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MailTribune.com
  • No resting on their success for these two

    Hit hard by the recession, Michael Menefee and Rebecca Hicks built a used household goods business; now they'll sell new furniture as well
  • Even if the economic cornucopia isn't overflowing, things sure seem better to Rebecca Hicks and Michael Menefee.
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  • Even if the economic cornucopia isn't overflowing, things sure seem better to Rebecca Hicks and Michael Menefee.
    Good enough to boldly go where they wouldn't have dreamed five years ago.
    Parlaying $500 and the will to do something about their situation, the duo patiently built a business by selling other people's stuff.
    Now, with hopeful signs bubbling to the economic surface and a revived residential housing sector, the pair are taking Estate Marketplace on North Riverside Avenue in Medford into the sometimes uncertain waters of new furniture sales.
    "We've really seen an upswing in business as more and more homes are being sold in the area," Menefee said. "We've been able to find a few furniture lines that don't cost much more than what we were selling the used furniture for."
    Menefee was building houses as fast as he could sell them in 2006. A year later he had 40 houses at various stages of completion, a nearly completed subdivision in Klamath Falls, a 62-lot subdivision in White City — and no buyers.
    Hicks was in a dead-end job as a night manager at a national discount retailer. Passed over when the No. 2 spot came open at her store, she moved on.
    If they weren't in desperate times, they were close.
    Hick recalls Menefee suggesting they could buy the contents from a storage unit at an auction, but says she wasn't keen on the idea.
    "I'm not sure how the idea came up," Menefee said. "He was watching TV shows about buying storage unit contents so he could have an idea how to sell it."
    The $500 investment might not have been a huge one, but "it was the last $500," Hicks said.
    Menefee knew a thing or two about household goods from his building background. Still, there was no guarantee the storage contents would cover their cost.
    They found a residential location where they held an estate-style sale and cleared $3,000.
    "We still had a bunch of stuff left and we realized there was a learning curve on price," Menefee said.
    They bought more storage unit contents and hit area estate sales. They set up shop in a small Beatty Street location in July 2011, spreading the remainder of the storage unit stuff on tables and advertising their weekend sales online.
    "We found some of the thrift stores were charging a lot of money for lesser-quality products," Menefee said.
    "We decided we could go out and find good, quality furniture, household items, knickknacks, tools — and air conditioning units in the summertime."
    Three months later, they needed more space and Estate Marketplace moved to its present 3,000-square-foot location.
    "I was really surprised when people started coming and buying stuff from us on Beatty," Hicks said. "All from $500."
    Better yet, there were no loans.
    They picked up their acquisition speed by going to liquidations and buying more estates. Used furniture increasingly became a key sales component.
    "I would go to auctions regularly just to put furniture in the store because we'd run out so fast," Menefee said.
    The rule of thumb was no stains, smells, rips, tears and little wear. Even so, demand outpaced supply.
    Late last year, they came to the realization there was a market for low-cost new furniture, in part because several local furniture stores had closed in recent years.
    After getting their feet wet in January, Menefee said, they transitioned out of the used market. So far they've signed on with Coaster, Porter International Design, Home Elegance, MLILY Memory Foam and Leisure Rest out of Portland.
    Near the top of the agenda in coming weeks, he said, is a name change for the firm.
    While Hicks is happily engaged in the retail venture, Menefee is resisting the temptation to pick up the ol' hammer with the resurrection of residential building.
    "I have thought about it," he said. "Some friends are getting back into the industry. I'm just going to see how this goes. We don't have any employees, our only overhead is the building and we want to keep it that way. I've learned a lesson."
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.
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