2022 Top Entrepreneur: Jim Miller, JMX Brands CEO, Sarasota
Jim Miller is learning how important pacing is when it comes to growth. “If you don’t have the resources to support the growth, then all of a sudden you’re speeding along the cliff."
| 5:00 a.m. May 12, 2022
Company: JMX Brands and DutchCrafters is an Amish furniture and home décor retailer in Sarasota.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the company has been managing a growth spurt that led to a 92% increase in revenue, from $11.6 million in April 2020 to $22.3 million in April 2021. Additionally, Miller purchased a 30-acre farm in Indiana that will be used for warehouse space and retail needs, and is on track to open a showroom in Georgia. The company has added some 20 employees over the pandemic, and now has 77 employees.
Best advice: A decade ago, Miller, 51, was part of a CEO roundtable discussion held by the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County focused on second stage companies. From that sparked a popular saying that stuck with Miller to this day. “Work on your company, not in your company.”
“It’s a simple concept,” he says, “but it’s not so easy to carry out.”
It’s something he constantly reminds himself of — and was particularly helpful during a rough patch in 2018, when, Miller says, the company had been too focused on revenue growth and lost sight of its profit margins. The company had too little cash in the bank. Then, on June 18 that year, the Google algorithms the company relied on for search engine optimization changed.
“We had not been paying attention to the changes,” Miller says. “We dropped off the map in key searches and our traffic dropped like a rock. As an e-commerce company, we heavily depend on top rankings for products people are searching for.”
To make matters worse, the company had to use operating cash to pay a $600,000 fee required by the merchant service provider that allows a company to accept credit and debit card payments. “It really was the perfect storm,” he says.
That’s when the advice took hold. While in a struggle to figure out the mechanics of the situation, Miller found he was focused on internal problems rather than the company as a whole.
“I was standing inside a circle of problems,” he says. “I had to step out of that circle because we needed to move on. Sometimes you have to do that even if you don’t feel like you’re ready.”
Miller soon shifted to a new vision for the company. Instead of being bogged down by SEO standings, JMX brands put an emphasis on the customer experience. “That shift in focus has been pivotal,” he says.
Since then, the company has added new staff positions curated to the customer experience; is taking steps to add more showrooms in key markets; implemented a hassle-free return policy; made an investment in a new warehouse; and added trucks and drivers in Indiana where the company’s vendors are located.
Best pandemic decision: Miller's take on 2020-2021 concludes it was both a good and bad year for the company. Good in terms of the company's revenue, which after a brief stumble and "sobering moment" in the beginning of the pandemic, rose significantly. Bad, put simply, because of the pandemic's far-reaching consequences on his employees and their families.
That led Miller to what he says was one his best moves: a $1,000 match to any donations employees made to All Faiths Food Bank, one of the leading hunger relief organizations in the region. When Miller and his wife, Linse Miller, knew they weren’t going to lose any team members due to layoff, they challenged their employees to donate what they could. The donation ended up being $4,000.
The donation secured the fact that no one was getting laid off, while also reinforcing one of the company’s core values of giving. “It really underscored for employees how important it is to do the right thing, especially when it’s not the easy thing to do,” he says.
Up-at-night worry: Miller does have one standout worry, albeit he says he "sleeps pretty well."
The concern? Managing the company’s rapid growth.
As Miller is adding a facility in Indiana, a new showroom in Georgia and already looking at the possibility of the next showroom, he’s also cognizant of ensuring the company has the resources needed to do all of that and be successful.
Resources like adding trucks and drivers for the Indiana facility and employees to run the new showrooms are going to be important for the company’s future. And that’s not something that comes easy to Miller.
“I like to drive fast,” he says. “But if you don’t have the resources to support the growth, then all of a sudden you’re speeding along the cliff.”
So while he stays pushing for the next level, he will admit that drive has cost the company a couple of times in the past. But, he adds, managing that risk and making mistakes is just part of the job.
“If you can’t handle crises and challenges, then being a CEO isn’t the right job for you,” he says. “It’s all part of the journey.”
Outside work: Speaking of driving fast, Miller is a busy man when he’s not selling furniture. And while he wouldn’t consider himself a “car guy,” he just bought a new Tesla.
For years, his wife would get the new car and he would get the hand-me-down. So this is the first new car he’s ever purchased for himself. “I’m having a lot of fun with it,” he says. “It’s a cool car.”
Staying busy has been important as he and his wife are recent empty-nesters of four grown children. They now splitting time between hanging out with their dogs and visiting their grandchild. That part of Miller’s life is even about to become a bit busier with another grandchild on the way.
Miller also relishes his boat, saying sometimes they fish and other times they just cruise. “I like being out on the water,” he says. “It’s good for my soul.”