After founding a college market newspaper and later graduating from North Carolina State University with a degree in economics and business management, Carlton went to work in corporate banking to get a high-level business finance education. He spent four years with NCNB (now BoA) in their corporate division handling mergers & acquisitions and corporate accounts, then left the world of finance to begin an adventure as a serial entrepreneur. Over the last twenty-five years, he has founded and/or acquired all or a significant part of more than a dozen different companies spanning multiple industries and countries including beverage wholesale, real estate development, construction, rodeo productions, internet marketing, and distribution in retail and B2B, as well as businesses in the home furnishings and commercial services industries. While building companies, he has also served on several boards including the NC Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association and the Coors Brewing Company Mid-Atlantic Advisory Board. His expertise in distribution led to the development of a broad-based internet business which operated in more than thirty states and several foreign markets. Recognizing a need for disruptive distribution and retail changes in the $100 billion U.S. home furnishings industry, he founded Retail Service Systems (“RSS”). Through strategic team building, asset acquisitions, and specialized program and products development, RSS has become one of the fastest-growing companies in America. RSS offers multiple franchise and licensing models through a team that embraces its mission to “Empower Entrepreneurs”. That mission has resulted in RSS being ranked by Inc. Magazine in the top 10th to 20th percentile of their Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies list for both 2018 and 2019.
Tell us about the early days of Retail Service Systems.
Retail Service Systems (“RSS”) was formed and self-funded by me and my wife, Daphne, on an idea for building a company that would strategically develop and continually improve highly-specialized business models, brands, products, and services that would empower entrepreneurs for success. Our first business model was designed to disrupt the traditional brick and mortar retail home furnishings industry and now, six years later, that system under the trademarked name, BoxDrop Mattress & Furniture, has over 350 locations in forty-five states and has helped make RSS one of the fastest-growing companies in America.
In our first year, almost no one including family believed we could make something of our grand idea for RSS. My wife and I, however, strongly believed there was and always will be an endless number of would be entrepreneurial-type customers who wanted and needed a business services company that was customer-obsessed about building models made up of programs, products, and services designed to empower them for success. The traditional main street, brick and mortar retail home furnishings industry was ripe for disruption and we had a big vision about how we would become that disruptor. Our goal for perfecting and building out RSS’s first model directed at the retail home furnishings world was to build a team of committed and passionate industry experts who would work with us to re-engineer some old advertising, marketing, merchandising, and selling methodologies that had proven to work in the pre-internet marketing days, modernize them for the digital era, and then license them to our customers. Looking back on our tumultuous first two years, when we didn’t even have the name BoxDrop yet and called our model “Local Furniture Direct” (“LFD”), it is hard to believe we made it so far so fast. Now that we have built that first model into a national chain under the name BoxDrop, it’s funny and humbling to think back on the “Rugged” war stories our team built in those early years. Maybe this analogical story will give you some perspective.
At the end of its first year, 2013, RSS was a want-to-be shipbuilding company whose only model for a boat (LFD) was a skeleton of a sailing vessel that had a broken mast, tattered sails, and a bunch of jagged holes where water could constantly rush in. RSS had a team of six who were so busy bailing water and patching holes on the fifteen or so broken boats whose captains were counting on us, they barely had room to think much less transform those fifteen or so barely floatable boats. We had an idea for building a powerful engine and transforming that LFD boat model into a multi-model high speed line of power cruisers, but at that time, everyone was wearing life jackets and the only destination most could see was one that had the LFD boats sinking straight down to the bottom of the sea. Financial storms, competitive currents, and rogue legal tidal waves were constant forces that kept the boats in jeopardy most of the first two years. Charged with building out the new line of power cruisers, I set about recruiting the right people to help us build the right engines, design the right models, and get them seaworthy.
We built a mastermind team comprised of ship captains, boat builders, navigators, and mechanics who were all working on the multi-model power cruiser boat line together. We created an R&D cruiser called RSSCO Outlets Anderson that was run by my wife, and through that, we cultivated and tested ideas we offered to our fourteen boat captains to improve their LFD boats. Once the team really came together, the multi-model line of power cruisers took shape with a powerful group of engine choices, great navigational tools, and comfortable captains’ quarters for boat captains. The line still didn’t have a marketable name, but more and more people started wanting one and existing boat captains were moving up to better models that were more powerful and cruised at higher speeds. In the latter part of the third year, we re-christened RSSCO Outlets Anderson as the first BoxDrop boat with its signature blue and green colors. Soon thereafter, the demand for BoxDrop cruisers exploded and today the line has four models: BoxDrop Mattress, BoxDrop Sofa, BoxDrop Mattress & Furniture, and Super BoxDrop.
Today, six years since RSS was just a meager boat builder with nothing good to show but a tattered and broken sail boat model, we have transformed the company into a modern day business Cape Canaveral that builds and launches rockets whose payload is a business satellite we get safely into orbit so it can support the navigation of hundreds of boat captains who have chosen one of our many options of boats. Like Cape Canaveral, RSS has a VAM (Vertical Assembly Building) where we build out the rockets designed to get various business model satellites up and into orbit. We have a launchpad team and a control center from which we oversee and service things. In addition to that Cape Canaveral, we have building and training facilities where master boat and navigational satellite building teams custom build and service various models for differing boat captains who have ever-evolving ambitions to traverse the often-unpredictable lakes, rivers, and oceans that boat captains like to adventure out into. RSS successfully builds the boats, rockets, and satellites – all we need is more Rugged Entrepreneur captains.
RSS and our team(s) have now created successful brands, products and programs like BoxDrop Mattress, BioPure, Royal Heritage Home Furnishings, Sapphire Sleep, BioPure Clean, BoxDrop Sofa, Sleep2Win, BoxDrop Mattress & Furniture, Rugged Entrepreneur, and Super BoxDrop Wholesale/Retail Distribution. In everything we build and service, we do it with our simple mission of “Empowering Entrepreneurs” in mind and heart. Keeping that mission simple helps us focus on a “Customer Obsessed” offensive strategy that makes us innovative and disruptive. Our teams understand the modern era of connectivity and build communities that collaborate and work together at the speed of action and thought. Our dynamics for doing this creates competitive marketplace advantages wherein we are constantly on the cutting edge of new developments for the industries we target. Thank you Steve Jobs for telling the world that “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”