The notion of selling salvaged building goods is not new. The nonprofit Habitat for Humanity has been a source for such items for years; however, Jessica Davis saw an opportunity to change the dynamic. Instead of contractors, renovators and homeowners donating items, she envisioned a retail operation.
This led to last year’s opening of Rebuilders Xchange (RBX), a 70,000-square-foot Hamilton Collaborative warehouse located in the St. Clair-Superior neighborhood. Now folks looking to fix up a home have access to literally thousands of salvaged options ranging from doors and windows to countertops, toilets and flooring.
CoolCleveland talked to RBX owner Jessica Davis about her new venture.
CoolCleveland: First of all, what a great concept. Tell us about RBX.
Jessica Davis: We buy and sell construction material and architectural salvage. We have 70,000 square feet, real random things from hardwood floors to vintage toilets, drinking fountains, urinals, doors, barn wood, cabinets, windows. You name it. We’ve been open seven months. The idea came from, you know how in the scrap business you never see copper on a job site because it has value? But there wasn’t a way to turn salvaged building material into money. That’s why we’re also consignment based. We have more than 60 vendors, and have paid out over $20,000 in consignment to people who have brought in material from job sites. So this is a way to monetize the waste stream. Previously all you could really do is donate it. It’s a different line of business to donate items versus make money on it.
CC: What in your background led you to RBX?
JD: I used to work at Habitat for Humanity and then I started buying and selling industrial salvage. From that it came back to architectural salvage just because there wasn’t a consistent place that was open for customers. We’re open to the public four days a week with regular business hours. That’s different from a lot of the salvage places that are very niche and by appointment only. So I was selling random things out of my van for a while. Finally, I was like, OK, people need access to materials located somewhere else besides inside of my van.
CC: So far what’s been the reaction among Northeast Ohio consumers?
JD: It’s amazing, consumers are so grateful and thankful when they come in. It’s awesome. I had never done retail before, so it’s new to me to see so much gratitude from customers, which is a pretty cool experience. It changed my perspective on retail. So people come in who are building something like a home or a business or furniture for their own actual business. That’s a fun group of people to be around.
CC: What kind of gems have you come across?
JD: We have these old corner bathtubs from the 1920s, deep soakers. Those are awesome. We have brass and chicken-wire glass elevator doors. Those are pretty unique and beautiful. They’re retractable, real old-school. And we’ve gotten a whole lot of butcher blocks in lately. They’re industrial tabletops, like a maple. They’re from old shop classes. We have a huge stack of those right now.
CC: Looking ahead, how can RBX grow?
JD: We want to set it up as a repeatable model, so we want RBX Mansfield, RBX Detroit, RBX Pittsburgh. Let’s say RBX Cleveland did $1.2 million in sales, and if we were 100 percent consignment — which we’re not, we still do a lot of our salvage — that means there would be $600,000 back into the hands of people who did the salvage each year.
CC: It must feel rewarding to not only salvage items from the trash dump but also help people decorate their homes.
JD: I’m overwhelmed by how many awesome vendors we have. I didn’t expect it to grow so fast on the supply side. I heard this statistic a couple of days ago on NPR, there will be twice as many retail places closing this year as there will be opening. This is a retail business, but it’s really a destination where people visit, spend time and come back on a regular basis because the inventory is changing. We can’t necessarily predict what kind of material we’ll get on a week-by-week basis. It just depends on what the vendors are bringing in and what projects are in the works. So it’s amazing to see all of the materials come out of the woodwork. People who had materials stored in either basements, sheds or storage units for years, and now there’s a place for them to bring it and make money. And everything that’s dropped off usually has some story that goes along with it. It’s so much fun.
Watch a PHOTOSTREAM to see some of what RBX has to offer: