Armored Frog: From ancient wood to fine furniture

By Carlton Proctor, cproctor@pnj.com

11:06 p.m. CST February 8, 2014

On a frigid day last month as Northwest Florida braced for the arrival of a crippling ice storm, Joe Sinkovich was in hot pursuit of sunken treasure.

Sinkovich’s prize wasn’t gold or jewels, but a cypress log hundreds of years old that had been recovered from a river bottom near Freeport in Walton County.

To most folks, the recovered log would appear to be nothing special, just a large hunk of wood, randomly sculpted by time and river.

But not to Sinkovich.

He looks past the mud-covered surface, deep inside the log where he envisions beautiful things: elegant dining tables, stylish chairs, fine-grained cabinetry.

From the bottom of creeks and swamps to the rafters of old warehouses and out of walls of 19th century homes, Sinkovich makes a business out of harvesting ancient wood and turning it into fine, collectable furniture.

Though only a year old, Sinkovich’s Pensacola-based furniture crafting business, Armored Frog, is on a nice little roll.

His designs and quality craftsmanship are creating a buzz among interior designers and high-end clients from Dallas to New York.

“Joe loves old wood,” said interior designer Tip McAlpin, owner of McAlpin Interiors. “He realized early on that to make this company successful he needed good designs, good craftsmanship and good finishes.”

McAlpin said he began consulting with Sinkovich on design ideas after he was approached about showing some of Armored Frog’s products.

Eventually, they formed a limited partnership.

“We worked on several pieces of furniture together,” McAlpin said. “He realized he needed a trained eye to help him design his pieces.

“It’s the small details that make difference between nicely made piece and beautifully made piece. We are making the kind and quality of furniture to hand down through the generations.”

Sinkovich also is partnering with Mandy and Jeff Glickman, whose Pensacola-based Big Finish LLC is noted for its specialized, hand-painted, decorative finishes on wood and other surfaces.

“Last summer, Joe was looking for a faux finishers and heard about him through word-of-mouth,” said Mandy Glickman. “We met and started off with one piece, and it has just grown from there.”

Given Sinkovich’s business background, it’s a long leap of faith from his entrepreneurial days designing and selling medical devices to recycling heart pine, cypress and mahogany and turning it into fine furniture.

“My background is raising venture capital money,” he said. “I had a medical devices business in Memphis. I sold that and moved to Pensacola, which is where my wife and I decided we wanted to live.

“Armored Frog is my fourth startup,” he said.

What’s in a name?

In case you’re wondering where he came up with the name, it evolved out of his first wood product, a planter box made from heart pine he harvested from razed warehouses and dwellings.

The “armored” half of the business’s name came from the durability and strength of heart pine, once a major industry in Northwest Florida in the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries.

As for the “Frog” moniker the 45-year-old Sinkovich said that just popped into his head, a small, generally beloved creature that inhabits gardens and lawns.

Sinkovich moved to Pensacola from Memphis three years ago and began looking for ways to cut loose his entrepreneurial spirit.

The idea for Armored Frog evolved out of some remodeling he had done to his East Hill home.

As the father and son team of Dusty and Jimmy McGraw were working on the house, Sinkovich noticed they were removing old heart pine from the walls.

Out of that durable wood, Sinkovich made his first planter boxes, and Armored Frog was born.

Now Sinkovich works with lumber brokers and other agents who harvest old wood from razed buildings or recover ancient logs from various venues throughout the South.

“We get the wood from houses, any old building they are taking down,” Sinkovich said. “Sometimes I get calls out of the blue about a cache of lumber and I will put in a bid for it.

“Occasionally I will get a call about a 1,000-year-old cypress log someone has taken out of a river.”

Big investment

Literally starting in his backyard, Sinkovich has revved up Armored Frog’s sales over the past six months.

So much so that he’s outgrown his Pace Boulevard warehouse where he cuts old wood and forms his finished product.

“Our orders are coming in to the point where I’m having trouble keeping up with them,” he said.

Sinkovich is nothing if not optimistic about the growth of his business.

He recently purchased a 5-acre site near Marcus Pointe that features two enormous metal buildings with floor space 10 times the size of his current Pace Boulevard headquarters.

One of the buildings will house harvested wood, and the other will contain the manufacturing end of the business.

It’s a big investment, a big risk and, potentially, a big payoff for Sinkovich.

“If I don’t scale this business up, I’m dead,” he said.

Both McAlpin and Glickman have little doubt Armored Frog will continue to grow.

“Joe is really good and marketing, and he also loves this particular venture,” Glickman said.

McAlpin believes Sinkovich is on the right track with Armored Frog.

“He’s the perfect man for this business,” McAlpin said. “He’s a fabulous salesman, and he’s not intimidated by anything or anyone.”

As for Sinkovich, he is entirely focused on keeping the momentum behind Armored Frog going.

“My goal is to employ as many people as I can so they can make a lot of money and I can create another successful business.”