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Q&A: Jerry & Larry Glass, Small business owners

Brothers have used the Oval Office to make great strides

The Glass family sells tens of thousands of bird houses made by hand at their Heartwood manufacturing operation in Star every year. Jerry Glass and his wife, Lynda, began selling bird houses at small Mississippi craft shows on Saturday mornings 20 years ago. Later joined by Jerry’s brother Larry, Heartwood is the only manufacturer of its kind in America, selling more than 150 different styles of “architecture for the birds.” It also sells high-quality lawn furniture, building materials and bee boxes and have about seven employees. The business office is a repurposed grain silo called “the Oval Office.”

Q — How many bird houses do you sell a year?
A — Jerry:
I could not tell you. We literally never have counted them.
Larry: Tens of thousands, but we have no idea. We have about 75 companies that sell our products on their websites.

Q — Do you have any major vendors?
A — Larry:
BestNest.com. They are the premier birding site in America online. They have, I think, 6,000 products on their website. We have another company that we sell to — they have a million items (listed).

Q — Can you provide any information on your company’s revenue?
A — Larry:
You don’t get rich doing it. You’ve got to like this business. This is sawdust-in-your-pocket, paint-under-your-finger-nails kind of job.

Q — Struggles?
A —
A year after we built this building (in 2000), it burned to the ground.

Q — Who are your competitors?
A — Larry:
We’re the last company in America doing this. If you want to see this product made, you come to Star, Miss., or you go to China.

Q — How do you compete with China?
A — Larry:
We work hard. We make a better product. It’s all in the design. We go for a high-end market. You have to. We can’t make $5 bird houses, sell them to Wal-Mart for $3 and hope to make a profit. It can’t be done in this country.

We go for the high-end market. Jerry does the design work. We are making a product that the Chinese are not interested in making. They don’t want to make 1,000 of $100 items. They want to make 100,000 of $1 items.

Some of our houses retail for $500. We have made some that retail for $3,000.

Q — What’s in a $3,000 bird house?
A — Larry:
A lot of work. They’re 6 foot, 6 inches tall.
Jerry: When I said we don’t sell a lot in Mississippi, that’s why. We are the upper end of the scale. The money to afford it is in the Northeast, Midwest and far West. That’s where most of our stuff goes.

Unlike Mississippi, if you go up to the Northeast, Midwest, Atlantic Coast states, you have a lot of stores that sell nothing but bird stuff. That’s a lot of our market. You don’t have big-time birders in Mississippi like you do in that part of the world.

Q — Why does cypress make good bird houses?
A — Larry:
(We went to Atlanta to) AmericasMart, the largest gift market in the world. Back in the day Jerry and Lynda paid $10 or $20 to rent a table and tent (at a craft fair). So I called over (to Atlanta), and a said, “Oh, that’s no problem. We have these little 10 X 10’s you can rent. They’re only $2,000.” You don’t go from $10 to $2,000. At that time we had small shops outside our house. We were just limping along. It never occurred to us that we could sell this product nationwide.

(We gave some friends a bird house. They sent us a thank you note and a check for $2,000 for the trade show.) We’re proud Mississippi boys and couldn’t keep their money, but it gave us a lot of confidence. We got our money together and took off for Atlanta like the Clampetts took to Hollywood.

(We got about 350 orders at AmericasMart, and the business grew from there.)

Q — How did you fill all the orders?
A — Larry:
You just worked till you dropped.
Jerry: Had a full-time job — (My wife Lynda) would come home at night and type up invoices and do billing.

Q — What did y’all do for jobs previously?
A — Larry:
Jerry has been involved in Christian ministry … is a custom home builder. I’ve been involved in retail. We had some rental property at one time.

More on Jerry & Larry:

Favorite food:
Fried catfish
Jerry: Meatloaf

Favorite movie:
“Fiddler on the Roof”
Jerry: “Driving Miss Daisy”

Favorite books:
“Amish Grace” by Donald Kraybill
Jerry: “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Website: eHeartwood.com


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