It was close to midnight when the airplane’s wheels touched down in Denpasar on the island of Bali. To Eric Eife, nothing was familiar.
“It’s like old-school America, where you offload outside, walk down, and they put you on a bus,” Eife says. “I was literally thinking to myself, ‘Is someone going to be walking across here with live animals?’”
Wide-awake and ready to see the beach despite the time, he caught a cab to a tiny villa-style hotel at the end of a muddy road. At dawn, he walked over to the oversized tiki hut and asked the lady for directions to the beach.
“Oh, you just go out across the road and then walk down and there’s the beach…”
Wandering down a road he never thought he’d be on, Eife tried to followed the receptionist’s directions – she also mentioned to go a little bit to the left and then to make a right, and to just keep going until he saw the beach.
“So I go a little bit to the left and then I keep on walking and I don’t see this turn to the right, then all of the sudden [laughs]…”
A gang on mopeds drove up, jumped off, touched his face and called him handsome over and over and over again. Before he could comprehend what just happened, the gang was gone. What the hell was that?!
Three steps later, he figured it out. “They just robbed me! They just robbed me!”
Middle-of-nowhere bus rides and thieves on mopeds aren’t part of most people’s working day, but Eife doesn’t have a normal job. In 2000 he met Stefan Schwing, and the two set off to develop a consignment shop in Fort Lauderdale. After feeling the weight of the amount of work it takes to maintain a popular consignment shop, the two decided to venture into the world of imported furniture, and Cargo Imported Furniture was born. What Eife did not anticipate was where the business of imports would take them – literally.
Twenty or so international business trips later, Eife knows and understands the ins and outs of traveling for work.
“We started going to individual countries, individual islands in Indonesia, places in China, places in India, and we formulated relationships with about 100 vendors,” he says. He knows how and where to find the most unique furniture pieces from around the world. He’s built business relationships and personal friendships with people whose language he cannot speak. And he’s learned what it really takes to make Cargo an exceptional furniture shop.
“About a third of the store is what you see is what you get, and that’s all we have,” he says of Cargo’s imported products. Another third of the store’s products are one-of-a-kind pieces that can be similarly reproduced but not fully duplicated. The final third is manufactured using mostly recycled and reused materials.
That final third is what brought him to that Bali beach. When boats are decommissioned and left for, well, nothing in particular – that’s the sort of situation where Eife sees potential. The shop now offers several products including cubes, chairs and nightstands made from colorful, reclaimed Balinese boat wood.
Eife’s first trip to Bali taught him three valuable lessons: First, if a gang stops their mopeds along the road to compliment you, they’re probably robbing you amid the admiration. Second, do not try to swim in the Indian Ocean. It’s rough and not meant for wading. Third, come back, because there are great things here. Eife continues to visit the island for potential products and materials for Cargo – when he’s not getting his passport stamped in some other far-flung locale.
And whatever he finds, he brings home.
“Cargo,” he says, “is one place where the world meets Fort Lauderdale.”