Ready for your backyard deck: Yuba City couple builds redwood furniture with quality and service in mind

The whole idea behind my business is -- I didn't want to ever see the furniture again," explained Jim "Smitty" Smith, "in the sense that I build quality furniture that's going to last -- so there aren't any returns."

Smitty, owner of Smitty's Quality Redwood in Sutter County, and his wife, Melody, build custom patio furniture and garden bridges.

There's a story behind his company.

"I was a salesman for patio furniture and housewares. When I was going through a divorce (in 1994), I went to an auction for redwood furniture and a guy asked me if I wanted to start a new career," Smitty said. "I ended up buying 10 semi-trucks of palletized redwood."

"I bought it, but I didn't know what to do with it. So I scrambled around and got a couple of warehouses at the corner of Garden Highway and Lincoln. I had to buy a forklift at 10 o'clock at night," he recounted.

Smitty said it was a while before he got the hang of things: "I knew how to put the furniture together -- pretty much -- but I didn't know how to build it from scratch. After some mistakes with employees, I decided I better do it myself. So I taught myself."

One of the problems that Smitty saw at his previous job was the large amount of returns because the furniture came in a box and the customer had to put it together. To remedy that, he said, "Ours is totally assembled, so the customer has no problems about putting it together. That way, the customer doesn't have to worry about cracking boards or losing parts."

"I want my customers to be happy," he said.

Most furniture that Smitty and Melody build at their home/ workshop on Highway 20 west of Yuba City is custom-made. They said they build it so the height, width and strength fit the customer. Said Jim, "We build lots of furniture for the elderly that's a little bit higher to make it easier to get out of."

"We also build stuff for persons with handicaps to make it easier for them to get into and out of," Melody said.

Business at Smitty's Quality Redwood is done the old-fashioned way -- with a handshake, the couple explained.

"You have to love our furniture before you pay us," Smitty said. "There's no obligation," Melody added. "If the customer doesn't like the color or something comes up -- they don't have to buy it."

That hasn't hurt them. "In the 14 years I've been in business I've almost never been burned," Smitty said.

The husband-and-wife team also talked about how their level of service and quality materials makes their wooden furniture top-of-the-line and keeps them on an even keel with $10,000 to $15,000 in annual sales.

"We try to give the customer as much information as they need to take care of their furniture," Melody said. "We tell them, 'Call us anytime if you have any questions or complaints.'"

"We try to do everything to the customer's advantage," Smitty added.

That advantage means using 4x4s instead of 2x4s on the frame and latticework that is an inch thick instead of a quarter-inch, he said. "Another thing we do is use waterproof glue for all our furniture, besides using screws or bolts. (Our furniture) may not be as fancy as other types of furniture, but it's the quality behind it," he said. "Ours is going to last."

Smitty and Melody do their best to keep their delivery costs down. They said the furniture is usually delivered at very little cost, and no cost if in the Yuba-Sutter area.

Another thing that seems to set Smitty's Quality Redwood apart is the way the couple enjoys working with their customers.

"When we build something, like a table or a bridge, by the time we get through with the phone calls and such and talking -- it's almost like we've become family," Melody said.

Smitty and Melody brought their chairs and bridges to last weekend's home and garden show at the Yuba-Sutter Fairgrounds. Melody said the sales weren't quite up to what they expected, but the people who did come by were quality customers who showed real interest.

But it's not just the customers they enjoy working with; they also enjoy each other.

"Melody had a job for a while at Home Depot, but I didn't like that. I like her here, I enjoy her company," Smitty said. "We know each other's strengths. I do most of the cutting and she has more patience putting things together."

"We get along great. We live together. We're together 24/7," Melody said.

Smitty said that it's always a challenge to keep up with changes in the business.

"We used to do a lot of our business over in the Bay Area during the flea market era, but that's died off. Then we went into the spa business. We sold a lot of spa steps and siding, but that's petered down to nothing," he said, "We do home shows in Fresno, Santa Rosa, Truckee and Yuba City, but that's slowing down and has become more expensive."

Their hottest-sellers over the years have been their bridges, which range in size from about three feet to 11 feet in length, Smitty said. "Sometimes bridges are our biggest-seller," Melody added.

Looking back, they said one of the few things they would do differently would have been to develop a Web site and make more use of the Internet.

Melody said that as successful as they've been over the years, she knows they would be doing so much better if only people would finish their backyard decks.

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