By Melissa Terry
Habitat for Humanity is more than you think. Most of us are familiar with the general concept of Habitat’s mission and program work, which is to facilitate families who need a little bump to become homeowners. Habitat brings volunteers of all skill levels to a new home site and together they work with the prospective new homeowner to build a home from the ground up.
The Habitat homebuilding goal is to have most of the supplies donated and to get volunteer labor as much as possible in order to keep costs down. Donating materials to Habitat nationwide has become so successful that Habitat found itself with a lot of building supplies and no where for them to go, so they spun off a discount building materials resource for the public called ReStore.
Habitat ReStores are the love child of the Habitat for Humanity home program and one habitat volunteer in Austin, Texas. Originally conceived by Diane Beaver MacKie in 1992, the Austin Habitat for Humanity ReStore has become a model for new and gently used building materials outlet stores across the nation. The Original ReStore was established in a former laundry processing facility in East Austin. The empty building provided the shell for not only the retail venture, but housed all Austin Habitat operations for many years.
All proceeds from the sale of ReStore items get funneled directly back into the Habitat housing program, which helps local affiliates fund the construction of Habitat houses within the community. Many affiliates across the United States and Canada operate successful ReStores—some of which raise enough funds to build an additional 10 or more houses per year.
And so, in these footsteps we have one and a half ReStores in Northwest Arkansas. One and a half because there is already a fully functioning ReStore in Bentonville and there’s one on the way for Fayetteville.
ReStores thriving in NWA
In the midst of some remodeling project for our house, I got word that the Benton County ReStore had some good deals on stuff, so I took a ride up there and wow! I scored a $200 Kohler sink for $40, some brand new light fixtures for a third of the original price and some craftsman style doors for way cheaper than the ones that I’d been pulling up the internet. Some of the stuff is new, some of it’s re-use from house deconstruction sites, but it’s all quality stuff and the store is definitely worth checking out.
The first ReStore in NWA originally started on Main Street in Bentonville five years in a 7,000 square ft. space. They quickly outgrew this space and moved into their current facility on 21st Street in Bentonville three and a half years ago and they’ve already outgrown that space.
In speaking with the Benton County founding ReStore manager, Dave Schneider, you quickly get the sense that this is one of those labor of love jobs. He totally digs what he’s doing and enthusiastically discusses the history and goals of his work.
And once you hear the numbers, you can understand why. Sales revenue for the ReStore has doubled every year since the program’s inception, with $160,000 in sales last year. This year’s revenue is already past last year’s income, with a projected gross of $250,000.
After overhead costs, the ReStore revenue goes directly into the homeowner program. Schneider estimates that it costs approximately $50k per habitat home. At that rate, they could completely build two extra habitat homes next year.
That’s pretty impressive for an operation working on a shoestring. The Benton County ReStore has one full-time employee other than Schneider and another who works three days a week. The ReStore shares the building with the Bentonville Habitat for Humanity administrative offices and pays the overhead costs for the whole Benton County program.
ReStore volunteers come from all walks of life to support the operation. Retirees staff the front desks. Habitat homeowners stock the shelves. Community service referrals from district courts maintain general upkeep.
Originally, ReStores sold only used building materials that had been donated and did not offer much in the way of new product. As word spread and business grew, ReStores began to receive close-out products, manufacturing overruns or discontinued merchandise from manufacturers and local retailers. Today, ReStores offer a wide selection of both new and gently used building materials including ceramic tile, lighting, cabinetry, flooring, plumbing, paint and more.
According to Habitat’s ReStore national website, the conservation and efficient use of materials helps Habitat affiliates save money while conserving natural resources. Less waste and the reuse of recyclable materials results in lower costs for Habitat partner families.
“One of the best things about the ReStores is that they provide a venue for Habitat to practice its strong recycling and re-use ethic,” said Sean Schneider, Dave’s son and the only other full time employee at the Benton County ReStore.
Today, some 270 Habitat ReStores across the country are raising funds to support their affiliate missions of housing people in need. Materials for the ReStores come from sources as diverse as their volunteers. Big box stores like Lowe’s, National Home Centers and Home Depot contribute their excess at the end of a season, Ridout donates cabinetry on a regular basis and individual remodelers and builders donate items from old homes. And it’s all good.
The homeowner who takes their old sink or extra 2X4’s to the ReStore can feel good about their initiative and get a tax write-off. The big box stores that donate their surplus products realize a nice tax write-off as well.
Keeping it out of the landfill
Although the Benton County ReStore has 70 to 85 percent new merchandise, some of the materials come from deconstructed homes. These materials can include hardwood floors, solid wood doors, funky windows and antique fixtures, to name a few.
The ReStore in Kansas City has about 15 full-time staff members devoted solely to the task of deconstructing homes that are slated for demolition. The Benton County program has limited staff available to, in their words, “harvest” a house, but they hope that as the program continues to grow they can respond to calls from builders and developers who call them to harvest materials from existing homes.
Deconstruction is a new concept with an old story. For example, when some friends and I disassembled a house in downtown Fayetteville, we found that the house contained a re-used timber frame structure with floor joists that still fit like a glove after 100 years. When we disassembled another house on Meadow Street in Fayetteville, we discovered that whoever built that house a 100 years ago had drystacked a 15-foot deep native stone cistern to collect rainwater.
Folks around here have been re-using materials and harvesting free resources from way back, which makes ReStores a natural fit for our rapidly expanding regional area.
When I asked Dave Schneider about the coolest item the Benton County ReStore had received, he got a twinkle in his eye and started talking about the Rose House in Rogers, which had to come down to make way for the new interstate by-pass.
“From that one house, we were able to harvest a European hand carved fireplace mantel, a marble fireplace mantel, wood flooring….” Schneider said.
Think about that. This 12-year old “McMansion” was going to be bulldozed and it was deconstructed instead. Kind of a head scratcher to think it might have worked out otherwise.
ReStore coming soon to Fayetteville
Washington County Habitat is getting on board with the ReStore as well. Although they’ve had a small ReStore facility in Springdale for a while, it was only open a couple of Saturdays a month and due to limited space they could not accept many materials. That’s all changing soon. A new Washington County ReStore is scheduled to open this spring off 15th Street in Fayetteville near the Salvation Army thrift store.
Long time Washington County Habitat director Patsy Brewer said the new location will be about 16,000 square feet. She said she hopes that the next month will provide enough time for the mostly volunteer staff to install shelving units and display racks for the inventory and materials currently in storage units.
Brewer is excited about the opportunity to bring discounted building materials to the public while also helping subsidize costs for new homes.
With 19 pallets of new light fixtures waiting to come out in the new ReStore, there will be plenty of items available to the public.
“Most of our customers are homeowners who are doing personal renovations and also builders looking for that certain something for their client,” Brewer said.
Give and get
There are lots of ways to get involved with the ReStore program. When asked about current volunteer opportunities and program needs for the Washington County ReStore to get off the ground, Brewer didn’t miss a beat.
“We seriously need a box truck so that we can go pick up donations when vendors, builders or homeowners call us with a materials donation.”
Brewer also said that they need lots of help moving the inventory from the storage units and the Springdale location to the Fayetteville store.
She enthusiastically described her vision for the ReStore as one that includes Fayetteville’s transitional student population.
“We hope to grow our program to include an end of the school year collection opportunity for students to bring their usable items to various staging points around campus rather than throwing them in the dumpster as they move out,” Brewer said.
For anyone who’s ever gone dumpster diving around the dorms and Greek houses at the end of spring semester, you know what kinds of stuff you find: stereos, nice carpets, computers, efficiency fridges and even some furniture. And although there’s a certain romance to scoring something cool from the odd dumpster, think about how much easier it will be for area residents and returning students to simply peruse the shelves at the 15th Street ReStore instead.
So, if you’re looking for quality building supplies, need a place to drop off that extra box of tile or want to explore the opportunity to harvest an old home rather than putting it in the landfill, the ReStore programs are the place to go. And, with friendly folks willing to work with you and your needs, what better way to support your local community than to check out how you can volunteer, shop or donate to their program?
For more information about how to plug into the Habitat ReStore opportunities, contact Dave Schneider in Benton County by calling 273-3638 or Patsy Brewer in Washington County at 575-9696.