When furnishing her home, attorney Olia Yelner struggled with the typical homeowner problems of finding the right piece of furniture for her space. She grew frustrated shopping in the popular retail stores that didn't stock what she needed and seemed to carry only foreign-made products.
"I want to maximize space in my house and I was looking for products that are not on the market," Yelner said. "I wanted to see these products exist."
The solution? Yelner, who always enjoys a DIY project, launched a manufacturing company earlier this year called AmericanGoodz. Her start-up specializes in creating unique home products using only American labor.
Her first creation was the Conver-table hanging folding table, which is a sturdy wood table that folds up to double as a picture frame, corkboard, mirror or chalkboard depending on which surface consumers choose. The table sells for $299 and had been sold through the americangoodz.com website until its popularity exceeded Yelner's manufacturing capacity.
"The demand for the table has outpaced what we're able to produce right now," said Yelner, who practices at Pirro & Church in New Haven as a Social Security benefits attorney. "I'm not taking people's money for the table, but I'll take orders for it and put people on the list."
The table/frame is made of lightweight ash wood but can be manufactured in resin plastic, too. She is working on prototypes for a chair, too.
Yelner also produces fabric "suitups," which are hand-sewn covers for bottles, jars and containers that people use to spruce up their kitchens and bathrooms. They come in different prints and colors such as polka dot, an American flag motif and skulls and crossbones.
AmericanGoodz's marketing focus is on people who need to make the most of small living spaces while doing so stylishly. Yelner also hopes people share her passion for providing American-made products.
"Retailers want to be able to say their furniture and home goods are made in the U.S., but they can't," Yelner said. AmericanGoodz can boast that everything is made not only in America but in Connecticut and New York by a small team of carpenters and sewing experts working from their homes.
She posted job requirements online and assembled her team of five women who sew and two carpenters. The contractors work from their homes and Yelner drops in to pick up orders and deliver the raw materials she purchases from a wholesaler in New York City. Yelner located her contractors online after fruitless efforts to find an American factory that would manufacture her goods.
"The concerns I've heard from American factories is that they're understaffed and don't have the people to take this on," Yelner said. "I thought it wouldn't be a problem to find a manufacturer."
She rarely mentions her legal background or day job as a lawyer, but her legal skills are helpful when it has come to contracts with her wholesaler or applying for patents for her products. Yelner pays her contractors $15 an hour, and her team includes people who are disabled, homebound or need to be home to care for a disabled spouse.
"I'm asking these people to take a gamble and share in my vision," she said. "I'm asking a lot of them."
It's hard work spreading the word about her products, Yelna said. When she picks up materials in New York City, Yelner also tries to meet with shop owners and retailers to introduce them to AmericanGoodz. Because so many people in New York City live in small apartments, she believes it's a good market to penetrate and she's hoping to get her table/frame into some boutiques.
"People don't always have a lot of time to meet with me, but they've been pretty receptive," Yelner said.
She also blogs actively on her website with different do-it-yourself projects she has completed in her home. It's part of her effort to bring more attention to the AmericanGoodz brand without necessarily selling a piece of furniture or decorative cover. Her projects include placing doors on a shelving unit, building a cat walk and scratching post, and transforming old vases with new designs.
These projects have become popular on the social media platform Pinterest, Yelner said, and help build up awareness of her company.
"I try to offer a service through those DIY projects on the blog, and I'd definitely like to see more people recognize the AmericanGoodz brand," she said.•