American Entrepreneurs | Lauren Russell & Larry Strassner

Severna Park, Maryland

Russell & Mackenna

Trent, Sadie and I rolled up on a Saturday afternoon to the adorable cottage that is the flagship store of Russell & Mackenna. A fully stocked, but tidy, space showcased the company's delightfully magical furniture in spirited colors and patterns. You may be familiar with Russell & Mackenna, known for their "fresh furniture" style, from O at Home Magazine, Coastal Living Magazine or Cottage Style. Given their accessible and cheerful design, Russell & Mackenna actually had a national presence before they had a local presence in their Severna Park, Maryland hometown. Their bright and whimsical furniture speaks to the quality and lifestyle of second home coastal cottages, which is Russell and Mackenna’s niche market.

The father/daughter team of Larry Strassner and Lauren Russell is behind everything Russell & Mackenna sells here in the United States.  The company continues to thrive despite the economic climate and Lauren and Larry credit their success to the high quality of their products, the fact that their products are manufactured domestically and the effectiveness of their marketing strategies.

Both Larry and Lauren are big believers in the concept of paying it forward and have made it a core value for the Russell & Mackenna team.  Lauren especially recognized the invaluable help they received when they were launching their business.  Now that Russell & Mackenna is in a position to help other fledgling businesses, they reach out and share their resources and support. Lauren told us the story of finding a talented painter they discovered in a small booth at the back of a trade show. Lauren recognized the painter’s talent and invited her to do a series of custom pieces for the Russell & Mackenna store and catalog.

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Lauren Russell, creative director of Russell and Mackenna in the flagship cottage.

Lauren says that for her, thriving is being able to take her knowledge and extend it to other entrepreneurs.  For Lauren, optimism is also a part of being an entrepreneur.

Lauren began her career as a freelance marketing consultant.  When her husband, Kevin, left his job at an investment bank Lauren suggested that he attend to a growing list of home renovations while he thought about what he really wanted to do with his life and his career. Kevin’s first project was to build a vanity for the bathroom.  One of Lauren’s client saw the vanity and asked Lauren if Kevin could make one for her own home. The next day the client called back, and asked if she could order five vanities. A week later Lauren answered the phone for an order for the client’s five children’s bedrooms.  Five bathroom vanities, five beds, five dressers, five bedroom chests.  It was a huge order.  And it not only gave Lauren the idea to start a business, but the seed money to make it happen.

It was at this point that Lauren called her father, Larry.  Lauren asked Larry if he would write a business plan. Larry suggested that, since there wasn’t enough data yet, they should wait a year, and he’d coach them once a week.  Once a week quickly turned into Larry coming out of retirement and moving with his wife to Severna Park.

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Lauren Russell, letting Sadie test drive a Russell & Mackenna sofa, at their flagship cottage in Severna Park, Maryland.

Larry advised Lauren to picture her long-term objectives, and helped her make plans to achieve them.   The history of Russell & Mackenna is really the story of growth spurts. Larry talked about the specific evolution of Russell & Mackenna chairs.  Excess demand required excess capacity, and there were orders placed that had to be met.  Larry sought out and found trust, cooperation, and support in a community of Mennonite craftsmen that eventually took over furniture production for Russell & Mackenna entirely.

Print communication was critical to the Russell & Mackenna business three years ago.  Lauren sees their catalog as the most important tool in establishing their business. Now Russell & Mackenna are branching into using social media marketing, and recently launched an e-commerce Website. Now Lauren sees print media becoming secondary to the company's online presence.  They are watching their client base becoming more comfortable with making major purchases online and are starting to see the tipping point of the Russell & Mackenna brand's growing popularity.

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Daughter Lauren Russell and her father Larry Strassner, Creative Director and President respectively of Russell and Mackenna.

Lauren and Larry sent us away with a fresh outlook, an energized feeling of being among optimistic entrepreneurs and a set of coordinating Russell & Mackenna hats. When we left I could vividly picture one day having our own coastal home, where Trent will surf daily and I will enjoy the afternoons watching light on the water. I can picture a certain quality of life there.  The broad skies, the smell of the ocean and the realization of dreams.

An Intimate Portrait of the American Entrepreneur Project is sponsored in part by the automated marketing gurus at Infusionsoft

and is championed by the spirited zeal of The Toilet Paper Entreprenuer and TPEs across the universe.