 2:

Like it's a strategy, right, yeah, yeah, it's a big strategy.

Speaker 1:

I'm like but I don't watch. I end up saying like please leave.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, because I guess we were born here, so we need to see it differently.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, whereas yeah, um, in terms of of culture, how is, how are things different? Not related to business?

Speaker 2:

Um culture.

Speaker 1:

Did you live in Egypt for a while?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I go about every summer, okay, and yeah, maybe two times a year, okay, um, but culture wise everyone, culture wise in Egypt. Try to remember. Sorry, there's like different spots. There are different spots in different cultures in Egypt.

Speaker 1:

What part of Egypt are you from?

Speaker 2:

Oh, alexandria, okay.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, because Cairo is different than Alexandria.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, cairo is yeah, it's a lot different.

Speaker 1:

Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Um, culture wise, everyone's tends to be a lot more friendly. So I believe, like in Egypt, everyone's friendly. If you see someone on the street, they'll say hi to you. You don't know them, um, they'll talk to you Like it's. I had one time a guy gave me his kid, a little baby, random guy, I've never seen him before. He's like yeah, hey, can you hold my kid up quick? I'm about to go upstairs and get get something. I was like I was shocked. I was like what's happening? How old are you? I was this is like 19. I've had a little baby in my hand for like 10 minutes and you're like oh my God, I can't break it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, but you can't do that here, Like two would be scared to do that here.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, called a fleece on you. If you have some of that older child, yeah.

Speaker 2:

You think, oh, this guy's trying to leave his kid with me.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, well, it's true. Even just about talking to people like, not that I'm middle, I've just always been like hey, hi, how are you Like to random strangers? And, um, and I think it's also because I was from Indiana and people just knew each other, like in the town that I grew up in, and then when I came out here to Northern Virginia not saying that people aren't friendly, they are friendly but, when you're like hi, how are you?

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

People look at you like oh girls, off her meds.

Speaker 2:

You know like yeah, but I'm just trying to like. Yeah, I realize that a lot right. In this area it's a lot different, right.

Speaker 1:

I've heard New York is worse, though.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I don't know what. Why is that?

Speaker 1:

I think it's a culture thing. I think that we were talking about, like, not trusting people, whereas, like I think, if you go into a situation and you don't trust the other person, then you're thinking what's their intentions? Why are they saying hi to me?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. You know, are they like you, try to figure them out right.

Speaker 1:

Exactly.

Speaker 2:

That's not normal. Someone say hi, correct, even though it should be a normal thing. I feel like just being friendly with people.

Speaker 1:

We should start that trend.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, we should right Say hi, say hi to every single person. You see, today.

Speaker 1:

Just to kind of wrap it up, what's one piece of advice? That, if you could, you had a megaphone and you could speak to the entire world. What would that advice be?

Speaker 2:

One piece of advice is just to always try. I feel like people always just give up and like, currently, in this position I'm in right now, there's a lot of time I just want to give up. Like I'm building a website. I was building a website and there's a lot of obstacles I hit and it's like you literally can't figure out a solution to it. Like for days, weeks, there's no solution to it and I found a solution at the end, maybe like a week, two weeks later, I found a solution. And so there's points I'm like I'm done, I can't do this anymore. Like I can't, why am I giving them my time to this? But at the end, like if you give up, then all your work's for no reason, yeah, so it's always important just to keep on going, no matter what yeah?

Speaker 2:

And then reap the rewards at the end.

Speaker 1:

I love that. Yeah, awesome advice. Where are you building on?

Speaker 2:

What's that?

Speaker 1:

What platform are you building on?

Speaker 2:

The website. Oh, right now, so it's my brother's. My brother was the original website, so it was on Wix, so I'm currently still on Wix. Okay, I want to take it to a completely different service where it's more of a not a subscription based service.

Speaker 1:

Okay, Okay, and so you show it, which I love.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, but it's subscription based, yeah. Subscription based, yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1:

Smarter to have your own.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so you don't have to attach anything, yeah.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, awesome. Thank you so much for coming in. I can't wait to get some pictures of that. What is it called the chair? Just Automat Inspired.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, automat Inspired chair. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

I should call my dad and ask him yeah, I'm sure there's an official name. Yeah, he'll tell you the official name yeah. Thanks so much for coming in and being on the show. Thank you for having me, yeah.

Expanding a Family Business
Marketing, Expanding Business, and Family Legacy
Cultural Differences and Business Strategies
Building Website on New Platform