Introducing That Girl Shannon
From the HGO Merchandiser
When I think about my journey through the furniture industry, I must laugh at myself. The odds were geographically and logistically stacked against me and I jumped into this adventure completely naïve and yet have succeeded. It has certainly been a tremendous amount of work, but luckily, I found my passion. The journey has never felt like work and has helped me find myself – the true creative and quirky me!
With that, let me introduce myself: Shannon Houff, retailer, interior decorator, consultant, founder and sole proprietor of Front Porch Interiors Furniture & Design Store, a successful furniture store in rural Saskatchewan town that’s home to 563 people. Currently in my 15th year in business, I’m still consulting and decorating through my store and recently became the spokesperson for a national network of independent flooring retailers. I’m also developing by own brand – the That Girl Shannon Home Collection.
Formalities out of the way, I’d like to really help you get to know me! The ups, downs, successes and challenges that have gotten me to where I am today.
A desperate person once said, “Desperation is more powerful than inspiration.” I was a wife and mom who had moved to small town Saskatchewan with two kids under the age of two to a cattle ranch more than six hours away from family. My husband and I purchased the ranch just days before mad cow disease hit Western Canada, crippling the cattle industry and our situation quickly became desperate. I needed a job to help support my family and with few employment opportunities available I had to dig deep inside myself for this one. I begged for a part-time job with a local builder by convincing him he needed someone to manage the office and that I’d be perfect for it. From there, I expanded to take on interior design work for his clients.
After finishing a few successful decorating jobs, word of mouth was bringing me more! I was helping clients develop their vision but by sending them to the city to purchase their furniture and décor items, they often fell victim to upsell from retailers who had no idea of what we were trying to accomplish. I felt like a mom sending her kids away to college and started to believe there was a need in my local town.
Why not open my own furniture store? I knew the facts. I was broke and had no idea what I was doing, but I kept hearing my dad’s voice, “Kid, to get ahead in life you have to work for yourself.” And I always did what my dad said! (Ha, ha). With nothing to lose, I jumped in with both feet and created a business plan. That led me to a $10,000 loan from the town lenders’ co-op. Yahoo! I was in business!
I had my idea and it was time to find vendors. I started pounding the pavement and sent out hundreds of e-mails. Eventually, one of those hundreds replied. His very words were: “I am intrigued, and it’s great to hear someone so excited about this industry, I would love to see you succeed.” I was literally hungry like a wolf to prove I could do this! Being broke and determined to set a good example to my daughters, failure was not an option, but that didn’t mean it was going to be smooth sailing.
Geography, population, shipping logistics, and small-town talk presented themselves as some of my greatest challenges in the initial phases of my start up. However, time and experience also showed these things to be blessings in disguise. While shipping costs were higher, overhead costs were lower than they would have been in larger centres, allowing me to keep prices competitive. While my customer pool was smaller and more widely spread out than the usual urban retail setting, I had little competition.
I had no advertising budget, so I used what I could – my big mouth. Talking about my products and showing how excited I was seemed to really get attention. They were seeing and feeling my passion – it was contagious, and even though many were doubtful I could make this work, the people in and around our little town were curious and wanted to know more. Word of mouth from happy customers was and still is my most effective method of advertising!