Wade Caughman and his wife Sheila are the owners and partners of FOS Design. The company imports furnishings and products from New Zealand and Germany. They are distributors for three distinct design manufacturers. They import mailboxes for Box Design in the U.S. as well as Canada. They import and distribute modern and industrial designs from Mueller-Emform from Germany and Radius Design from New Zealand.
Wade is also the founder of Jams & Stark. It is a construction, design, and development company. The company was started in 2002 and has weathered the economic collapse of 2007-2008. The mighty storm did not leave the company unscathed. But it survived after many years of hard work and a proactive approach to best business practices. As a result of the dignity and strength to adapt, the business now enjoys the fruits of its labor. They have changed the face of the city of Columbia with the development of such properties as Congaree Park, City Club Townhomes, Bart Street Lofts, and Flow Townhomes.
Wade was born and raised in Columbia, South Carolina. He went to Airport High School, then attended the University of South Carolina and took marketing classes. He moved to New York and did some freelance marketing for a while, and then it was on to Europe where he spent the next two years traveling. He lived in Athens, Greece, and Milan, Italy.
In 1992 Wade Caughman returned home and married Sheila, who he had known since elementary school. The newlywed couple started their entrepreneurial adventures with a video production company. They took video for college and school events and produced convention productions. They had the opportunity to film Ronald Regan and Ted Turner. By the mid 90’s when t-shirts with an attitude were the latest craze, the couple started an activewear company. The next business enterprise was for motorcycles sales. They sold used Harley Davidsons and Ducati motorcycles. Experiencing all of these diverse businesses allowed the couple to maintain their independence and entrepreneurial ship. However, all of these enterprises never satisfied the heart or the passion that wells up from the deepest part of every person. Wade Caughman is a creator. He is a visionary of design and creative genius of high-end design.
Jams & Stark is his answer to sooth the restless soul from within. FOS Design is the perfect accompaniment to this final enterprise. Wade Caughman and his partner Sheila have been married for over 25 years and are proud parents of three daughters. The word Stark in German is Strong. Jams stand for Wade’s wife and three daughters (Jaden, Ava, Micah & Sheila). What is in a name many people ask? For this business, it is the soothing of a passion and the capture of grace.
How did you get started in Real Estate and FOS Design? What inspired you to start this business?
When I bought the 10 acres in Congaree Park. I never had real estate in the past other than my own home. I just wanted to have a home on the river. I thought if I bought enough property to sell the other lots, I could get my lot for free. It just turned into a business. And I am still doing it today.
With FOS Design, I was reading Dwell Magazine and Metropolitan Magazine, I had just called a retailer wanting to buy a half dozen contemporary mailboxes from Box Designs to use on one of my projects. He told me that if I wanted to buy that many, I should call the manufacturer in New Zealand. I called, and I asked if they had a distributor in North America. He told me that he did not have a distributor. I told him that I might be interested in becoming his U.S. distributor. After we got started with them, I researched for competitors and established a relationship with Radius, and I met Mueller at a trade show in Germany.
How do you make money?
With FOS Design we buy and import our products from Germany. We stock them in our warehouse and sell them online. We also do wholesale and retail sales within the U.S. and Canada. On the real estate side, we are hired to remodel kitchens and bathrooms. But as a developer which is our primary business, we actually find the buildings, come up with an idea and a design, and we sell them. With the townhouses, we presold the lots, developed the land and closed on the houses.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
FOS Design was profitable within 6 months because we can control the inventory and the sales. I think with the real estate market it has been feast or famine. We have had really good projects that we’ve sold very well. But if I had to give a realistic timeframe for how long it took to become truly profitable, I would say 10 years.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I never doubted that they were a fit. The doubt I had when I did the T-shirt business or the motorcycle business. It was the time I was messing around with being an entrepreneur. It was just perusing a trend to make money. It was not the same thing that I am doing now. This is my passion in life, and you can never go wrong when you’re doing something like that. Design, building, and development are different businesses, but they are all related. Even through the “depression” I never doubted that what I am doing is what I want to do.
How did you get your first customer?
With the real estate business in 2003-2004, we actually had real estate agents calling us to sell our properties. They thought the project was a good idea. With FOS we started selling products on eBay. We ran one ad in Dwell magazine, and the rest is history.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
With FOS design, Instagram, Pinterest, and social media works well for us. With Real Estate, it is coming up with a new product, and feeling confident in the product. Then it is guerrilla marketing.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
As you start a new project, it is always difficult in choosing new partners and investors. There will always be glitches and issues you’ll have to address as the project rolls out. When choosing you have to have a mutual respect and trust above all else. Once that relationship is established, then you can start to consider which partners or investors to choose.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I am detailed-oriented. I will not invest in anything without thoroughly researching the project. I research the soil, the water, what money can be made available if there are any issues before a purchase. I also listen to people talk about what people want that they enjoyed in an urban area they visited.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
One of the most satisfying situations you have is when you know that you’re working with people who are confident in you and confident in the project. Knowing that you can move ahead with full support without having to sell anyone on the idea.
What business books have inspired you?
Ted Turner Citizen Turner and Virgin by Richard Branson and Good to Great by Jim Collins.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
A new inventory control and customer services software. Clients say everything has been covered.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
With FOS Design, it is still a niche, but the interest in the design is growing. We see steady growth. In the real estate business, there are a lot of ups and downs, but I still have dreams I am still planning to put in motion. There is a one-liner in the movie the equalizer. It says “sometimes you make a lot of wrong choices to get to the right places.”