Posted by Matt Register

I had a chance to speak to Oli Mohammed, Executive Director of the Houston Furniture Bank, about his charity and how they help the poor of Houston.

Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.

Matt Register: Hey guys, welcome back to the show, Texas Business Radio. Texasbusiness is the website. See the entire thing in beautiful high definition video. We’ve got a wealth of information on there. Get your questions in from there or call our 24 hour answer line 844-814-8144 is our 24 hour answer line. Call now, call Three o’clock in the morning, doesn’t really matter to us. We’re going to get the experts on here to get those questions answered. If you have listened to this show for any length of time, you realize the importance of charity to your business. To whom much is given, much is expected and we are big proponents of charitable giving and supporting our local charities here in Texas. We have a very, very interesting charity here in the studio, right now, that we’re going to get into in a minute. The Houston Furniture Bank, very interesting concept and filling a very big need here in the Houston area. Similar organizations elsewhere in any other metro areas and they all need all the help they can get from you guys. Right? You guys are business owners, you are very blessed and it’s time to open wallets and make some donations. I’m your host Matt Register. Jay Curry had to step out for a minute. He’s going to join us here a little bit later. But Oli Muhammad is the executive director of the Houston Furniture Bank is joining us here in the studio. Oli, welcome to the show sir.

Oli Mohammed: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me.

Matt Register: Yeah, no problem. We’re glad to have you. Tell us what the Furniture Bank is. What do you do and who do you do it too?

Oli Mohammed: Well, Houston Furniture, thank you very much. Houston Furniture Bank is a charitable organization that collects and distributes furniture to families in need. And we do this through a network of agencies. We work with about 85 Houston area agency that brings families to us.

Matt Register: OK.

Oli Mohammed: Who are in need of furniture. And we collect this furniture from donation, thru donation from individuals and businesses from across the city, across the city. And we have a warehouse, we warehouse them and distribute them to families.

Matt Register: Well, you have a very interesting business model and I tell you we were talking during the break. You know when you think about people in need.

Oli Mohammed: Yes.

Matt Register: Furniture is not necessarily the first on the list of things that you think they need. But you know as, as we were talking during the break, I realize that’s a bigger need and then, then you think. Talk to me a little bit about what you were sharing with me earlier about how many kids are sleeping on the floor, you know, on a daily basis.

Oli Mohammed: Oh, this is an unimaginable number. So in this great city where there are over 6 million people in the greater Houston area. About 1.2 million of these people that we have, live under the federal poverty guideline, which is $24,000 for a family of four.

Matt Register: Sure.

Oli Mohammed: So, we have 1.2 million people living in that economic situation. In our statistics, what if, what we consider, that there is, every night in this city or somewhere between three to five hundred thousand people are sleeping on the floor.

Matt Register: Right. For lack of a bed to sleep in.

Oli Mohammed: For lack of a bed to sleep and out of those about 300,000 are children that are either sharing it with an adult or sleeping on the floor. And that’s, that’s, you can imagine that when they don’t have it, they don’t have a bed to sleep on. They certainly don’t have a sofa to sit on or talk about family values and the family does not have a dining table to sit and have dinner together. So that’s the kind of situation that Furniture Bank tries to resolve. And so that we don’t have a situation where families that are having to sleep on the floor, eating off of the floor. When thousands and thousands of pieces of furniture go into the landfills destroying the environment. So this is really a contradictory scenario that just needs to be streamlined.

Matt Register: Well and somebody like you can bridge that gap between the excess demand, the excess furniture, right and the people who need that excess furniture. Now, there’s several aspects to this charity that I want to get into but let’s talk about first, where does your furniture come from?

Oli Mohammed: Furniture is donated as I said by individuals and businesses. For the furniture stores, furniture manufacturers, mattress, mattress stores, mattress manufacturers, that are helping us. Individual families when they need to get rid of, clean their closet or clean their attic. They’re helping us with their excess furniture. That’s a, that’s a stream. And we are also trying to get the hotels and motels and everybody, The Greater Houston Hotel and Lodging Association, the Houston Apartment Association, all these organizations we are trying to work together with to…

Matt Register: Sure. If they’re going in to remodel a hotel, all that, before you throw all those, all that furniture in landfill, it needs to be put to good use. Right?

Oli Mohammed: And it’s a tax benefit for, for people who are donating it.

Matt Register: Well, absolutely yes. Good point. Yes, it absolutely is. This being a 501C3. Now, talk to me about the other aspect. This is what I particularly enjoy. And most charities do not, you know, get this and understand this. You have a revenue generating portion of your company as well and I want to, because there’s a couple of cool things about that. Tell me about the…

Oli Mohammed: So, our basic concept is call a social business. So, what we started doing is, because we are a furniture bank and there is a tremendous demand of furniture out there, also for people who can afford it, to get a little cheaper, good quality furniture. So in 2008, we started a furniture outlet store, where we are selling furniture. And by now we are about 50 percent, less than 50 percent of our annual budget comes from the income that we make out of the store.

Matt Register: Got it.

Oli Mohammed: And then in 2012 we started another program, which is really, it’s one of the best thing that’s happening in the city, is that we are recycling mattresses. So in this city there are, according to the International Sleep Products Association, there are over six hundred and fifty thousand mattresses that we throw away, that goes to the landfills every year. A minimum of that. And if you picture that, it’s like filling the Reliant Stadium or the NRG Stadium twice a year up to the brim. Or if you line it up from Houston to Dallas, then come back from Dallas to Houston, go back to Dallas again and come back again. That how much mattresses we are throwing away every year and we want to end that. Currently, we are doing about a thousand mattresses only a month. And our goal in next two years is to do 10000 mattresses every month, to recycle 10000 mattresses.

Matt Register: Well, it’s interesting. So, if you get donated a mattress, right? You have some quality control standards and if, if it passes quality control standards, it’s donated to a family. Right?

Oli Mohammed: Yes.

Matt Register: If it does not pass quality control standards it goes through your recycling center and allows it to raise some revenue for you, to be able to support your organization. Right?

Oli Mohammed: Yes.

Matt Register: The other, the last aspect I want to talk about, about that is your labor force.

Oli Mohammed: Yes.

Matt Register: Right? Because as I understand it, you’re able to put recently paroled convicts to work. Right? And, and ease their transition back into being a productive member of society.

Oli Mohammed: So we have two things going on in terms of, in terms of labor. If you are recycling a mattress. The income from recycling the parts does not give you enough money to keep someone employed.

Matt Register: Sure.

Oli Mohammed: So what happens is we have an agreement, understanding with the Harris County Probation Department and we had a continued, about 100 to 150 people coming to do their hours every month at the Furniture Bank.

Matt Register: Got it.

Oli Mohammed: So that’s a huge non-paid volunteer labor that we can use for our mattresses actually. And then, what we are doing is we tell this program to employ people that are coming out of the prisons. So through a, through a work for solutions initiative, we are employing these folks for a year and a half. While they can get a job for this time and then move on to get something else and eradicate record, not having a job and being in the prison. So that’s a pipeline that you are creating to help people come out of that stigma.

Matt Register: No, it makes sense. And I love the fact that you guys are very entrepreneurial thinking charity. It’s the way it’s supposed to be done. Right?

Oli Mohammed: We are Texas, right?

Matt Register: That’s exactly right. So guys, here’s what you need to do. If you’re in the Houston metro area, they want your furniture. You’re in the Houston metro area, they want your labor to come volunteer. If you’re anywhere else in the state, open your wallet and give them some money because these guys are doing some very good work. The Web site, is that correct?

Oli Mohammed: Yes.

Matt Register: Oli Muhammad is the executive director. Guys, go check them out. They’re doing some very interesting, very good stuff. Oli, thank you very much for joining us.

Oli Mohammed: Thank you. Thanks for having us and I really hope that your listeners will really come out and and make the Furniture Bank the best organization in the state.

Matt Register: I do too. Guys, We’re going to be back. We got to pay a couple of bills ourselves. You don’t even have time to go anywhere. We’re going to be back right after this. We got a whole lot more. We’re just getting warmed up. We’ll see you right on the other end of the break.

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About the Author
Matt Register

Matt Register

In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.

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