Gat Caperton, president of Gat Creek, located in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, is a West Virginia manufacturer of solid wood home furniture.
Gat Creek, originally named Tom Seely Furniture, employs more than 150 artisans in Berkeley Springs and sells its branded products via 200 plus retail stores throughout the United States and does proprietary manufacturing for national retailers. Gat Creek made an early and steadfast commitment to lean manufacturing, environmental sustainability and being an employer of choice.
Caperton, who acquired this business in 1996, talked with Jim Matuga, host of The Positively West Virginia Podcast, why and how he got started in the furniture business, his worst business experience and his lesson learned and his advice to young entrepreneurs.
How did you get started in the furniture business?
“I had graduated from school and worked in Chicago for five years,” Caperton said. “I said, ‘boy, would it be great to get into a small manufacturing business.’ I had no background in furniture. I started looking around for small businesses that I could invest in and commit to. I found Tom Seely Furniture.”
“I literally cold-called Tom Seely and because my name was the same as the current government at the time, Gaston Caperton, I got right through to him. He picked up the phone and said, ‘Governor’ and I said, ‘No sir. You got his son. While we’re on the line do you mind talking for a few minutes.’”
“So I was able to get introduced to him. I took a day off of work and flew to Berkeley Springs. I was a classic Charleston kid. I had been around parts of the state, but I had never been to the Eastern Panhandle. I came and met Tom and it included a day of him touring me around and saying, “this is a great business, I would be interested in buying and if you’d be interested in financing me, I’ll move the community and run it in a way you’d be proud of.’”
What has been your worst business experience so far?
“It’s a four-year story,” Caperton said. “Right before the economy got bad and the great recession of 2006, in 2005, we had run out of capacity and we decided now is the time to borrow a lot of money and fix the factory and really grow the business.”
“We did all of that and the day we finished expanding this factory, business just started going down dramatically. We figured out we’d be able to borrow this money and pay it back without growing, but we never figured out how to let the business go backward by a third and pay our debt and survive.”
What is the lesson you learned from that experience?
“You show up every day and you don’t quit,” Caperton said.
What is one piece of advice you would give a young entrepreneur?
“I have to design six products to get two good ones,” Caperton said. “I make more bad decisions than I do good decisions, but I keep going.”
PWV QUICK BITS | WOOD FURNITURE
- RECOMMENDED BOOK: The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
- RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: The lean business process (really doing what the customer needs and eliminating everything else)
- PIECE OF ADVICE: “Just show up…every day,” Caperton advised.