FridayPiday: Damon Fogel (Georgia, 1991) and Eric Brenner (Georgia, 1991)

Brothers Damon Fogel (Georgia, 1991) and Eric Brenner (Georgia, 1991) have been in business since 1999, but their paths first crossed when joining AEPi at the University of Georgia in the late 80s. Brothers Fogel and Brenner had similar interests and hobbies in school, and became good friends. Upon graduating, they went into the liquor distributing industry together in Atlanta for a bit before working together at Kinkos in 1997. “We always had a similar path in different ways, and talked about doing something in business together. It was Eric who convinced me to go to Kinkos,” said Brother Fogel. That decision paved the way to a 22-year partnership with one another, eventually leading them to start their own business: AuthenTEAK.

“Digital printing was booming at the time, and there was a lot of innovation. Kinkos was gearing up for a big sell [to FedEx], so we decided to get out and start our own printing business. We made a decent living with the business and worked hard. This was the right move for us because we were in business for ourselves”

Like the birth of any business, the idea for AuthenTEAK came from a simple need: furniture. “Eric was looking for furniture that suited his personal needs; he had a specific type he was looking for. He wanted to buy teak furniture, but it was really expensive.” When Brother Brenner didn’t find anything he truly loved, he turned to a colleague who was making custom teak furniture at the time. The significant difference in cost gave him an idea. “Eric wanted to buy furniture and see what happened when we tried to sell it. So, we did! We had a gallery space on the first floor of our building, so we put some furniture in there and sold it on the weekends.”

The two Brothers would canvass streets, putting up signs anywhere there was an open spot and promoting the business, trying to see if this was a worthwhile endeavor. “It didn’t take long before we realized this was a project worth investing in. We were having fun and it was a good break from the printing business. While running the printing company during the week, we would spend our free time expanding AuthenTEAK bit by bit.” As the business became more successful, running things on the weekends bled into weekdays and they learned more about the quality of furniture, sourcing better materials and offering more diverse inventory. In 2006, Brothers Fogel and Brenner decided to sell the printing business and work on AuthenTEAK full-time. The business has been recognized for its showroom presentation and customer service, boasting a 15,000 square foot showroom in the West Midtown District of Atlanta.

“Our success didn’t just happen overnight. It was a slow evolution over the years,” said Brother Fogel. “We started by only offering teak products. When customers inquired about other types of furniture, like wicker, we’d order some. Now, we offer all kinds of products like outdoor heaters, rugs and more! Our focus was, and always has been, the customer.” Their decision to get into ecommerce early significantly affected their long-term growth, especially now during the pandemic. “Doing this made us more than a brick-and-mortar showroom. We became a national brand.”

Many of AuthenTEAK’s wins and growth can be attributed to simply rolling the dice during a decision that had to be made. “With any business, you have to take some risks in order to succeed. Not all risks you take are worth it in the end, but if you are calculated in which risks you take as a company you are more likely to succeed than fail. For us, it’s been absolutely worth it.”

So, what’s their secret to 22 years of successful partnership? “Like any good marriage, you start as good friends [Brother Fogel laughs]. Having similar values is a big part of your success. Eric and I are extremely driven in our work ethic. Our recipe to success is finding our different strengths and using those to achieve the goals we have in mind. We respect and lean on one another, which makes it extremely easy for us to be partners.” Both Brothers are proud of their growth, and the team they’ve built at AuthenTEAK. “Our customer base that we’ve built over the years if a huge point of pride for us.”

“Running a business is all about problem solving. When things go South, you can’t let that get the best of you. You’re in the business of solving problems for people, and trying to genuinely do the best you can for your customers. If you stick to that formula, you’re more often than not to be successful. I can’t begin to describe how amazing the freedom is to control your own destiny when owning a business. If there’s one word of advice I can give, it’s to take the path to starting your business as early as you can, it’s never too early. I wish I had started mine 10 years earlier.”

Eric (center, left) and Damon (center, right) with the AuthenTEAK team