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Sam and Hayley Unruh: Furniture Venture and Adventure

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Tens of thousands of choices. That’s what you’ll find at Unruh in Kansas City, Missouri, a built-from-scratch furniture manufacturer. When you take each basic piece and multiply it by finishes, styles, sizes and more, you’ll find the perfect match for your home. But the root of these thousands of choices actually begins with just two: the couple who founded this company, Sam and Hayley Unruh. While Sam is the craftsman and leader of Unruh, it is his wife who was the driving force in making his dream a reality. In other words, Hayley is the woman behind the man.

“I’ve always been a handy guy and enjoyed tinkering, and I got into furniture making. My first seven or eight pieces were built to impress Hayley,” recalled Sam. “About a year into our marriage, she was pregnant with our daughter, Emma, and I was doing furniture as a hobby. But she encouraged me to quit my job and build furniture. She empowered and encouraged me to take a chance and do what I like. Together, we believed we would make and build enough furniture to pay our bills. It was with her confidence and encouragement that our company came to be.”

Creation and Growth
“I guess you can say I’m the woman behind the man, but he’s an extraordinary man. Sam runs full throttle at whatever he does,” shared Hayley. “I work hard on managing our home, and we’re both evaluating how the business is doing and how we’re meeting the other’s needs. We’re in constant communication. The best fit for him was creating this company and growing the business.”

Unruh is a custom furniture company offering 130 products for the home. Each piece can be created to fit the exact style for a homeowner due to its ability to offer a huge variation in styles. For instance, a table can be created from 60 to 120 inches in length and every inch in between. But don’t let all of these possibilities overwhelm you. Unruh features standards with variations that give customers a number of options in a controlled way. Sam refers to it as an easy-to-use custom furniture system. He adds, “You will know what your piece will look and feel like before it’s delivered.”

Complete Customization
“We have seven different kinds of wood, and we can complete your piece in one of 49 different finishings. Every piece can have tens of thousands of variations to meet customer needs. Our style is a made-to-order system, not a ‘made system’ in which most pieces are built in southeast Asia or India. The cost of shipping dictates they can’t afford all of the options we do and they must make their furniture as light as possible,” explained Sam. “Unruh quality is so much more because every piece is a fully built, solid piece. That’s what being local means for our customers. We have that luxury.”

“We do have a lot of competitors such as those big box stores, but no competitors do what we do at Unruh. Each piece is tailored to the customer’s room, made from solid hardwood and guaranteed for life. We want to educate people on a better way to buy furniture,” shared Hayley. “There’s no shipping and little overhead, and our pricing is right in line with places like Crate and Barrel or Restoration Hardware. But at Unruh, you get so much more variety to get it just right. We may not have the name recognition of those box stores, but what we’re doing is getting the word out that we offer a better option.”

As president of Unruh, Sam oversees day-to-day operations, although most of it is spent in the office rather than on the shop floor. Hayley runs the company’s social media and oversees the Mom’s Fund program, offering free dining room tables and other necessities to single mothers in need. The Unruhs have been married since 2011 and have four children: Emma, six; twins Ellie and Aubrey, five; and son Bear, two. The couple’s romance began when they met as counselors at a summer camp for disabled children.

The Beginning
“We were both working the summer at the Camp Barnabus just south of Springfield, Missouri. We were friends first and then fell in love,” remarked Hayley. “I was a student at Texas State University and Sam studied at College of the Ozarks.”

“I fell for her long before she fell for me. I could see she was kind and generous, lovely and a good friend to her friends,” said Sam. “I knew she was the girl for me. Hayley was the first girl I ever dated and the first I ever kissed.”

While Sam worked as a manager for his father’s property company in Kansas City, he longed for something more. In his spare time, he honed his hobby of woodworking, eventually producing a sideboard, which he easily sold on craigslist. Hayley could sense something more awaited him and suggested he give up his full-time work and concentrate on creating furniture.

From that startup operation in their garage, Unruh has grown to about 20 employees with manufacturing operations in a former church in midtown Kansas City. The structure was fairly stripped to the bones, but it was Sam’s keen eye for development that realized the potential and the hard work it would take to turn it into a success.

“I understand why people buy from Unruh; we can customize and we’re a good business. But the real key is that they like to come and see our furniture and meet us. The showroom allows us to do that and build relationships with our customers. I figured the building would be fun for them to go through and understand the character and story with it,” noted Sam. “I knew when I saw the church this was the one, but I had no idea how hard it would be. It took a year for me to convince the city and the neighborhood to buy the church and then another year to fix it up.”

“To buy the church, we had to use our home and his life insurance as collateral, but it’s really paid off,” shared Hayley. “I’ve been able to let him take risks, and I’m not afraid to let him take a risk. I’ve never been scared of it because I trust him to take us on this adventure, which is good for both of us.” This adventure for Sam and Hayley continues as the couple has launched a second showroom in Dallas, a nod to Hayley’s home state and a market ripe for the Unruh furniture brand.

After nearly a decade as entrepreneurs, Hayley and Sam have acquired a wealth of experience and knowledge in running and growing a successful business. They encourage an open and engaging company culture for their employees who, in turn, share this enthusiasm with customers. But supporting Unruh staff with positivity doesn’t stop at the shop floor but also extends to each other.

Words of Wisdom
“Don’t be foolish, but let your spouse take risks and take the risk with them. Be okay with failing because you will fail,” stated Hayley. “Before Sam had the furniture business, he had a toilet repair business and it failed. But I told him it was no big deal because we can find something else; you can do many things to make money. Sometimes people get too scared to try a different adventure.”

“I talk with people all the time who want to go out on their own, and it’s a great idea. But if you have the itch, do it now rather than later, when you might have more responsibilities,” advised Sam. “I’m fortunate I got the nudge from Hayley to go out on my own early in my life.”

As for the woman behind the man, Hayley offers these reflections on letting you be you. “Don’t lose yourself. I’ve always been a strong woman throughout our marriage, and I wasn’t going to do just anything for him. I’ve been my own person, and being confident in who I am has allowed me to be okay with him taking these risks and doing these things to become a big business.”

That big business is built on big numbers, the thousands of possibilities of constructing furniture that meets the needs of Unruh customers across the United States. Yet when the digits are counted and the statistics are entered for the Unruhs, success is built on the simple equation of one plus one equals a couple, devoted to their marriage, family and business.

“Our story is that we’re a family constantly trying to make it work. We’re just like everybody else. We’re laid back people and want others to feel that we’re approachable. Family is the most important thing to us,” shared Hayley. “Our story is important to me, but when it comes down to it, we’re a husband and wife with four kids trying to make it work.”

“I’m so grateful and impressed by my wife because she has such great ideas. The business started with her idea,” commented Sam. “Hayley understands my working long hours and has contributed much to the business. It’s definitely a joint effort for us.”