Dustin Kroft sold his successful, multi-million-dollar business to follow his true passion. Nearly a decade later, he has no regrets.
With over 20,000 Instagram followers, KROFT is constantly tagged in posts from customers all around the world, eager to share their latest purchase. The Toronto-based business handmakes each piece of their shelving and storage collection, all with a unique style and distinct character. Every item is personally designed by owner Dustin Kroft, whose day-to-day looked very different in his last job. Prior to KROFT, he launched Rent-a-Son, a successful moving company started during his university years and transformed into one of the largest and best-known movers in Southern Ontario. Today he works with a tightknit five-person team to build and ship a small number of carefully crafted items into the homes and businesses of his loyal, and growing, fanbase.
Rogers Business: How did you get started?
Dustin: I started a company in university with some friends. We were doing some gardening work one summer and decided to start a company called Rent-a-Son, which is exactly what it sounds like. We offered people the ability to hire strong young men to help with things around the home. I zig zagged after school ended which eventually led me back to Rent-a-Son in 2003. I grew it for 11 years and then sold it in 2014. What prompted the sale was a growing discomfort with my work. I found myself disconnected from what I was doing and without any creative outlets.
I always wanted to make furniture. I was a big student of design my entire life and decided to take a night course for woodworking, just as a hobby, as I was in the process of selling Rent-a-Son. Just before closing on the sale, I decided to commit to the furniture industry.
Rogers Business: You left a very successful, established business to start something completely unknown. How did people react?
Dustin: People’s heads were definitely turning. The company had built a really strong reputation and it took a lot to get it there. It was confusing for me too as we were only several years into really hitting our stride. But my gut was telling me something wasn’t right and while at first I didn’t know what to make of that, I eventually realized I had to move on. I think the real lesson it taught me was that I was never going to be motivated by making a profit. I needed something more deep and meaningful from my work.
Rogers Business: You don’t have a storefront or showroom. Why is that?
Dustin: I came out of my last business pretty skilled in the art of online marketing. So, in my first business plan we were always going to be direct to consumer. E-commerce was pretty well developed at that time and I believed I could form a more rewarding and connected consumer experience selling to one customer at a time. That kind of connection was at the forefront of our mission statement and definitely helped to support not going the retail route. I also have always been mindful of offering supreme value and cutting out the middleman helps with the democratization of our product line.
Rogers Business: Was it hard to find staff?
Dustin: Yes, it always is but particularly in this trade. I don’t believe a lot of students are graduating from woodworking programs in Ontario so it can be hard to find the right people for the job. We combat this by having really strong infrastructure and processes and by having a more robust supply chain. Some of the human capital challenges have proven to be beneficial though. I design everything in our collection now because we couldn’t find a suitable designer when we launched. It forced me to step into the role even though I had confidence issues. The imposter syndrome was real at first, but just taking that first step is always the most important to getting anything accomplished.
Rogers Business: How did you cultivate great online reviews?
Dustin: I think because we are always kicking ass. We obsess over the details and I believe people expect good quality from us but are always pleasantly surprised when they receive their order. I am also a service guy from past experience and so we aim to offer service that matches the standards of our products.
Rogers Business: When did you know that KROFT was successful?
Dustin: It took a really long time but I think we found little bits of success along the way. We didn’t enjoy financial success for 4 years but we had plenty of little victories as the company took shape and grew. We had to pivot a few times in the first few years but eventually found our footing when we designed and launched our floating nightstand. I would say it was our first real consumer product and the first real international success. Watching orders come in for it from all over the world really made us feel like we were on to something.
Rogers Business: Are you planning to expand the business in the future?
Dustin: We are always slowly growing as a company. But financial growth is just a likely by-product of the initiatives we undertake. We don’t think of it in terms of top line growth. We think in terms of thinking of new products that solve problems or add value to customers' lives in new ways. Growth to us is developing more infrastructure and getting better at what we do. Expanding to new markets is exciting but only because of the thrill of being able to be in someone’s home in Singapore. I do believe all of these things lead to top line growth but growing sales is never “the” strategy.
Rogers Business: Where can we find your business online?