Before graduating from the University of West Georgia, he started his own carpentry business. It grew fast, and he moved on to building homes. But then, like so many others in construction, Preston was nearly wiped out by the 2008 recession.
“We rode the crash,” he said. “I lost my home, my car. My wife and I held yard sales to make ends meet.”
Preston said he nearly would have been homeless if not for the help of his family. When he got back on his feet, he sympathized with those who weren’t so lucky.
“It could have been me,” he realized.
While working at Crossroads Church in Douglasville along with his wife, Preston started bringing food and other items to local homeless people, including some who lived in a patch of woods. It helped, but he knew it wasn’t enough.
“I didn’t see any progress in just bringing them stuff,” Preston said. “I asked one of the guys, whose name was Mitch, ‘what do you really need?’”
Mitch told him he needed a job.
Using his natural entrepreneurship skills, Preston founded a company called Lamon Luther and snatched up a couple of homeless former carpenters. Odd jobs were found at first before shifting to furniture building at an old shop in Douglasville.
Roger “TC” Curtiss was one of those men. He had been in and out of homelessness for 15 years before meeting Preston, often traveling back and forth to Florida looking for work. TC had lived in the Hospital Drive woods since April of 2011 before getting hired last January.
“Brian made me appreciate what I could do,” he said.
For Preston, starting the company was a risk. There are reasons many carpenters are out of work. But the idea had him hooked.
“I was turning 30, and I wanted my life to be about more than charity,” he said. “I thought, if someone wrote a book about my life, would anyone read it?”
Lamon Luther builds furniture out of old wooden pallets — an idea Preston’s wife found while searching through Pinterest. Preston said the pallets can be looked at as a metaphor for his workers, things society sees as having little value.
But this furniture certainly has value. In less than a year, Lamon Luther has clients like Chick-fil-A and Plywood People and has a fancy website, LamonLuther.com.
The carpenters have found success, too.
TC and Scotty Miller, friends from the woods, saved up their earnings and found a place in the old mill village near Bankhead Highway.
“That blew my mind,” Preston said. “I knew it was working.”
For TC, it was huge. He has a roof over his head, warm water, heat in the winter, a shower.
“I don’t have to build fires anymore,” TC said.
There are now two more employees at Lamon Luther, one of whom was not homeless but had moved back in with his parents.
Preston, who named the company after his handyman grandfather, says keeping craftsmanship alive is the focus of Lamon Luther.
“It’s about creating opportunity, giving them hope,” said Preston, who has seen relatives lose seamstress and tailoring jobs in small Southern towns. He sees the furniture as an alternate to IKEA and other companies who make furniture overseas.
Lamon Luther has been featured on CNN Headline News, the Huffington Post and all over the blogosphere. Preston has been asked to speak at TED Atlanta.
He envisions the company continuing to grow, maybe even becoming the next Ashley Furniture. Preston believes everyone was created to build something beautiful, and building that thing makes people truly come to life.
“We can revitalize the American furniture industry,” he said.
Whether his company does so remains to be seen, but for the men who work for him, Lamon Luther is all they needed.
“This isn’t charity, it’s a job,” Preston said.