Say Goodbye to the Status Quo

Article by:
Hanny Lerner, EO New York
Hanny Lerner
EO New York

When people ask me what I do for a living, they are surprised by my answer. Without fail, their second question is: “How did you get into that business?” Good question. Which 24-year-old starts a furniture-restoration company from scratch, five days before the market hits rock bottom? A foolishly fearless young entrepreneur like me, that is.

When my partner and I started MOD Restoration in 2009, we thought we had it all figured out. We were ambitious, hustling and landing service contracts with large furniture companies to do in-home warranty repairs for their customers. It was exciting. It was fast-paced. We were growing and making money.

But it soon became clear that it was far from fulfilling. Try as we might, we could do nothing right in our customers’ eyes. If we successfully repaired their furniture, they hated us for ruining their chance to receive an exchange. If we determined that their claim wasn’t covered under warranty, they would call the furniture company demanding justice.

Many customers even tried to bribe our repair technicians in the hopes that we would report their damage as a manufacturer’s defect to be covered under warranty. Regardless of the scenario, no one seemed happy. The customers wanted new furniture, our technicians wanted to do the repair and get paid, and naturally, the furniture companies wanted to pay out the fewest claims possible. Negativity surrounded our business from all sides on a daily basis. It was simultaneously exhausting and depressing, and I was burning out.

There comes a time in life when we give ourselves a choice. Do we continue doing something just because it’s profitable and we’re used to it, or do we break away into the unknown and try to start over in the hopes that it would give us genuine pleasure? I’ve given myself that choice a dozen times throughout my life. In eighth grade, I decided that my Hasidic school wasn’t for me and got myself thrown out. When I was 19 and married to an ultra-religious man, I found myself yearning for a different life and gathered the courage to get divorced. The older I got, the more I found myself fighting the “norm” in a quest to do what I thought would make me happy.

After two years of building a reputable warranty service business, I found myself in that same predicament. The inability to make customers happy, the physical intensity of the work and the grueling hours left me with no quality of life. The money we were making wasn’t worth it. It certainly wasn’t enough. So in typical Hanny-style, I woke up one morning and fired every corporate client we had. I decided to start all over again. I decided to rediscover the entrepreneurial spirit that had gotten me this far in the first place.

I was positive that whatever our next step would be, it would be more rewarding— emotionally and monetarily. It had to be. I wanted the opportunity to make customers happy, to provide them with a product or service that they actually chose to buy. I knew I loved fashion, and I was already in furniture … I just needed something with flair. So I reinvented MOD Restoration as a re-upholstery company, offering more than 100,000 upholstery fabrics from which to choose. Two years later, MOD has become known as the “fashion for furniture” shop, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

People rarely tell us that it’s OK to change our minds, especially in business. If we do, we’re considered flaky or indecisive. But I disagree. I believe that the ability to change the status quo truly is a gift. It got me to where I am today. At 28, I am passionate about what I do. I have an incredibly talented team of upholsterers, each of whom loves what they do. And best of all, our clients are ecstatic when they get their furniture back. We’re more successful today than ever before, which I believe is a byproduct of doing what makes you happy. Now when people ask me what I do for a living, I can confidently say that I’m living my dream.

Hanny Lerner is president of MOD Restoration and MOD Textiles, and is a weekly contributor for Forbes on entrepreneurship. Fun fact: Hanny loves to race cars and compete at the shooting range.

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