This sofa seller makes his star trek at 60


Jeff Frank, owner of Simplicity Sofas, holds an attachable segment of a sofa while visiting his showroom in High Point, N.C., in January of this year. (Ted Richardson/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Fame can come unexpectedly for those who live long and prosper.

Jeff Frank, a 60-year-old Bethesda sofa seller, said he got a call a few months ago from representatives of William Shatner, who played Capt. James T. Kirk in the iconic 1960s “Star Trek” television series.

They wanted to set up a video interview between Shatner and Frank on creating a company after the age of 55, which Frank did after a long career in the furniture industry.

On June 19, Frank — founder and owner of Simplicity Sofas — flew at Shatner’s expense to Los Angeles, where he was interviewed for 90 minutes by “Bill,” who is writing a book. Frank stayed two nights at a Los Angeles Marriott.

“He’s a pretty good interviewer,” Frank said. “He asked me about a job experience I had in the 1980s that was pretty bad. He wanted to know where I started and how I ended up where I did. It was very nerve-racking. He really bores in with his interview and doesn’t go off point.”


Tara de Nicolas, inventor of Euforie Pet shampoo for dogs, with her dog, Darby.

I asked Frank how the furniture business is going these days.

“It’s recovering. It’s starting to come back and some of the overseas manufacturers are setting up new factories in the U.S. We are up 25 percent over last year,” said Frank, who sells 95 percent of his sofas, chairs and sectionals over the Internet. “We will be around $1 million this year in revenue.”

Frank had to jump off the line to attend a lunch held by the High Point Chamber of Commerce in North Carolina. That’s where he manufactures his furniture, which is designed to fit in small spaces.

When Shatner heard about the small space specialty that is Simplicity’s niche, Frank said, he zinged: “Sounds like a sofa that can boldly go where no sofa has gone before.”

Making history

The National Trust for Historic Preservation was looking for a building with a story to it, and it found one — the Watergate.

In February, the trust — a nonprofit organization whose mission is to protect historical buildings — announced that it was selling its Dupont Circle headquarters, which was built in 1917 and once served as a luxury apartment building for the likes of then-Treasury Secretary Andrew W. Mellon.

The search began for another historical building in town, and the group told staff writer Jonathan O’Connell recently that it had settled on the Watergate office building, home to Washington’s most famous burglary.

Designed by Italian architect Luigi Moretti and constructed between 1963 and 1971, the 10-acre Watergate complex is one of the first mixed-use projects in Washington and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Trust President Stephanie K. Meeks called the Watergate “an instantly recognizable historic structure in the nation’s capital.” The trust will occupy about 35,000 square feet on the top two floors.

“The selection of the Watergate demonstrates our ongoing commitment to recognizing and protecting important places from every era in American history, including the recent past,” she said in a statement. “We hope our decision to move to this iconic building will bring increased attention to landmarks of modern design.”

Penzance, a District-based developer, bought the Watergate in 2011 for $76 million and began overhauling the building’s common areas and retail.

The Buzz hears:

Reston-based Canvas, whose mobile apps put paper forms onto mobile devices designed for employees in the field, was selected by Telstra, Australia’s leading mobile telecommunications provider, as a launch partner for a new mobile business app for its customers.

In a sort-of-reunion, Bill Milligan joins FCI Federal, the Leesburg-based government services provider, as the new chief financial officer. Milligan and FCI President Scott Miller once worked together at High Performance Technologies.

Howard University has cut ties with its development partner for its town center project. The university said it terminated a ground lease with Cohen Cos. for the project because the developer had not lived up to the terms of the lease.

The DC College Access Program honored nearly 200 recent college graduates at its graduation celebration last month. The students were all graduates of public and charter high schools in the District and supported by the DC-CAP program. Hundreds of family, friends, community and business leaders attended the celebration held at the JW Marriott in Northwest Washington, staff writer Vanessa Small reported.

But will Pepé Le Pew like it?

Animal-lover Tara de Nicolas thinks she’s found the cure for stinky dogs.

De Nicolas, who graduated from George Mason University and has a master’s from the business leadership program at Georgetown University McDonough School of Business, seeks investors to fund the manufacture of her first round of sweet-smelling dog shampoo called Uforie Pet.

De Nicolas has experience getting her paws on cash.

She established Fashion for Paws for the Washington Humane Society in 2007, which helped raise $3 million through its annual fashion show.

She said the super-secret shampoo is partly a result of her work at the Humane Society, where she sniffed some yucky fur.

Now she is experimenting with aromatherapy, which she tried it out on her three rescue pups. She is satisfied that the scent lasts, and de Nicolas is planning a fall launch — assuming her fundraising goes well.

Factoid of the week

12M That’s the number of auto policies Bethesda-based insurance giant Geico has in force. The company reported that a Florida sales associate closed the 12-millionth policy in late May. Geico is part of Berkshire Hathaway, the Warren Buffett-owned conglomerate that also owns a large stake in The Washington Post Co.

Thomas Heath is a local business reporter and columnist, writing about entrepreneurs and various companies big and small in the Washington Metropolitan area. Previously, he wrote about the business of sports for The Post’s sports section for most of a decade.
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