An Interview with Josh and Emily Lorg of J Thomas Home
Chatting with the Creators of the Farmhouse Shelves You Know and Love
In a brief departure from our usual content, we sat down with a friend to answer pressing questions about our custom shelves business, what comes next, and why customers will want their very own J Thomas Home pieces in their houses.
Read on to find out our business secrets, why our artisans are so special, and our upcoming products you won’t want to miss.Q: J Thomas Home started in your garage. Did you make your first custom shelves for your own home, or did you realize they would have a market and built them to sell?
Emily: Our first build was inspired by some display shelving Josh saw in a retail space, and we recreated it to sell. It was a customizable bookshelf, so you could stack two, three, four, or five wood shelves, as needed, to fit the customer’s specs.
But it was a larger item at a higher price point that wasn’t necessarily an everyday seller, so we essentially decided to sell each shelf individually, and that was pretty successful early on.Q: What made you want to start this business? What were you doing before?
Emily: We met at the University of Kansas School of Business. Josh always wanted to own his own business - he majored in entrepreneurship, while I majored in international business and marketing.
He’s always been handy, working with family on home projects since he was little (and getting to buy all the tools he wants)! I worked on the summer paint crew for our school district in high school, and took carpentry with my friends our senior year. We built a house for a family in our hometown, so I was familiar with some of the sanding, painting, and staining needed for our floating shelving products.
But previously, I’d been an appointment scheduler, website account manager for lawyers, and worked in accounts receivables and communications at our church’s administrative office. Josh worked with Mattress Firm, Bushnell, and BKD onboarding new clients. It was a long, winding path that got us here, but we love what we do.Q: What process do you go through when designing new products, like your new lighted custom shelves line?
Josh: The easiest way we design new custom shelves or personalized gifts is simply by listening to what our customers regularly ask for. They like a current product we have, but want a modification made, like adding lights, or maybe requesting a thicker style. That tells us there’s a need for this product, and it solves a problem.
Other times, we may be inspired by something folks use one way, and we can apply that concept to our handcrafted wood shelves and create a product that way. For example, our stove top covers were used as noodle boards in the past, but we put our own twist on its form and function.Q: What is your favorite product you offer, and why?
Josh: The staff favorite by far is anything made from walnut - whether that’s thick or thin solid floating wall shelves. It’s just gorgeous wood. It’s a little more expensive, so we don’t get a ton of it coming through on a regular basis, so it’s a treat when we have orders to work on. Everybody loves it.Q: What do you hope your customers get from your products, aside from a handcrafted, beautiful piece?
Emily: We hope that before they even receive our item that they get outstanding customer service and answers to any questions they have. We hope they’re surprised by how early the item arrives and how securely it’s packaged.
Our wood shelves are sometimes one of the last steps to a remodel they’ve been pushing through for months, that may have been delayed by other vendors before us. So we hope to be a bright spot - the crowning jewel and finishing touch to their dreams come to life.
We hope our products make their days easier in terms of storage and organization, bring rest and relaxation when they are in their space, and we hope they feel pride in their space and want to show off their hard work to all their friends and family.Q: What is it like when your customers send you photos of your finished products in their homes?
Emily: This is the best part: seeing the pieces in their forever homes! Everyone is so creative with how they install and decorate the shelving, and people have some very beautiful kitchens they feature our stove top covers in.
Josh: It’s hard work making each item by hand and getting all the orders done on time with high quality, so when folks take that extra moment from their day to snap a photo and bring it full circle for us, it truly brings smiles to our faces and reminds us of our “why.”Q: Speaking of why - why should people shop at J Thomas Home over other businesses that sell products similar to yours?
Emily: Our customers tell me that they spend months researching wood shelves, and while that is impressive, I wish they’d found us earlier in their search.
We’re happy to answer questions they have, receive images of their space so we can offer virtual design assistance to find a contemporary wood type and color, talk through sizing options that will function best in the room, and often can have the shelves delivered faster and at more reasonable prices than many of our competitors.
Josh: We also can usually accommodate custom sizes to fit tight spaces, so customers get what they want and what they need. They don’t have to settle for something that they can just “make work.” We offer truly custom shelves.Q: Tell me about the artisans who contribute to the production of each piece. Do they play a role in product design?
Josh: J Thomas Home has the hardest-working team, I’ll tell you what! They are on their feet and hustling the bulk of their shift. There’s not a lot of downtime here, and the shop is warm this summer. They’re giving 110 percent every day.
The men and women on our team are fairly young, but many have been honing their woodworking skills since their teens or before in their home wood shops. You can see the pride they take in their work as they move each item through the process from cutting to sanding, staining, clear coat, and packaging. They have their hands in nearly all steps of production and shipping.
We welcome new design ideas and challenge them to do more than just send us a photo of a cool item they found. We want them to research the product, see how many people search or purchase it every month, calculate materials cost and assembly time, and really pitch the full product idea. If their item is approved, they get a finder’s fee for contributing a successful product to the shop.Q: How does being a small business affect the way you plan your product retirements and new product launches? Anything exciting coming down the pipeline?
Josh: If I’m being honest, being a small business feels like it delays new product launches. So although we don’t have to jump through corporate hoops, if a staff member is out sick or on vacation, we don’t have backup to cover the shift. As business owners, we step in and cover aspects of the production line. That can derail activities that move our business forward.
Emily: But we find a way! The battery-operated lighted shelves have been so successful, and a lot of people want a hardwired option. So we’re releasing those next, followed by charcuterie boards and whiskey glasses, personalized gifts that are just in time for the holiday season.Q: What advice would you give someone looking to make small changes around their home and considering new kitchen cabinets versus custom floating wall shelves or pipe shelves?
Emily: Our customers and interior designers tell us that open, floating wall shelves are life-changing. You can easily see what you need and just grab it right away. If you have cabinets, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to open the cabinet door, but once you don’t have to, it’s just a different lifestyle.
Upper cabinets can really close in a space and make it feel dark, even if they’re light or white. The wooden shelves make a room feel so much larger and brighter. Plus, you have a sense of pride in getting to display special pieces. That makes for a conversation starter if you have specialty or unique dishware in view.Q: What about advice for small business owners? Are you part of any local groups or organizations that you’ve found helpful for growing your network, brainstorming with like-minded people, talking shop with other artisans, etc.? What do you find the most valuable about these groups?
Emily: Yes! We’re part of the Olathe Chamber of Commerce, and Josh is part of Acumen, which hosts small and large group gatherings and training for CEOs and leaders of similarly-sized companies.
Josh: I think that’s been very beneficial for us. We make great connections in both organizations.
Shop for Custom Shelves and Personalized Gifts at J Thomas Home
See our latest handcrafted wood shelves, stove top covers, whiskey glasses, and more on our website, and place your order today. Every item is made in-house to your specifications - never stored in a warehouse, so you can expect heirloom quality and the perfect fit.
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