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Barnwood & Leather owners hope to create unique experience for customers with first business venture

Barnwood & Leather owners hope to create unique experience for customers with first business venture

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For the past 20 years, Mike and Brenda Clark have been bouncing around the idea of starting their own business.

That idea didn't germinate until the couple found themselves traveling to Wisconsin in search of rustic furniture for their home. They realized the market for authentic rustic furniture had been untapped in Lincoln.

All at once, that two-decade dream in the back of their mind had finally found a spark.

Barnwood & Leather, located at 1401 Dahlberg Dr. in Lincoln, specializes in providing unique American barnwood furniture pieces and custom cabinets. The local business, which opened in September, hopes to provide the community with a new option for furniture.

"Many of our tables and furniture can be customized to fit the customer's needs," Brenda Clark said. "I think that's what makes us stand out a bit."

Much of the furniture sold at Barnwood & Leather features authentic, reclaimed barn lumber, Mike Clark said. 

"These are pieces that are part of American history," he said. 

The couple began the preliminary work on the business in 2016 with plenty of research, furniture shopping and searching for the perfect location.

After closing on the then-unfinished space, they enlisted the help of their entire family to transform it into a spacious showroom. 

"It was quite the journey," Brenda said.

Family is at the core of Barnwood & Leather. Working alongside Mike and Brenda are their son-in-law Lawrence deVilliers and daughter-in-law Lindsey Clark.

"It's been nice to work with family," said Lindsey, the store's business manager. "Coming together as a team has been great."

DeVilliers is the self-described "jack-of-all-trades" at Barnwood & Leather. Before joining his in-laws as the store's customer service manager, deVilliers ran The Normandy, a French bistro at 17th and Van Dorn streets.

He said his past experience in the food business has carried over well into this new venture.

"It's really right up my wheelhouse," he said. "It's a great opportunity to see the other side of retail."

Mike made it clear his wife deserves most of the praise for getting the business off the ground.

"This has been a joint effort, but Brenda has done the majority of the heavy lifting," he said.

Before opening the business, she worked as a speech therapist. She felt it was time to move on, but still had an itch to live out her dream of owning a business.

"I wasn't ready to stop working and we've always had this passion to have this business," she said.

Mike works as a strategic account manager for Cargill Animal Nutrition, where he's been the past 23 years. He hopes to eventually follow in his wife's footsteps and become more involved in the day-to-day operations of the store. 

They try to make their showroom as comfortable and welcoming as possible for customers. That means no commission for sales, so customers don't feel pressured by salespeople to make a purchase.

"Sale is the end goal, but we want to help people find what they're looking for," Mike said.

To that end, Barnwood & Leather hosts "Lattes with Mike" on the last Saturday of each month to give customers a chance to talk with the owners. November's "talk" coincided with Small Business Saturday, a national event sponsored by American Express that encourages consumers to shop at local retailers.

In mid-November, city officials also stressed the importance of shopping local during the holiday season.

Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird pointed out that owners of local businesses are likely to use money spent at their store to buy things from other local companies, which generates more sales tax dollars to pay for city services.

Shopping at stores that are locally owned is "kind of like recycling dollar bills right here in Lincoln," she said.

The focus on creating an experience for customers has led to a strong start for Barnwood & Leather. Brenda said the number of customers has increased steadily since the business opened.

"We expected a slow start, but it's picked up even faster," she said.

The family will continue to work out the kinks that come with opening a business as it prepares for the store's official grand opening in January.

"We want to become a part of the community," Brenda said. "We want to make it an experience."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or njohnson@journalstar.com

On Twitter @noahjohnson1996 

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