LACEY, Wash.–Cabinets by Trivonna, was the winner of the Washington State SBA Encore Entrepreneur Award. Trivonna Irwin and her husband, Ross Irwin, opened their doors to the public in January 2007, when they were both in the mid-50s.
Their company now employs four designers and an administrative assistant, and they provide substantial work to cabinet makers and cabinet installers in and around the South Puget Sound. In 2017 they did more than $2 million in sales.
Trivonna started designing cabinets in the mid-1990s in a large home improvement store and it soon became apparent she was good at it and customers liked working with her, Ross said. When that company went bankrupt, she found a great job with another company, but then that company started having troubles as well. Things were changing at her work, Ross said, and she wanted more control over what she did and how she did it. “I could see her joy vanishing,” he said.
That’s when Ross suggested they open their own business. Ross’ previous work had been in the ministry, including teaching at a Christian high school, but this was 2006 when construction was strong, and Ross believed they could make it on their own.
Then the recession hit, work dried up and housing values plummeted, which was a particular problem for the Irwins because they had financed their business start with a home equity loan. Ross said he and Trivonna still believed they could make it, but they lived close to the bone and kept expenses to a minimum.
In 2012, he took a Profit Mastery course from SBDC advisor, Ron Nielsen that was offered at South Puget Sound Community College.
The SBDC office in Lacey is located at the Center for Business and Innovation, a partnership of South Puget Sound Community College and the Thurston Economic Development Council.
“That really opened my eyes,” he said. “If nothing else, it told me what I didn’t know.” The class was a huge help, Ross said, but then he came back to the SBDC a few years later and started meeting one-on-one with Ron.
“Ron has been a tremendous help,” he said. “He is the most patient man I’ve ever met.”
Ross said he has reached out to various people and programs, including SCORE and the EDC, over the years, and all have been helpful. “But Ron has been especially helpful because he stuck with us,” Ross said. “He’s been wonderful.”
The Irwins are now through the lean times, but they continue to be careful with their finances, and they continue to reach out to the SBDC regularly.
“Get help,” Ross advises other encore entrepreneurs. “Don’t be afraid to check out the resources that are available.”
By Hope Tinney, Washington SBDC
Ross Irwin, Cabinets by Trivonna, (360) 539-5057, website: http://www.cabinetsbytrivonna.com/