“Plan and learn as much as possible to prepare you for ownership, then develop a key group of support partners to assist with funding, accounting, legal representation, and more.” – Margaret Stoika
“Approach business ownership with purpose and understand your strengths and weaknesses – you can’t be everything for everyone.” – Doug Brown
Grand River Office is a contract office furniture dealer serving West Michigan. Open since November 2017 and based in Muskegon, they specialize in B2B furniture solutions and service the commercial, educational, healthcare, and GSA markets. With less than a year under their belts, co-owners Margaret Stoika and Doug Brown have experienced a large amount of success and positive public reception. The growth and success that Grand Rapids Office has experienced in such a short time aren’t based on luck, though. Margaret and Doug attribute it to their work ethic, occupation backgrounds, preparation, and experience with Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW).
Margaret got her degree in interior design in 2004 and began her career as an interior designer with Muskegon-based Lake Shore Office. There, she discovered her passion for office furniture and design work, remaining there for roughly a decade before starting Grand River Office with Doug.
Doug went to Ferris State University, specializing in architecture and business management. He worked in Chicago and eventually landed at Lake Shore Office as well. Together, Doug and Margaret initially tried to buy the Lake Shore Office, but when that didn’t go through, they decided to branch out and start their own company.
“It was always my dream to own my own company,” said Doug, “and I just clicked with Marge. We really complement each other and have different strengths and weakness that we both bring to the table.”
Doug and Margaret generally assist their clients with office renovations or new builds, focusing on space planning, budgets, suggestions, specifications, and ergonomics, or by finding the right kind of furniture to properly fit the task and the employee. Doug brought with him a number of supply chain relationships and together, they have successfully populated their showroom with a variety of products, some exclusive to Grand River Office.
“The overwhelmingly positive feedback we’ve received from both customers and our supply chain providers has been above and beyond anything we expected,” says Margaret. “We are very grateful for the level of support we’ve received so far.”
And while it’s no walk in the park, their determination to succeed and the preparation they put into making this a worthwhile venture is paying off.
“We love having the freedom to make company decisions quickly. We’re nimble, responsive, and flexible and our customers definitely appreciate it,” says Margaret. “We don’t have to ask for approval anymore and that enables us to act fast and decisively. Doug and I have had many ideas, but no traction in the past. Now that we are on our own, step-by-step, we can fine tune and enact all these ideas we’ve been thinking about for so long.”
The GROW Connection
Margaret and Doug initially learned about GROW online as they were preparing to purchase Lake Shore Office. They were interested in the courses offered and the business training seminars that would make them better prepared to buy the company. As they transitioned to starting a business on their own, they began attending a series of GROW courses including Intro to GROW, Start Smart, and many other business seminars.
“GROW has been a true partner to both Doug and me. They not only gave us the tools to be successful business owners but showed us how to use them,” says Margaret. “Through their robust programming and experienced presenters, we were able to put together a very detailed business plan and budget. We identified business gaps and utilized their networking contacts and recommendations to build a team we can count on. GROW has quite honestly been there for us every step of the way. We look to them as an ongoing resource and continue to rely on their support and expertise.”
They also recently participated in GROW’s micro-lending program and used a portion of the funds to fully stock their furniture showroom and for working capital, computers, software, etc.
“GROW’s microlending program was instrumental to our success,” says Doug. “GROW’s team helped us through the process from start to finish and was a godsend to us. We were able to launch faster than we ever thought possible and GROW’s continued support has given us a solid foundation to build our business and customer base.”
Do You Want to Start a Business?
Both Doug and Margaret have a thing or two to say about that. From Margaret’s perspective, planning and preparation is the key to success. “Begin by learning as much as possible and develop a key group of supporters right away,” says Margaret.
Doug agrees, but added, “finding the right external support is really important, and we put together a strong business plan and budget together well in advance of opening our doors. We established a mission statement, outlined goals and objectives – the whole 9 yards. You can’t assume everything is going to fall into place, you have to make it happen for yourself.”
The co-owners of Grand River Office have a very strong work ethic, which meant that while working for others they always took ownership and pride in what they did. “Now that we’ve created our own business,” says Margaret, “we are finally doing this for ourselves.”