Former NFL linebacker Darryl Sharpton is now thriving with an online furniture business

  • Former Houston Texans player Darryl Sharpton is projecting $100 million in sales after Covid-19 spiked his e-commerce businesses.
  • Sharpton, 33, is seeking experienced investors for his furniture lines, which he started after retiring from the NFL in 2015.

As the Houston Texans entered the 2020 National Football League season the same way they exited last season – with a loss – their former comrade Darryl Sharpton was busying winning in retirement.

The former NFL linebacker, who played five season as a professional before leaving due to injuries, told CNBC his e-commerce furniture businesses are thriving with revenue projections almost doubling due a boom in online shopping spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Along with his wife Jessica, Sharpton is the founder of furniture companies Edloe Finch and Albany Park. He said the companies, which have Amazon and Wayfair as wholesale buyers, was estimated to do $10 million in sales this year, up from $3.9 million in 2019. But the pandemic pushed this year's projection to $20 million.

"With Covid-19, the online shopping trends have accelerated five years into the future," Sharpton told CNBC in an interview. "We happen to be in a good space at a good time."

Sharpton, 33, said he's seeking investors as he wants to expand the Albany Park line. He is not looking to part with too much of the company's stake due to a potential acquisition offer for the business. 

But whether he keeps the business or offloads it, Sharpton said the company is in a good position as 2020 nears its end. 

Walking away

A 2010 fourth-round draft pick by the Texans, Sharpton retired from the NFL after a plethora of injuries, including a hip injury after signing with the Arizona Cardinals in 2015. He also spent time with the Chicago Bears and Washington Football team following his Houston stint.

"I was miserable," Sharpton said when describing his final moments in the NFL before being cut in August 2015. A series of ankle injuries also helped derail his career, which Sharpton admitted, "I couldn't take it."

He finished his career playing in 47 games, recording 176 tackles and one sack. But Sharpton had to turn down one final offer before officially calling it quits. The New York Giants offered him a workout, but Sharpton said he "couldn't back-paddle" on his decision to walk away. 

Sharpton wanted to focus on e-commerce, a passion he's had since his college days at the University of Miami. During his senior year, Sharpton said he stumbled across the opportunity to sell furniture after purchasing a sofa from Craigslist.

He recalled entering a woman's home, which served as a showroom, purchased the sofa, and inquired about her distributor.

"What I realized was a sofa is a serious staple in your house," Sharpton said. "To start decorating a house, you must have a sofa and a mattress."

He purchased sofas and marked up the price roughly $50. After leaving the NFL, he took his career earnings – about $4 million – and started his current furniture sites.

"The economics of selling something to somebody intrigued me," said Sharpton, who studied finance in college.

Asked if he regrets declining the Giants' tryout, thinking he might've resurrected his career, Sharpton said: "I would be lying if I said I never had this moment where I wonder what it would've been like if I gave it another shot. But I was looking forward to life after football, though I knew it would be riskier going from a high-paid employee to running your own show." 

Moving forward

Sharpton started Edloe Finch in 2017 and Albany Park in 2019 – both serving as business-to-business e-commerce platforms with Amazon and Wayfair serving as top retail partners. His model transitioned to business-to-consumer after the pandemic and is currently 90% of the business, he said.

The Albany Park line is a sofa in a box brand that "ships directly to a customer's house in three business days," Sharpton said. He and his wife design the furniture pieces and have the items manufactured in China and Malaysia.

Despite the current growth of his company, Sharpton recalled his fair share of racism as he traveled throughout the country to attend furniture fairs. Sharpton recalled being stereotyped – often mistaken for a worker at the events – or denied entry altogether.

Fearful the business would suffer due to him being Black, Sharpton, and Jessica, who is Asian and White, initially decided to only use her face on the sites, much to his family's dismay.

"Today, I can imagine being in that place mentally but definitely at the time I was [unsure] if people would feel comfortable with buying furniture from me where they would maybe question everything – the quality, the validity," Sharpton said.

After taking in only $1.7 million in 2018, Sharpton said the Covid-19-injected sales increased the company's revenue forecast to $20 million this year, on pace for $60 million in 2021, and could reach $100 million in 2022.

Why sell? 

Sharpton plans to expand the Albany Park line with furniture featuring African prints scheduled to launch in November. With revenue increasing, Sharpton said, "the need for capital isn't as urgent as it was before." But he said he would entertain investors experienced in logistics and direct to consumer brand marketing.

Sharpton said a larger mattress in box company discussed acquiring the company. He kept the name private as negotiations are still at the preliminary stages.

Asked why he would entertain offers with business doing well, Sharpton said: "It's something Jessica and I talk about all the time," adding his desire to spend more time with his children as another factor. 

He said he's torn with the potential acquisition offer. "I'll go back and forth," Sharpton said of keeping ownership of Edloe Finch and Albany Park for his children's future.

But while he decides, the NFL's season will continue through a pandemic, with Sharpton serving as one of the many spectators. Sharpton admitted he's "at peace" with his football career ending, but admits he misses the sport's physical contact.

"I didn't realize how therapeutic that was for me until now," he said. "But the aspect of being an employee, having to show up at 6 a.m., going to all the meetings, training camps, that part I don't miss."

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