From an idea on the back of a napkin, to a startup business run out of the back of a truck, to a massive presence in a 32,000-square-foot Boseman, Montana-based location — all in just 13 years. Alonzo Antonucci, owner of Bobcat Home Furnishings Company, shares his story.
Rob Stott: All right we’re back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and real excited. I said a couple of weeks ago I had a member on from Montana and he was the first member that I ever, first person I ever spoke to from Montana. Now, a couple of weeks later I’m back to the big state out there and excited to have on Alonzo Antonucci, owner of Bobcat Home Furnishings Company. So Alonzo you’re not the first Montanan I’ve ever, is that right? Is it Montanan?
Alonzo Antonucci: Yeah, I guess you could call it that.
Rob Stott: So not the first Montanan-
Alonzo Antonucci: There’s true local Montanans and then there’s the people that move here and within a month they call themselves Montanans and we don’t really give them that right to call themselves that yet.
Rob Stott: Gotcha, well, excited to have you on coming from…we were in Cut Bank last time around. Now, we’re down in Bozeman, so-
Alonzo Antonucci: Cut Bank, wow that’s cold.
Rob Stott: Yeah, so crazy to find out, I think anyone thinks of Montana, a massive state, but I did the math on the distance between Cut Bank and Bozeman and it’s actually the same distance as if I were to drive from Philly, I’m in Philly, if I drove out to Pittsburgh. Which is nuts to me, so if you just turn the state side, if you turn Pennsylvania sideways, it’s as tall as Montana.
Alonzo Antonucci: Yep, it’s a big state for sure.
Rob Stott: Yeah. But no, I appreciate you joining we’ve got a lot to dive into today. I mean your story is an awesome one and I want to give you a chance to dive into it cause I did some digging on your website. You guys have an awesome “About Us” page that really dives into each of your team members but I want to start, give us the elevator pitch on, on Bobcat and kind of who you guys are.
Alonzo Antonucci: Yeah, as the owner of Bobcat Home Furnishing Company, I started my company 13 years ago. My brothers and I had found some mattresses, some new beds for the vendor and sold two of them out of the back of a truck at a gas station. We were like, oh, that was easy let’s try doing that again. So we put our $500 to test and we kept putting it back into the company and kept growing. And here we are 13 years later we decided to move into what is currently a 32,000 square-foot store. Coming from 4,000 square-feet for the last eight years. And that all happened during COVID.
They shut down our state and our country and called us non-essential business. As we are trying to establish ourselves in our new location. So we survived somehow, not knowing if we would ever open honestly. Because we didn’t know, the world didn’t know what was going to happen. So I wasn’t sure if I was going to have to go out of business, relocate to Oklahoma, something crazy that I could afford with no money. I mean, no one had any money.
When you’re out of business being a sole proprietor we weren’t given money but my employees were given money and letting them go. So a lot of challenges there but here we are and we’re just grinding.
Rob Stott: I want to get into to some of that but before we do that, I know you mentioned selling out of back… What is it that got you? What bit the retail bug for you?
Alonzo Antonucci: Oh man, I didn’t know what direction I was going to go honestly. I was a college student and I was literally selling mattresses via text message on my phone, heavily distracted. I would honestly skip school to go make some money. So it took a while before I wanted to make that leap of faith probably about four years before I wanted a storefront because I didn’t want to take out any loans and so I was just reinvesting back into myself and my company.
Rob Stott: Sure and one of the cool things I found on your website it almost feels like the name “Bobcat” came before the actual business site. Did you, is that, how true of a story is that you drew the logo?
Alonzo Antonucci: Yeah, is that on our webpage?
Rob Stott: Drew it while you’re sitting in a class-
Alonzo Antonucci: I have an art background and I was literally sitting in a psychology class and I had a napkin from a muffin I was eating and so I drew up a logo. About a year later I was able to use that logo cause I didn’t know how to convert that into a vector file or anything else like that. My background wasn’t so much in graphic design as it was pen and ink and mixed-medium. So I didn’t know the computer side. I had a good friend that ran a website company and still does and was really good with logos so he converted it into a file and it is what it is today.
Rob Stott: That’s pretty cool and talk about, you mentioned that you started just out of the back of a truck and what was it, when did you decide that you were ready to make that leap into a storefront?
Alonzo Antonucci: Like I said for years there was a opening a little bit closer to the main road. Literally about 150 yards from where I was at in a warehouse that I was making appointments with. I actually didn’t even know that business model even existed. I thought I created it but come to find out there’s a lot of competition out in the United States that has similar business models. I just didn’t know because it was right in the economic downturn there in 2008, 2009. As I was trying to grow there’s furniture and mattress stores going out of business and I’m growing through it. But like I said, I didn’t even know that business model existed. It just got to the point I think I can do better if people could come in my door a little bit easier. I mean, it kind of makes sense. It was just a financial leap of faith to get closer to the public’s eyes.
Rob Stott: Yeah and you mentioned you spent about eight years in, I mean a store that was about 4,000 square feet, is that right?
Alonzo Antonucci: Yeah, just a little shy of it but close enough with warehouse space.
Rob Stott: What did you, obviously now you’re almost in a store that’s like eight, 10 times the size of that. In the time that you spent in that smaller location what did you learn about the business and kind of learn about what you got yourself into?
Alonzo Antonucci: Oh my gosh. I mean it was always a roller coaster. I mean I’m up against private equity companies. I mean really at the end of the day big box is what wins big money. I never had that, still don’t have that. It’s been just a consistent grind on it but it’s fine. So just getting the word of mouth. I learned that I could do it. I stuck around because of my customer base. I know it sounds cheesy, but honestly I was, what’s going to happen to my customer if I can’t, if they have a problem with their product mattress or furniture and what are they going to do? They’re kind of stuck. So I wanted to, you know in life, all you have is really your name and your family. I didn’t want to be that fly by night or just disappear or be slandered in the public because this is where I lived. So it was sticking really around for my customer.
Rob Stott: I love that because that’s a lot of what we hear I think from nationwide members is that you guys are so ingrained in your communities and I mean, big box, it’s the face, nameless faces that you see as you walk through those stores. Whereas with an independent and a small business owner and you guys are self-made companies, self-made business that you, they’re your neighbors. So I understand and hear so much that type of story it’s kind of cool to see how much the business and what you do, you care about it but it means more to the people that you’re surrounded by.
So expansion, I mean, you’ve recently you spent eight years there and then what led to…I know you guys started as Bobcat Mattress and now you’re Home Furnishings, obviously adding a few more product lines and things like that and categories to the store. What led to that?
Alonzo Antonucci: Honestly there was a store called “Slumberland”. It was a franchise store that was always a mile down the road from me. I would get their customers. I’m sure at some level they got mine, probably a lot less than I got theirs when they were looking for a mattress. And that store, I don’t think they went out of business but I think there was a communication issue with the landlord in their business that had been established here for 20 years in this location. And when that opened up, I’d always said to myself man, I love that location. It’s like prime location. Our store, our town is growing this direction. So, I mean, it just puts it in a better location. So they started to go out of business or move or relocate or whatever they were going to do out of town.
And that opportunity came available for two years, that there was a vacant building that I’m currently in right now. And I hadn’t, I didn’t have a pot to piss in honestly I had to get creative. I tried for two years as to figure out how to get in here and I kept, just hit, beat my head against the wall and then at one point we came to an agreement actually with the owner of the building to owner-finance. Literally two days later I’m in competing offers though with millionaire investors, commercial investors and all of a sudden I lost out two years of a vacant building all of a sudden I’m losing and now I have to rent currently from them. So it’s really interesting on how it all worked out and here we are and I’m stoked but obviously COVID has had its impacts.
Rob Stott: Absolutely. Well, the interesting thing there is that you mentioned growing your business during a time when the last big economic craziness occurred back in 08′, 09′. Did you learn anything from that, that you could have brought forward into…I know it’s slightly different situations but anything you could have learned from that, that applied to what you were doing over the past year?
Alonzo Antonucci: Yeah, I think it’s taken baby steps. Unfortunately, the cost difference from where I was to where I am now is just so significantly different. Whereas before I always took it every month or every year I would kind of get bigger. I wouldn’t grow until I could expand through a wall or do something. So I was a little bit more measured. Like, here’s my goal, let’s try to get there.
But I ended up boxing myself in for six years honestly. I had maxed out what I could do but I knew I could do a ton more I just needed space. And that was a huge driving point for me and as you grow your family or you grow your staff they become family too and then you get a little bit more invested in them and you want to create possibly a career for them so that they could have a family and afford to live here and Bozeman’s not a cheap place to live. So I was kind of driven by taking care of my staff as much as myself honestly, that I had to give them a future or lose them.
Rob Stott: Interesting…crazy way to look at it. Cause obviously thinking about it from this side, the Nationwide side, there’s all the product growth obviously but then for the individual businesses you’re talking about I know your business grew as well a lot during this expansion and moving into a new place. I mean, so start on the people side, you know what, when you go from that almost 4,000 square foot space to 32,000 obviously you need more manpower. So what’s it like trying to find people to come in and help you grow into that space?
Alonzo Antonucci: It’s really interesting, I was able to carry over my existing staff that I had, which was about three to five given on the month. Heck I was, I’ll still do my own deliveries sometimes I actually enjoy it. Lately I’ve been using the forklift like man I want this job, this is a piece of cake, this is fun.
Rob Stott: Someone else run, I just want to drive this thing around.
Alonzo Antonucci: I brought them with me and they were part of the step. I kept them with me the whole time of conversation and talking future and a lot of confidence in them that they were willing to make the move with me too cause they could have done something else obviously. But we had to hire about 10 to 12 more people during COVID like the March through the May. Ironically, I was able to do it without a problem and I ended up landing amazing people because they were in limbo with what they were doing in their lives too and they took a leap of faith with me as well.
Rob Stott: So now what kind of, I’m assuming obviously you had sales associates, did you expand into other areas of retail business as you were looking to bring in people?
Alonzo Antonucci: Oh 100%. Yeah, so I had a good friend that was kind of, he’d been in the flooring industry for 25 years. Very experienced in that world and installation and repping and all sorts of cool stuff. So he was willing to make a change as well from where he was at with a big franchise store and wanted to have kind of his own say in something. So I brought him along with me and we started flooring. I started the flooring division, my store. When we had been talking, I’m like, well, nothing makes more sense than appliances when you have flooring. I mean, a lot of people replaced the two at the same time where they go into a new construction project and back in the day I actually used to work for Sears doing deliveries and stuff like that and appliances didn’t really scare me when it came to it.
Flooring made me nervous cause I’ve tried to leave the construction background, leave that for someone else. And I’m like, I have to have someone knows what the freak they’re doing there cause that one worries me. Appliances I’m like, okay, that’s fine. And then we had done furniture for 10 years but I was quite limited what I could put on my floor cause I didn’t have much floor space and I had 60 to 70 mattresses. So they kind of came and gone but we would have hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales a year by just ordering, trusting us to work on big, giant screen really. Or people emailing us cause they’re shopping online anyways, you might as well buy it through someone that can service them. And so yeah, that’s what we did. So those are the new lines that we expanded into.
Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I mean cool… How crazy, cause you’re talking about expan… You, I mean you hit the nail on the head, you’re expanding during a pandemic, staff and your product line. So at a time where supply chains were all sorts of out of whack, they still are let’s be honest. What was it like trying to get that product into your store as you’re looking to add these to this massive new location?
Alonzo Antonucci: It’s like constant, everyday battle. I’m still trying to grow into my store. Honestly, because the product that you can get is so inconsistent. So you kind of have to if you are not creative you will die right now in the industry. Unless you’ve just got money sitting in the bank. I mean, that’s what it comes down to, cause it’s that much of a challenge. You take a company like Ashley Furniture, I used to get pissed off when it would take more than 14 days to get someone’s couch. Right now I’m happy to possibly get it in 14 weeks. It’s really a hard thing to tell a customer that your product ain’t coming soon.
Rob Stott: What are those conversations like? How do you, are customers understanding because of the time or is it still they’re antsy to get their hands on-
Alonzo Antonucci: People are getting a lot better. We have to relay the information we’re given and you feel like we’re in the dark. I’ve always treated my company as the “Jimmy John’s” of the industry. If I’ve got it in stock I’m going to get it to you today and chances are it will be a free delivery for you, kind of unheard of. So it’s been a really humbling experience to not be able to satisfy my customer as quick as we used to. So we’ve just had to get really good at talking to the customer and give them big windows. It could be here in a week. It could be here in 24 weeks. It’s out of my control and Montana’s an island so it’s really hard to get product anyways.
Rob Stott: Crazy to think about but I know we’re obviously keeping an eye on things and hope to see an end to this crazy crunch. I know pandemic aside there’s been lumber shortages and on the appliance side parts have been hard to come by. So I know it’s been crazy but if you could think to a time, somewhere in the future where this is not an issue, what’s the pipe dream for what the inside of Bobcat Home Furnishing Company looks like? What kind of business are you doing and how are things humming along,
Alonzo Antonucci: Even my mattress selection, isn’t what I want it to be. It kind of infuriates me there. Flooring is cooking. We have pretty much the product lines that we want there. Appliances, I won’t get into too much of that but I just need that get better established right now. As much as even my competitors to a level and that’s is what it is. Furniture, I’m trying to figure out my 80/20. I Haven’t been able to get that dialed in because there’s inconsistent, I can’t order container loads of furniture, for instance, and hope and pray that you’re going to sell it. We’re not in a volume market. If you have a big franchise store you can spread that out through your other franchise stores. So it’s a challenging place to be as an independent. But I do look towards an expansion here of about 11,000 square feet honestly. In the next hopefully year or two. I won’t exactly say what’s going to go in there so many ideas, but it’s going to be pretty awesome if I can make it work.
Rob Stott: Well, that, so the cool thing I know in speaking to your contact here at Nationwide and he recently shared your story with us and everything that with this past year has been like and growing and expanding into appliances and all these other categories and just the hard work that’s gone into it. And I know thinking about, not only did your footprint grow from a store standpoint but I know businesses is really booming for you. I think he said you had a goal you’re pushing nearly like five times the amount of business you had been doing in just a couple of years.
Alonzo Antonucci: Honestly, if everything would have panned out, if this COVID crap did not happen, we would have easily hit our financial goal we wanted to hit, if not more. Without a doubt. So everything I’ve been running, it feels like halves, 50% of this, I can only get 50% of what I’m trying to order. I’m only doing 50% of the sales. I mean, kind of the list goes on of what we could be doing. So I have no doubt in my mind we could just absolutely kill it in our community. And with that too, I’m going to employ more the employee shortage in our community is outrageous. I’ve been quite blessed to be able to pick people up off the street. But there’s definitely those challenges there. I plan on adding another five to 10 people if I can get close to my goal and obviously exceed that I’m going to need more people.
Rob Stott: You think back to those early days and selling out of a truck, did you ever envision Bobcat being what it is today?
Alonzo Antonucci: Not a clue, man. It was literally survival. I ended up getting married that same year. I was taking 21 credits. I had a research project in Africa. I was out of my freaking mind. And sleep has always been key to me. So if I didn’t get any sleep I couldn’t have achieved anything. So I’m kind of driven that way that I think it sounds cheesy again, but if people don’t sleep well, there’s more problems in the world. If people just slept well I think we can get rid of half the problems we got.
Rob Stott: Don’t we all, that’s so true. But I mean, you think about that and obviously it is what it is today. So what do you attribute that success to and growing as you have despite going through these two incredibly uncertain times with the recession of 08’/09′ and now with this pandemic of the past year.
Alonzo Antonucci: I would give a lot of credit to my staff, a couple of certain individuals. I’ll name them on air Michael, Izzy, Jared. Jared’s in Phoenix right now, hopefully be back in a year. Girlfriend pulled him away for a little bit. He’ll be back.
And then honestly, I’ve had really good reps and heck Reed if you’re listening right now he’s been one of them. Some people that believed and ambition. I don’t know where it comes from exactly other than my family has always been entrepreneurs. And my dad, I never felt like he was ever successful at what he did and I wanted to make sure I became successful for my own family. It was more a drive to get food on the table and I have a hard time giving up. Not that I’m necessarily stubborn. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it and I’m going to do it well. Right now I feel like I’m limited to doing it well and I can’t quite get things done that I could do for my, really at the end of the day, my customer experience. So it’s do as well as we can, control what you can control and that’s what I’m trying to keep in mind and be patient.
Rob Stott: Right. No, and I mean, the crazy thing to think about is that you’ve kind of, despite this and despite the periods of time that you’ve gone through is that this has all been done in what, 13 years, barely? Just about 13 years. So to go from kind of what you started out as just an idea, literally, I mean, you could say it’s an idea on a napkin with the logo and everything but now a 32,000 square foot location and selling what you’re selling. So no that, I mean, it’s the stories you’d like to see, I think in this industry and kind of the independent retail side of things and seeing what you’ve been able to accomplish.
Alonzo Antonucci: Yeah. Well, thank you. Now people always ask me, “Are you doing this so you can franchise, so you can have more stores.? Are you doing it for the money? Oh, furniture, you guys make tons of money.” It’s like, that’s bogus. You don’t have a clue what a sole proprietor has to do to survive and no I’m doing it so my kids can have a future. I’m not doing it for a franchise to only make my life that much more complicated and harder to get around. I live 30 seconds away from my store for a reason and that is so I can be with my family as much as I can but also be quick to work and not waste time.
Rob Stott: Sure. One, I got to close on one question I saw, I mentioned the “About Us” page and getting to meet all your team the about us info’s on there. Born in Portland, Maine. So born Northeast of the country and now in north central, you must, do you like the wilderness? Are you a wilderness kind of guy?
Alonzo Antonucci: Yeah. My passion is sports and hunting and fishing. Yes.
Rob Stott: There you go. So what, what brings someone from Maine, literally one corner of the country over to Montana?
Alonzo Antonucci: You need a new podcast for that. You think my story for my business…
Rob Stott: Maybe we’ll save for another day-
Alonzo Antonucci: Save it for another day. Simply put my parents uprooted us in school and drove us out here without ever been here before.
Rob Stott: That’s crazy. No we’ll have to schedule another time. But Alonzo this has been awesome and great to learn a little bit about Bobcat and kind of what you guys are doing and easy to root for ya man. What you guys are doing is awesome and seeing the growth that you’ve had and despite again, this past year has been crazy but to face it and continue to grow during it is a testament to I think you and your team and what you got going on there.
Alonzo Antonucci: Awesome. I appreciate it. Come anytime, man.
Rob Stott: Absolutely. Hey, if I can get from Philly to Montana…I’ve never been now that I’ve spoken to two Montanans, maybe I can get out there.
Alonzo Antonucci: We’re having a barbecue every day this summer with the Traeger Grill we just got so-
Rob Stott: Oh, there you go. There you go. So no, this was awesome. Thank you.
Alonzo Antonucci: All right, man. I appreciate your time.