Felicia Matthews was in corporate America, working for Philip Morris USA in Henrico County until her job in the complaints department was outsourced about 10 years ago.
“In a nutshell, I loved my job, I loved my company.” With no other choice, it was time to move on.
Meantime, her husband, Samuel Matthews — who was in the store fixtures industry for 25 years — had become a part owner of a fixtures and interiors firm in Shippensburg, Pa. He traveled from here to there to work four days a week — sometimes coming home for one of their children’s soccer games.
But the business partnership dissolved, and the couple looked for opportunities closer to home.
“We wanted to be in business together in the Richmond area,” Felicia said.
The opportunity arose Feb. 1, 2016, when the Hanover County couple bought a millwork, store fixtures and carpentry shop on Hospital Street in Richmond’s East End.
Treo Enterprise Solutions Inc. is a Small, Women-owned and Minority-owned Business or SWaM certified — a state program to enhance procurement opportunities for state-funded projects.
Felicia is president, and Samuel is the business development manager for Treo Enterprises. The company name is a play on the word “trio,” meaning three. “We believe that God is the head of our family and our business,” she said.
Treo specializes in creating custom millwork and cabinetry in solid wood, wood veneer and plastic laminated products. Its team works with general contractors and architects, offering engineering consulting services, project management, design, drafting, fabrication and installation.
The company’s shelving, desks, countertops, cabinets, trim work, handrails and paneling can be found in college bookstores, clothing stores, an alumni house, a doctor’s office and dorm rooms.
Treo Enterprises, for example, did a curved wall, shelving and front custom counter for Need Supply Co., an apparel and housewares store in Carytown. The redesigned store opened in November.
“It was a very unusual project,” said project manager Doug Hilemn with Henrico-based Eagle Commercial Construction, the contractor handling the renovation of the Need Supply store.
“Samuel kept working with us through the details to make it work and to fit Need’s budget,” Hilemn said. “He would make samples and bring samples. At end of the day, Need was happy with how the whole thing came together.”
Treo Enterprises was instrumental in making the project come together on the millwork side, he said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”
Treo Enterprises employs 11 full-time employees and three part-time workers. The couple started with seven employees who had worked for Southeastern Carpentry, the previous owner.
“We’re really blessed to have this group of workers,” Felicia said.
“It’s a lot more relaxed,” Treo cabinetmaker Chris Dufour said about the new ownership. “They are top-notch, respectful.”
The Matthewses started fresh, mending and building new relationships with suppliers, Samuel said. “We go out and invite people to see who we are,” he said.
The couple rearranged the factory and purchased new machinery, a box truck and a forklift. They signed for a new loan last week with Richmond-based Union Bank & Trust to buy more equipment, an edge bander machine and a computer-controlled cutting machine.
The location is not in the best part of town, but they say they feel safe in the business park. Their 17,000-square-foot warehouse and factory is not heated or cooled, so they hope to relocate to a more efficient building in another two or so years.
“We’re very practical and live within our means,” Felicia said.
“I have been in the business 37 years, and Treo is a husband-and-wife, minority-owned business in an industry that tends to be old male dominated,” said Marc Busch, a sales representative and territory manager for Pinellas, Fla.-based A&M Supply Corp., a supplier to cabinet, woodworking and flooring industries.
“Felicia is one of the sharpest young ladies I know,” Busch said. “This is a small business. It is locally owned. They are welcoming, very friendly and businesslike — the kind of people that as an outside vendor, you can feel comfortable that they know what they are talking about.
“I want to see them grow,” Busch said. “They have a great business philosophy. Their goal is to truly give the customer a good value for the dollar. They give a fair deal.”
The couple moved to the Richmond area from Toronto, Canada, 21 years ago for another store fixtures company in the Richmond area for Samuel.
“We’re adventurous; we’re risk-takers,” Felicia said. They became U.S. citizens about three years ago.
While Felicia had worked for Fortune 500 or Fortune 100 companies, Samuel had always worked for small businesses. “It’s a whole different mind-set,” he said.
“I couldn’t have picked a better spouse, a better life partner,” Samuel said. “With her experience in corporate and my experience in small businesses, it’s the best of both worlds.”
“I love it,” Felicia said about running a small company. “Every day I wake up and feel excited. There’s always something new, and I get to hang out with Samuel.”
They set their own hours. He’s typically at work at 5:45 a.m. and leaves at 6:30 p.m. She comes in at 7:45 a.m. and leaves at 3:30 p.m. to pick up their son at school. The Matthewses have three children ages 23, 20 and 13.
“When you have a raised a family together, it’s kind of the same rhythm running a business,” she said.
“It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not easy. But once you get through a project, it’s a great feeling.”
Felicia was born in Jamaica and reared in a suburb of Toronto. Her mother worked at the University of Toronto in the student registrar’s office. Her father worked for a heavy-duty machinery company, teaching engineers how to rebuild machines.
Samuel was born in India. His family immigrated to Canada in search of better opportunities when he was 5. His father worked in engineering and instrumentation for a mining company, processing ore.
They met while she was a student at University of Toronto. Married now 25 years, they are one year and a couple months into a new venture.
“It’s taking everything you learned from other companies and putting that into this company,” Samuel said.