Combining Business and Passion for Long-Term Success

Have you ever had a passion that gave you a business idea? Most people go through life trying to figure out how to create a business from a passion. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. A lot goes into creating a successful business, and just because you love something doesn't mean it will make you money.

Alan Davis started Blue Ridge Chair Works out of an idea and now his products are sold around the globe. They've even been featured on sites such as Men’s Journal, Urban Outfitters, Canoe and Kayak Magazine, and dozens of prominent outdoor specialty magazines.

So yes, it's possible. But, it takes a lot of work.

A Business Built Out of Passion

Alan’s back story is pretty interesting, so it’s worth sharing. It will help set the stage for how Blue Ridge Chair Works came into existence. Alan told us that he has felt a really deep, strong connection with the natural world his whole life. He ended up being a whitewater river guide in West Virginia and Pennsylvania in the very early days of the whitewater rafting industry.

It was so early in the industry that Alan was paddling a kayak probably for three or four years before the first plastic kayak was ever made. Just by chance, Alan became very close friends with one of the premier custom wooden kayak paddle makers in the world, a man named Keith Backland. 

Alan got to actually apprentice under him for a few years and did all his repair work, so he learned craftsmanship and how to work with hand tools from a world-class maker.

A Business Idea Brought to Life

Fast forward to years later and now Alan was working as a river guide. He was on a trip in Hell's Canyon of the Snake in Idaho and was really hot. Some of the people in his group had a chair that was made out of wood. But once it broke, the rocks were too hot to sit on. So, he came back from that trip and thought to himself, "Man, that was a really cool design, but I'm a big, burly guy. I'm going to build one of those that won't break."

And that was the beginning of Blue Ridge Chair Works. Alan ended up building an assembly line of sorts so that he could make more than one and they'd be identical. 

Every day, before you do anything, remind yourself why you started your business. This is important for you to stay motivated and engaged, and it is important for your business’ potential. Your passion inspires you and everyone around you. It dictates why you do what you do and why your business exists. - entrepreneur.com

Spreading the Word

Alan faced competition from lower-priced manufacturers, but he couldn’t — and didn’t want to — meet those prices. His chairs were handmade and long-lasting, different from the competition. So traditional retail became a difficult model to follow as stocking six or eight chairs would cost $50 each as opposed to 30 or 40 that cost much less. Alan moved his items online and lowered the cost of shipping and did something called drop shipping.

We don't talk about our product. We talk about sitting in a chair, overlooking the edge of the Grand Canyon.

This was the early days of e-commerce, so it was really not price-driven as much as it was convenience-driven. Alan worked to find online stores and get them to sell his stuff on their website and ship out of his inventory.

Alan said that lately, he has also seen good results from Google Ad Words and strong word-of-mouth from Instagram.

“Keep that fresh, keep the photography, cool. We really are selling our lifestyle. Our Instagram and our socials are really, really strong right now. I mean, we don't talk about our product. We talk about sitting in a chair, overlooking the edge of the Grand Canyon.”

Made in the USA

A lot of the furniture-making jobs began going overseas, including the machinery that makes it. Not surprisingly, some of the craftsmen got left behind. So Alan realized that part of his journey was to keep the spark and heritage of Southern Appalachian craftsmanship alive. And this also helped to keep jobs here as well, an added bonus for the local economy. 

Building a business from passion is not easy, but with the right people by your side and a good idea, you'll never work a day in your life.


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