NEWBERRY — An unlikely couple, EuroLux owners Greg and Aimee Talbot turned their interest in antique furniture into unlikely success in business.
Greg is a Columbia native while Aimee hails from the West Palm Beach area in Florida.
The Talbots befriended one another when they were 13 years old at summer camp in North Carolina but didn’t see one another again for 10 years.
They did, however, maintain a correspondence in letters and although separated by nearly 600 miles the two remained close.
With the rising prevalence of email they began communicating electronically preferring its immediacy and, by this time adults, began a long-distance relationship.
Greg was studying accounting at Carolina and landed what he thought was a summer job at an accounting firm prior to graduating. It turned out to be a full time job and arrangements were made for him to attend night classes while finishing his degree.
After spending two years in public accounting Greg secured his CPA credentials and went back to Carolina to study law and international business on the German language track.
The MIB was notoriously intensive program and Greg spent the summer of 1996 in a classroom eight hours a day, five days a week learning German.
“We got in there and they read us the riot act and drilled us to death in German,” he said.
With the extent of his prior knowledge of German being what he had picked up from reruns of Hogan’s Heroes, that lone summer gave Greg the language skills needed for an eight month internship in Germany.
Aimee, meanwhile, attended Florida State University where she majored in communications followed by a earning her master’s in humanities with a focus on the Italian Renaissance and art history.
She then taught in FSU’s international program at their Spain campus and worked as a recruiter for the program.
Aimee said she loved that job and would probably still be doing it had she not become serious with Greg and felt she needed to relocate so they could be together.
“Our story was so sweet we just had to get married,” Aimee said.
However, because she was leaving a job and career path she loved she thought, “Well I’ll go and do an MBA in international business in case it doesn’t work out then I will have furthered my career.”
Like Greg, Aimee went on to earn her MIB degree on the German track figuring if they were to live abroad they should both speak the same language.
“Back then the economy was booming and they were throwing jobs at us,” Greg recalled.
Weighing several offers Greg decided to instead take a few months and get through the process of passing the bar exam.
Although he had “no intention whatsoever” of practicing law, Greg spent a lot of time and effort getting his degree and wanted something to show for it.
With Aimee set to graduate the two married and Greg received an offer from the German engineering company Orenstein & Koppel which produces manufacturing equipment, specifically very large machinery for mining.
“Think of a front loader excavator but one that is about four stories tall,” Greg said.
Such a machine would be built in Germany, taken apart and shipped out in pieces typically requiring over 20 trucks and delivered to mining operations across the globe where it would be reassembled on site — all for the low price of $8 million.
“The front end of the bucket was so large you could actually put a 5,000-square-foot house in it,” Greg noted.
All that aside O&K had recently been purchased by an American company and needed its accounting standards switched over to the U.S. system to comply with New York Stock Exchange regulations.
Greg was sent over to straighten out their books and Amy found work as a global marketing manager with the steel corporation Corus.
Living in an historic district of Dusseldorf along the Rhine, the Talbots were visually bombarded everyday with architecture dating back to the 10th century.
Greg described their neighborhood as “the most beautiful place you could possibly imagine living in Germany.”
Being newlyweds their communal furniture consisted of remnants from their bachelor/bachelorette days and the pair decided they were in need of an upgrade.
They began frequenting antique furniture shops recommended to them by fellow expats and Aimee said they “just fell in love with antique furniture.”
The Talbots spent three years total working in Germany and did plenty of traveling and antiquing.
“We were having a wonderful European life and the whole time kept thinking we really wanted to start our own business,” Aimee said.
While in the MIB program Aimee had taken a course in entrepreneurship during which she had written a paper titled, “EuroLux Imports.”
“The idea was to import European luxury cars on the grey market,” she said.
It should be clarified that “grey market” implies no illegalities but simply means non-standard channels of business.
The business model Aimee proposed was to take advantage of the favorable exchange rate between Europe and the U.S. and import Mercedes, Audis, Porsches and other high-end auto brands.
“The problem we found with that situation was the U.S. Department of Transportation requirements are stricter than European requirements,” Greg said.
This meant that speedometers needed to be switch out to show miles-per-hour instead of kilometers, European side mirrors replaced with American ones, etc.
On top of that the alterations had to be done by someone who was government-authorized making the whole process a bit of a hassle.
At the end of the semester Aimee had determined EuroLux Imports was not a viable model — for cars anyway.
But the idea never went away and while living in Europe the Talbots looked for goods they could possibly import which were perceived as luxury items in the states but seen as commodities in the home market.
“Finally we thought, ‘Oh, antiques — our hobby. That could be what we sell,’” Aimee said.
They wrote a business plan and quit their day jobs.
Back stateside they began feeling out the market and spoke with several dealers in the antique furniture industry.
Upon hearing their business plan, a Camden woman told them they wouldn’t be able to sell a single piece.
Citing hard-headedness, they chose to not heed her warning instead adopting an attitude of “either she’s wrong or we’ll fail miserably,” Aimee said.
Reach Carson Lambert at 803-276-0625, ext. 1868, or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.