Doorman Designs Started With One Headboard and Became a Global Business
NEW ORLEANS – When is a door not a door? When it becomes a bed and kick starts a global furniture design business.
Slidell native Alex Geriner’s professional furniture design career started in 2009 when he bought a door salvaged from a Katrinia-flooded shotgun and decided to inlay the door panels with decorative ceiling tin and make it into a headboard for a bed in his Riverbend apartment.
Geriner’s friend saw the completed design, loved it and asked him to make one for her. He completed the order and he sold it to her “for a couple bucks.” His very first sale.
Soon after that, another of Geriner’s friends gave him some information that would prove to be life changing.
“She told me she’d started selling jewelry on this new site called Etsy and I was like, ‘What is that …?’ So I went and figured out what Etsy was and started a profile,” he said. “I posted some pictures of the last two headboards I had made and literally within a week I had sold two more.”
Then he had to figure out how to ship those beds to customers in California.
“I remember I was at the Fedex on Tchoupitoulas wrestling on the floor with this headboard, wrapping it in cardboard and rope,” said Geriner. “It looked like a dead body. I don’t think I even sent instructions on how to assemble it. It was literally just a door – but it made it there.”
After those first two Etsy sales, Geriner continued to hone his designs and improve the logistics of his nascent business while he was still working at a marketing job downtown.
“I would ride the streetcar home at night and work in my backyard,” he said. “I would plug in all my extension cords and bring my tools down the back stairs and just work until it was pitch dark. Every weekend, every evening I was making headboards. I kept raising my prices a little bit and eventually I was making more money with the headboards than my nine-to-five job.”
His marketing background helped him create a strong brand: handmade, uniquely Southern, high-quality pieces with an emphasis on sustainability and preservation. It’s a selling point to customers in New Orleans and beyond that Doorman uses a “variety of materials found throughout the Gulf South, including reclaimed woods and architectural salvage – much of which comes from the remnants of homes that were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Katrina,” he said.
By 2011, Geriner had moved his furniture workshop and several new employees into a building in the Lower Garden District. This worked fine until it didn’t.
“By 2015, I had outgrown that shop big time,” he said. “We got evicted. The landlord was fine [at first] but then we were building on the sidewalk, blocking traffic, making too much noise and being too much of a disruption.”
Geriner said the change was a blessing in disguise because he found better digs in an old warehouse along River Road near Cooter Brown’s. He and his team worked there for four more years as the business continued to grow.
That brings us to 2019. With orders pouring in and his business once again outgrowing its workspace, Geriner went on the hunt for a permanent home for his shop and his carpentry crew, which now includes Xan Baird, Jesse Varichak, Zach Spellman and Tristan Aubrey. Earlier this year he found the perfect spot in a 5,700 square-foot commercial building formerly owned by Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority alongside the levee in Algiers Point. The site used to house tractors, trailers and other equipment used for levee maintenance — along with a few centuries’ worth of spirits and stories.
The building was being auctioned by the state after being left abandoned since Hurricane Katrina and that process was a story unto itself.
“As soon as I made the corner last April and saw it, I knew it could work, but I didn’t know I could buy it until I showed up at the auction,” he said. “My dad and I came that day after looking at the building and having it inspected. The Auction started at 10 a.m. Around 9:50, there were almost 75 people here. There was this one woman carrying what looked like a 10,000-dollar handbag getting out of a Mercedes – and I’m like, ‘That’s our competition there, Dad.”
The auction began and was over in a flash.
“After a while, people started dropping out until it was me and this one guy in a Hawaiian T-shirt and we were just going back and forth with our paddles,” said Geriner. “I just kept raising my paddle and finally the auctioneer was like, ‘Stop, you’re ahead. You’re bidding on top of yourself.”
The whole process was literally over in about three or four minutes but it felt like it took an hour.
“After the auction you would have thought my dad had just been elected mayor. He was walking around, shaking everyone’s hand … “
Now ensconced in his new building, Geriner said he sells furniture to customers in “every continent except Antarctica – and it’s all online.”
He’s even outgrown Etsy these days. Now he puts his marketing training to good use by optimizing search words to send traffic to his website (doormandesigns.com) and buying ads and search results on Google. Most important, he earns customers the old-fashioned way: word of mouth and good, old-fashioned hustle.
“To put it into a furniture-inspired cliche, it’s like a table that needs all four legs to stand straight and strong,” he said. “We built this business off of Etsy and then Google but we also need social media marketing and finally good, old-fashioned word of mouth. Even though we have all these great technologies, getting to know people and getting the product out to market are still the most important parts of our business.”