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Kyle Dubay and Bo Shepherd are building something special
Running a business

Kyle Dubay and Bo Shepherd are building something special

Name: Kyle Dubay and Bo Shepherd


Location: Detroit, MI


Business: Woodward Throwbacks

Woodward Throwbacks

Tell us a little bit about your business and how you got started.

My partner, Bo, and I started this 10 years ago. At that time, the city landscape was a little bit different than it is now. There was a lot of illegal dumping happening all over the city. So, if you're not familiar, that’s when people who are construction workers, or whatever, they have all this debris, and they just dump it in the middle of the street instead of actually throwing it away. Because the city was so vacant. Bo and I were biking around the city all the time and seeing this. And we'd see things sometimes that would strike our eye like, "Oh, that's really cool." 

We started making furniture and decor for our apartments, and then thought, "Hey, maybe we could go to the farmer's market, and people would be interested in some of this stuff." And we did really well. We went back the next week, did well again, and it just kept snowballing from there. So we’re 10 years in, and it's changed a lot, but the main idea has been the same.


How does running your own business make you feel?


Stressed. Tired. But definitely a sense of accomplishment. We're in this awesome building that we bought. We're in our 20s. People who live in other cities could have never imagined owning a 25,000-square-foot building. And it's a really awesome thing. We have taught so many people along the way to have our sense of style and creativity. I think that's something that's been rewarding, as well, is bringing people into our world.

Were there things you needed to teach yourself about running a business?


I think, as we got bigger, managing people. And having to train myself to realize that if they're screwing up, it’s probably because I didn't give good instructions. That sense of being more of a teacher, and less of an artist, at times. That's been a struggle. We have it down now. 


And managing risk. Bo and I are very big risk-takers, and we do have to think about everyone else's lives that are attached to this, and not us just shooting from the hip, and risking everything all the time. So, that's been something we've had to dial back a little bit.


What tools help you run your business?


We started using QuickBooks probably seven years ago. When we hired an accountant, he set us up with it, and we've had it ever since. I use it all the time, honestly. We use it for everything from invoicing to tracking our bank accounts and website sales, as well as running payroll, and our time clock. Everything that's a financial component is run through it.


Being able to track invoices is pretty awesome. I think the payroll end of it is so easy for me — I can do it in 15 minutes. And that's great, because it just saves a ton of time. Everything's tracked through it. If there's an issue with someone's stuff, I go into QuickBooks Time, and then I can figure it out. I'm not going into a different app, and worrying about how it's connected.

QuickBooks has the tools you need to help your business thrive.

What was the biggest lesson you learned in your first year?


You're always nonstop. You're never off. And that you have to tame your emotions —  you can't go too high or too low. Because everything swings so heavy from day to day, that you just have to be along for it. 


How do you manage to wear all the hats that your business demands?


I don't know. I've been doing it for so long, it's just normal now. I have a partner. It's good having that, to be able to balance stuff out with. We have our own responsibilities, but it's nice to be able to lean on someone when needed. And having a good group outside of work, like friends and such, to be able to relax and blow off steam with.


What is the most gratifying thing about owning your own business?


Teaching. I think that's great. And also — we design furniture, and we're using pieces or materials that most people aren't using. When you have an idea of what something could be, you turn that into a reality, and sometimes it works better than you even thought it could, I think that's just a really gratifying process. It doesn't always happen that way. When it turns out great, it's to be celebrated.

How is working with a partner? Do you have different strengths that balance things out?


We definitely have our own strengths and weaknesses. I handle more of the financial stuff. She handles more of the interior design and handles the storefront downtown. We have our own lanes, which is great, because it would be very hard to handle all of it on your own. So, we have our own stuff that we are always trying to do. But there is overlap in all that, too. I don't know. We've been doing it for so long now. It just really seems like second nature. 


What role does your community play in the success of your business? 


Bo and I have lived here…she's probably been here for 15 years. I've been here for 12. She's been here longer than that, actually. Most of our employees live in the city, too. And honestly, it's our whole life. I don't leave the city limits. We don't take salvage jobs outside the city, because we don't really need to. I think that there's just a great energy here. People here are awesome. Obviously, they're blue collar. They're tough people. But they're also just so friendly. And they want to see people succeed who are doing things the right way. So, we've experienced so much of that goodwill from people in the community, who generally just want to see us do well. And I don't think you have that everywhere.

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Your business will change, and you have to be open to it changing.

What advice would you give to other business owners who are thinking about starting a new business?


Be flexible in what you think that you're doing. Because your business will change, and you have to be open to it changing. What you start with might not be what you're doing in a year. Because, sometimes you might be on the wrong path, so you have to be able to adjust and understand the opportunity might be elsewhere. What we're doing now is not anything near what we were doing before, or what we thought we'd be doing.


What is next for Woodward Throwbacks?


We're getting into more of the interior design and built environment type of projects. We started as a company that made home decor, and then graduated into doing furniture. And now we're doing real estate development jobs, and bigger, full home projects. We're doing interior design for clients, and building larger pieces of built-in furniture into those spaces. And that's something that we really love, because you can just make such a huge impact on the design aspect, more so than just building 100 dining tables a month. So, it's more fulfilling creatively. And I think that there's a big market for us, since we're so niche. I think it's a really big market for us to build.


How has your definition of success evolved?


We're not very money driven, oddly enough. The business has grown so we always have to make more money, but that's not really the end goal for us. I think the end goal for us has always been to just keep pushing ourselves, creatively. Bo and I worked in creative fields before this, but we worked for other people with other parameters and other requirements. So for us here, it's like we do what we want, and we don't do the ones we don't want to do. As long as it's still fun for us, I think maybe that's more of an element of success for us — keeping it fun and interesting as much as possible.


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