By Richard Seireeni
|The Missing Chapters
Unfortunately, my book was not large enough to hold all the great stories I had collected. So, on this page, please find stories not published in the book about other enterprising ecopreneurs and how they built their brands. Also, look here for new stories as they are added.
Some of the small businesses that are sprouting up intend to stay that way – small. Scrapile of Brooklyn is one of them.
Scrapile, founded in 2003 by Bart Bettencourt and Carlos Salgado, designs and manufactures high-end furniture of scraps picked up from New York City's woodworking industry. Business is good and growing, selling an average of ten pieces – either tables, chairs, or benches – per month to select stores across the country. Prices range from $950 for a bench to $3,200 for a table.
Classic furniture maker on a skateboard.
Carlos Salgado is in his late thirties but looks much younger. He skateboards from his home to the Scrapile office and the company's wood shop. If the weather's inclement, he carries the skateboard under his arm in the subway. When he needs a truck for transport, he depends on a Brooklyn car-sharing program for those who can't afford, or don't want, a vehicle of their own.
Salgado is from Bogotá, Colombia, where furniture is generally wooden, well made, and modern in style. He moved to the United States when he was young, attending the Parsons School of Design in New York City. Later, as a carpenter at a woodshop at the Guggenheim Museum in Manhattan, he witnessed "incredibly wasteful" practices when it came to "the amount of material they throw out after an exhibition." A whole lot of good wood was going to waste. This reminds me of the waste I witnessed when working for Caribiner International, at the time the world's largest live-event media company. Huge amounts of materials are used to produce a show for one or two days, and then they wind up in a landfill.
Injured by a wooden beam falling on his head, Salgado spent a year recuperating. When he was ready to return to the workforce, he hooked up with Bart Bettencourt, whom he had met at the Guggenheim woodshop. They embarked on a business venture that they hoped would have a positive environmental impact.
Making it look great.
In designing their product, Bettencourt and Salgado understood the power of attaining a great look, immediately differentiating themselves with a style that is fresh and unique, yet very contemporary. It was "important it didn't look crunchy or hippie-ish," explains Salgado, "because it's not who we are. Our world is design. It's more sophisticated." The result is a look that "lends itself to work with other kinds of designs. It's very simple."
To build their furniture, alternating pieces of walnut and mahogany – light and dark – are stacked on top of one another. These layers are then sliced into blocks, creating an overall striped, patterned effect.
A name that says it all.
When it came to the company name, Bettencourt and Salgado took inspiration from the pile of wood scrap on the floor. "A lot of designer friends, some PR friends as well, said people would never go for it," explains Salgado. Nevertheless, the name was kept, because "it's what it is," he says.
Now that Scrapile is riding the green wave, the name seems perfect. It not only helps attract consumers in an ever-expanding green-conscious world, but also sends out the right message to the scrap providers, with more and more wood shops turning to Scrapile to relieve themselves of unwanted waste.
"The whole idea was to appeal to the eco-conscious consumer on the basis that so much wood waste goes into landfills." Carlos says, clearly knowing from the start that he wasn't going to scare away his target market with the name. "We knew our audience would understand the benefits of reintroducing this material back into our daily lives as a useful item."
This also highlights an effective approach in appealing to the core consumers within green community, the Gort Cloud. A company can afford to narrow the appeal, because this community tends to be made up of first adopters who grow markets by virtue of their collective influence. These first adopters will buy something unusual yet sustainable in order to show off their green credentials.
Spreading a personal message.
Scrapile has enjoyed a strong blog and trendspotter presence. Two early posts that propelled awareness were made in TreeHugger.com and Inhabitat.com. People are talking up this company. It started with the founders' friends and then spread via word of mouth, eventually growing, seemingly taking hold, not surprisingly, in the Seattle and Portland areas. "We have a lot of e-mails coming from the Northwest," Salgado says.
One particularly important post for Scrapile was a mention in Apartment Therapy, a widely read home decorating trendspotter with teams in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and LA. These messages, echoing around the Gort Cloud, eventually found their way into traditional media, with articles appearing in Architectural Record, Organic Style, Surface, Dwell, Time Out, The New York Times, Interior Design, Architectural Digest, House & Garden, and Metropolis, to name a few.
To further get their message out, the company participates in green interior design shows and willingly cooperates when press requests come in. Scrapile has had a lot of those. It's been profiled in the New York Daily News and other periodicals and was featured on the Sundance Channel's Big Ideas for a Small Planet.
Salgado and Bettencourt believe they can best market their product by telling their story. They tell it to architects and designers who order custom furniture or who send clients their way. Perhaps more importantly, Salgado and Bettencourt tell their story to the retailers so that they, in turn, can tell it to their consumers.
"We like to meet all of our retailers to help them know how to tell our story," explains Salgado. "We rely on them – the story's a great selling point. They see the benefit in it."
Just after researching and writing this section, a controversy of gigantic proportions developed. That is the emerging competition between crops for fuel verses crops for food. It's one more example of how the road to sustainability will demand course corrections and constant evaluation. In the case of biofuels, there is little concern about using waste oil from commercial cooking or algae-based biodiesel, which is still in development; however, corn ethanol and both palm and soy-based biodiesel "are now seen as having the unintended consequence of starting food-vs-fuel wars and leading to deforestation," according to Felix Kramer. Numerous reports including a Time Magazine cover story have suggested that this competition could actually lead to starvation in less developed countries.
The subculture fuel.
Lovecraft BioFuels, where Sunset and Santa Monica Boulevards meet in LA's Silverlake district, doesn't look like much more than an everyday auto shop, but it's actually a 'conversion center'. Almost all of the vehicles here are old Mercedes Benz and VW Diesels undergoing transition into grease machines – from vehicles that were designed to use diesel fuel to ones that run on virgin or, preferably, recycled vegetable oil. Theoretically, one never needs to visit the local Mobil station, which for those who remember the Exxon Valdez is the devil incarnate.
By providing a low-cost alternative to going green – the price of a conversion is approximately $700 – Lovecraft is actually bringing the diesel engine back to what its inventor originally intended it to be. In 1892, Rudolph Diesel designed his engine to run on soy and peanut oil, not petroleum based products.
The Lovecraft founder's tale.
As the Lovecraft folks tell the story, company founder Brian Friedman, upon selling his tattoo parlor in San Francisco, did his first conversion with a heat exchanger made out of a Frito's Bean Dip can. He moved to Los Angeles to open up his shop because he felt it was a better market, and he was right. He advertised on Craig's List and was deluged with orders.
Perhaps Brian's original logo had a bit to do with it. It was anything but the corporate roadside icons we see hovering about gas stations today. Inspired by the art of his tattoo parlor, the script font over a blood red heart invokes a counterculture message, a message that, here, you can tell the oil companies to go to hell.
Brian took the business as far as he could, and then needed a cash infusion to keep going. Tacee Webb stepped up to help and eventually purchased Lovecraft from Friedman in early 2007.
Tacee has a flair for the dramatic and has been bitten by the green bug. She is aware that her newly bought business may not be on the cutting edge of green transportation technology, but she doesn't seem to care. "When new developments in technology come out, we applaud them," she explains. "I'm not worried about being cut out of the marketplace."
"There needs to be immediate solutions to the vehicles that are already on the road right now, today," she continues. "And we have that. And really, there are not a lot of other systems available to address it."
Lovecraft uses a one-tank system, originally designed and patented by Friedman, where vegetable oil can be used alone or mixed with diesel or biodiesel in any combination. The company's competitors, including Grease Car of Easthampton, Massachusetts and Fribrid of Seattle, use the two-tank approach – one tank for regular diesel fuel used to start the engine, and the other used for biofuel.
"I don't want to have any enemies in the two tank business. There's some brilliant, brilliant guys that do great two tanks, but the one tank is important because of shipping purposes," she explains. "If I want to send it to Guatemala, you don't have this extra, huge, gigantic, metal customized tank" to include.
Beyond the green marketing message.
Lovecraft does all of its marketing in house, because, as Webb explains, she "doesn't trust marketing people. The impossible mission is how to take a hip, new industry and take it to Mr. Jones. That's everybody's challenge in the green market right now."
"Most (green business) people have switched from a green message to a smart message... the smart choice," she continues. "But the green ... green ... green ... green ... is like ... I am so sick of the green."
Indeed, I have noticed a wave of 'green fatigue' moving though various industries. End-users want simple, eco-friendly solutions that can be integrated into their daily routines without too much hassle. Lovecraft allows people to take older, but reliable diesel cars and convert them to run on veggie oil that they can get from a variety of sources. Plus, they can still use the diesel or biofuel pump if they choose.
What's in a name?
Webb likes the Lovecraft brand name she inherited with the purchase of the company. It invokes the idea of a ship, a transportation vessel that is loved. "It has more love in it than oil," she says.
Nevertheless, "Many people don't like the name," she continues. "If you're an oil company, you have to have an X in your name or you have to have to be strong, or you have to be noble ... you can't be cute... cute isn't fuel."
Says Logan Lynn, the Project Manager for the Portland, Oregon Lovecraft shop, "People respond to the warm, fuzzy name."
Earth Mother meets fashion maven meets entrepreneur.
Tacee Webb grew up on a small San Juan Island in Washington where the population was 22 and many her neighbors supported themselves by fishing in Alaska. She remembers how the Exxon Valdez spill was devastating to her family. She understands the need to protect the environment. When she left the island on her eighteenth birthday, she moved to Seattle where she began a used clothing store with environmental 'recycle, reduce, reuse' goals in mind.
Opening when the Grunge movement made recycled clothing a big business, her store was a huge success. Within 10 years, at the age of 30, she had seven stores around the Northwest. Tacee expanded her horizons by founding Ten Speed, a construction company specializing in building retail stores. Its most important client is American Apparel. Ten Speed has built and opened over 40 American Apparel stores to date. Originally contracting with Lovecraft to open more shops, Tacee saw an opportunity to actually purchase the company instead.
Webb sees the Lovecraft conversion process as something akin to buying and selling used clothing. It's cool, it's something unique, and it's relatively inexpensive. It's also "really important for the planet," Tacee says. "My goal with Lovecraft is to be a mission-driven company and do lots of sponsored conversions."
Spreading the gospel one vehicle at a time.
Lovecraft 's target audience is anyone on the globe who owns a diesel vehicle, and that would include my family. I bought a 1983 Mercedes TDT wagon for my wife, and we had it converted by Lovecraft. At first, I was taken aback at the laid-back atmosphere of the shop, but then I got sucked right into their brand culture. We've joined the family of greasers.
In the US, Webb plans to create "the first green Jiffy Lube," she says, referring to the auto shop chain. "I'm going to open thirty stores in three years, and I have all my markets planned out."
Internationally, the opportunities are endless, especially when one considers not only the prevalence of diesel engine cars worldwide, but also diesel-powered buses and farm equipment. The Lovecraft system "will never be as important in the U.S. as it is in countries where there are no emissions standards" that preclude buying diesels, Webb says. With this strategy, Tacee hopes to provide a portion of the world's existing fleet of diesel vehicles with a petroleum alternative, but hopefully one that doesn't compromise food crops.
"We want to teach people in the Red Cross and Engineers Without Borders and Architects Without Borders to use our conversion system," she continues.
Co-branding with unexpected partners.
Owners of automobiles powered by vegetable oil have four choices when it comes to refueling: pick up used cooking oil for free from cooperative restaurants and then filter it yourself; buy virgin oil at the local supermarket or Costco for around $3.75 per gallon in heavy, five gallon cubies; buy professionally reclaimed cooking oil from local dealers; or buy a biodiesel mix at specialized stations, more of which are opening every year. True greasers opt for the used oil as this is the most eco-friendly.
Some cities are making things easier. In San Francisco, SFGreasecycle.org is a free program where the city picks-up used cooking oil and grease from local restaurants. They filter it and then make it available to city residents. Eventually, the city hopes to recycle grease produced in homes with the intention of someday using the locally produced biodiesel to power all city vehicles, including public buses and fire trucks. The site has a nice little sound logo, an aspect of sound branding, also known as audio branding, sonic branding, acoustic branding or sonic mnemonics.
According to Webb, Lovecraft is in conversations with fast food chains to convert their trucks into veggie-powered vehicles. The companies will utilize their own waste grease to power their fleets, and any leftover grease will be shipped to, or picked-up by, Lovecraft. Carl's Jr is the first company on the bandwagon, having already converted several of their vehicles at Lovecraft. "They have 3200 locations across the world, and so we'll start by just doing the Phoenix market, which is 60 stores," Webb says.
"We do good works with their oil," she continues. "It's a donation in a sense because we will take the money from the oil and use it to give conversion kits to the Red Cross. And so in a way, Carl's Jr is funding all of the goodwill from our product."
And there are other schemes. "We'll put the Carl's brand on a school bus we're using for Tourcraft," she says. Tourcraft is Lovecraft's program to encourage bands to tour in veggie-powered buses.
Going after the fleet business.
Lovecraft has been actively going after corporate fleet clients, because as Logan explains, "It's a market expander."
With corporate clients, Web doesn't talk about environmental aspects first. "I talk about the savings," she says. "Because they already know all the green stuff. They already have a good idea that it's doing something good for the environment. The bottomline is pricing. So it's great when they just call and say, 'Hi, we have a $30 million company with 55 locations. How much money can you save us a month if we convert our trucks?' And I'm, like, let's do some math here guys."
"So we're approaching it from this unique and different angle that nobody's doing it from. We are getting a portion of people's fuel savings for running ... for converting their cars."
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