By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Last summer, Matt Tate made a call that changed his life.
Tate had been trying to get his reclaimed furniture and décor business, Timbr and Moss, off the ground for the better part of a year. He’d had some successes locally, but nothing sustainable enough to begin throwing caution to the wind.
Then he made a cold call to organizer’s behind Portland’s Street of Dreams, an annual showcase of luxury homes in the Portland area.
“I found their number online, called them and ended up leaving a voicemail. I told them I was a new upcoming company specializing in barn wood décor and designs and I thought I had something they would want to check out,” said Tate, whose workshop is on River Road North in Keizer.
Within 24 hours, the Street of Dreams organizers called back to arrange a meeting. Five minutes into the meeting they told him they wanted to arrange a three-year deal to showcase his work in Street of Dreams homes.
Tate’s trademark product are what he calls “state boards,” reclaimed wood he brings back to life and transforms into the outlines of a given state. Each section is cut individually and then pieced together giving the whole project a rustic feel. Depending on customer preferences, he can add any of a variety of embellishments ranging from door hinges to hearts to backlighting. The state boards are what caught the eye of the people behind Street of Dreams, but he’s also made clocks, serving trays, bat houses, custom business signs and a variety of other interior decorating items.
The call to show off his wares at Street of Dreams turned into a flurry of activity for the following month.
“I built as much product as I could, with a lot of friends helping, and went up for the first weekend exhibition with $40 in my wallet, but it was a hit from the get-go,” Tate said.
For the next four weeks, Tate spent almost every waking hour in his shop making products to take to the Street of Dreams events each weekend. Some friends would show up after work to assist, others volunteered in his booth on the weekends.
“I kept challenging myself each week to see how much I could build and, each time, I showed up with more. I would still sell out,” Tate said.
By the time the final weekend of the event rolled around, Tate had a goal and made himself a vow that anything on top of that goal would be used for a company truck. He ended up blowing through his goal and soon after found himself sitting in his new truck outside his workshop trying to figure out how he was going to fulfill nearly 350 online orders generated during the course of the Street of Dreams exhibition.
“I knew I could be successful, but it was so much more than I expected. Some of my customers had to wait a few months, but we only lost a few orders,” Tate said.
Tate grew up on a farm in Canby and that was where he started making things.
“I was always messing around with wood and building. On a farm, there was always something to build and build with,” he said.
After studying architecture at Western Oregon University, he ended up working as a sales rep for AT&T and traveling throughout Washington and Oregon with the company, but he never gave up his woodworking hobby.
“All the time I spent working with wood helped with what I did for AT&T,” he said. “I could go into a store and immediately see how I could change things to boost sales.”
A little over a year ago, he produced a large Oregon state board for a customer whose home was going to be featured on the Salem Tour of Homes. It generated several other orders for state boards and custom projects. He started filling the orders from his garage before contracting for a workshop on River Road. Another customer invited him to be part of a décor show in Salem and the ball slowly kept rolling.
Tate was nearly at the end of his financial rope when he decided to cold call Street of Dreams. Everything since has felt like chasing a tornado. He’s hired a part-time bookkeeper and two part-time builders to help him fill orders.
Tapping into relationships he built as a sales rep and other contacts he’s made since those days, Tate’s been able to build up a steady stock of the wood he needs and a loyal customer base, but he’s got several other irons in the fire.
He’s in talks with a Portland sports team for a potential new line of products and he’s constantly trying to add to the look of his bestsellers, the state boards, which start for as little at $38 for smaller ones and can run in the hundreds of dollars for larger pieces.
“We are going to be introducing skylines on the state boards and then some other landmarks from around each individual state,” he said.
Tate has developed designs for every state in the Union and has sold about 40 different ones.
Beyond the business itself, Tate wants to lay the foundation for a youth program that brings students into the shop and teaches them how to tap their creativity and turn it into entrepreneurship opportunities.
“When we all work together, we all win together. Every customer and client is part of this journey and I want them to feel like they were part of something they believe in,” Tate said.
For more information about Timbr and Moss products, visit www.timbrandmoss.com.