By William Atkinson
Special to CONTRACTOR
THEY HAVE NAMES such as the ReUse Center, the Re-Store and RePlace. They are retail outlets springing up all around the country to meet the needs of customers on limited budgets, as well as design-conscious homeowners, and even contractors, looking for “that special hard-to-find item.”
The stores rely on donations of construction-related products, fixtures, supplies, and material from contractors and supply houses for which they have no use. Items can be materials or products pulled from remodeling projects, as well as brand new items that supply houses are unable to sell.
Contractors and supply houses donate these items because they derive three primary benefits. One is the charitable tax deduction they can get for the donations. A second is saving the costs associated with having to haul away the products, supplies, and materials to a landfill or elsewhere. The third is the intangible “good will” that is generated throughout the community.
“Most of what we get are building materials, electrical supplies and furniture,” said David Kormanik, director of special projects for Good Shepherd Work Services in Allentown, Pa., which manages a retail outlet called RePlace. “However, we do occasionally get some pipes and plumbing fixtures, such as sink tops. In fact, right now, we have several one-person corner shower stalls.”
While about 70% of what the store gets is used, the remaining 30% is new, often still in the boxes. These are usually situations where plumbers bought the fixtures for their customers, but the products were either the wrong size or the customers changed their mind. So, the contractors decided to keep the items awhile, thinking they would eventually use them, Kormanik said.
“However, they eventually run out of space and donate them to us and get the tax write-off,” he explained.
While the store doesn’t yet have a “deconstruction” crew, it does have a truck to pick up at jobsites, so contractors don’t have to deliver material themselves.
Another store is the ReUse Center in Minneapolis, which, in addition to selling new and used construction materials, supplies and fixtures at discount prices, offers contractors the deconstruction service mentioned above.
“Our people intelligently and carefully deconstruct items that can be reused,” said Sarah Cederstrom, direct sales coordinator.
Cederstrom explained that deconstruction is really a new concept.
“Until recently, a crowbar was the only ‘deconstruction’ tool anyone used,” she said with a laugh.
The ReUse Center has a huge plumbing department, she said.
“We have large numbers of used sinks, toilets, bathtubs and specialty plumbing hardware,” she noted, adding that the store also has a large selection of new surplus plumbing items, including cultured marble vanity tops and drop-in sinks — items donated simply because someone didn’t like the color.
“We sell new items for about half of full retail,” she said.
The store also receives a fair number of antique items, such as claw-foot tubs. As such, plumbing contractors not only find the store valuable as a way to get rid of unwanted material but as a source of hard-to-find material that they need for new jobs.
“It’s definitely worthwhile for plumbers to search for products in our store,” Cederstrom said. “For example, if their customers want claw-foot tubs, these may normally be difficult to find, but we have them.”
One contractor that occasionally donates to the store is Schulties Plumbing in Blaine, Minn.
“We heard about the ReUse Center from a remodeling contractor,” Scott Johnson said. “We called them and found that they accepted a lot of different material. It’s a great way to get rid of stuff that you have no use for.”
The store inventories the material donated by Schulties Plumbing and writes a description of the donation.
“We keep these documents and use them at tax time so we can report them as charitable write-offs,” he explained. “For example, if we donate a $600 whirlpool, we can claim a $600 charitable deduction.”
George Harris, manager of the Habitat Re-Store in Lancaster, Pa., told CONTRACTOR that his store occasionally receives toilets and sinks, but rarely gets pipe fittings, faucets and other plumbing items. The store is part of the Habitat for Humanity program.
“One reason we may not get much in the way of plumbing supplies is that the contractors may not have heard of us yet,” he said. “However, we are trying to get the word out.”
The local newspaper and TV station have done some stories on the store, which has helped in terms of generating donations and sales, he said. One contractor who is aware of these stores is Dave Yates, president of F.W. Behler Inc. in York, Pa., and CONTRACTOR’s monthly plumbing columnist.
“There is a Habitat Re-Store about two blocks from us here in York,” Yates said. “They have a pretty interesting mix of things available for sale, although they end up having to throw some donated stuff away because it’s just not usable.”
For the most part, though, what they get from contractors such as F.W. Behler are fixtures that are removed during remodeling projects and still have usable life. These are items that are not being put back in simply because the people want something new or different.
“We have donated faucets, sinks, toilets and tubs,” he said, adding that the store receives donations such as brand new showroom items from supply houses The only problems with them is that they may be odd colors that customers don’t want to purchase for full price from the plumbing showroom.
Yates has found that donating to the Re-Store always helps in terms of good will in the community.
“Customers don’t beat your door down to do business with you because of your donations, but the word of mouth still helps,” he said.