Posts by Maud Kelly (page 4)
Hello from the desk of Rejuvenation’s copywriter! Yes, I’m
the one who waxes poetic about all things historical lighting.
Because of that, it feels a bit scandalous to admit that before I came to Rejuvenation, I didn’t
know a thing about lighting. In my work as a writer and adjunct English
professor, I had spent a good deal of
time considering light itself, but pretty much solely as a metaphor. At
Rejuvenation, here’s what I quickly learned:
- The big
round mid-century modern lights in my Arts & Crafts home HAD TO GO
- Historically (and metaphorically) speaking,
lighting is really cool.
- Rejuvenation itself is even cooler than
historical lighting, because it’s committed to sustainability and social issues
down to its very core, which for me is essential, because I have a deep respect
and love for the planet and its people.
I’ve learned a lot more, too (you should see our library), but for me it all comes down to feeling really lucky to be
part of a conversation about our collective past, present, and future. And having
beautiful, useful things as the entry point to that conversation is the icing
on the cake.
Two truths and a lie:
- I am a very prompt letter writer and correspond with many
people by US mail.
- My secret desire is to play the cello.
- I’m a terrible driver: the people I’ve rear-ended include a
nun and my boss.
Why Rejuvenation went carbon neutral, and more importantly, how.
The Rejuvenation team is an opinionated lot. On issues historical lighting, political, business, and best-dog-breed, we get pretty hot under the collar. The one thing we all agree needs to be neutral – our carbon use.
Being environmentally responsible is in our DNA. Jim Kelly began with the model that the most sustainable building is one that’s already built. Then we built on that idea by manufacturing our own lighting right here in Portland, Oregon.
Even though Jim went from running a small shop (with under 20 employees) to a large manufacturing facility (between 150 – 200 employees), he was always very clear he wasn’t going to sacrifice his integrity in the name of business. “While I have never had any ideas about a grand social experiment, it is our company policy not to blindly accept ‘good business’ rules. It has always been my intention to proceed with a philosophy that values fairness, cooperation, honesty, and quality over just dollars and standard business practices.”
From the beginning he knew that taking care of the environment was core. Because you can’t reach a goal if you don’t know where you are right now, we began measuring our impact around major carbon producing activities like driving, utilities, and travel back in the 1990s. In 2005 we started to specifically measure carbon. This came about as part of our 30-year anniversary and commitment to not only measure, but also to REDUCE our carbon and offset our operational impacts.
We were surprised to learn that the largest piece of our carbon footprint (the heel, if you will) was employee commuting. With 170 employees going to and from work at our two stores and our manufacturing facility, the carbon emissions really added up. Rejuvenation already supported alternative commuting by paying people a monthly amount to walk, bike, or carpool to work, but the company took another step and purchased TriMet bus, streetcar and lightrail passes for every employee. We also added a fleet of loaner bikes at our factory for people to use for errands or fresh air rides.
Guess what? It worked! We do TriMet surveys every two years, and between 2007 and 2009 we increased our alternative commuting by 19%. Currently our Grand store has 50% alternative commuting and our manufacturing facility at Nicolai has just under 50%.
The good news? Commuting is no longer our biggest carbon source.
The bad news? That honor now goes to General Operations (things like our manufacturing facility, two stores, and shipping).
The good news? Since 2005 we’ve seen a 20% reduction in carbon emissions. Year by year our number is going down, too. We have reduced our carbon footprint. It was 923 tons in 2009 and in 2010 it was down to 718 tons. We’re not yet where we want to be, but we’re on our way.
What have we done to tackle this? We’re mindful of lots of things with our business. Our lights are built to last 30 years or more. We recycle and reuse brass parts and wood and we repurpose old wood and furniture to build our display cases and service desks. Other things we do internally that contribute to less carbon in the long run, though more difficult to measure in the short term:
- Added motion sensors to our factory lighting
- Switched all store lighting to compact fluorescent lightbulbs.
- Began to sustainably and responsibly recycle the cfl bulbs, and any that customers bring and send us, so no mercury ends up in landfills.
- Turned down the thermostat
- Switched packaging materials to one that weighs less, needs less fuel to transport, and therefore produces less carbon
- Used low VOC paints to paint the stores
- Created a low VOC product finish process
- Rerouted storm water into our planter to keep sewage out of the river
Measuring was the first step. Changing our manufacturing, employee, and retail processes is the second. The third is the actual carbon offsetting. The first year (2007) we wrote a check for $10,000 to a trusted partner who is doing a carbon mitigation program. That was okay, but didn’t feel “Rejuvenation” enough — we wanted to be more directly engaged and didn’t feel comfortable just paying.
Ultimately, with the product we offer, we know we can have a lot more impact by helping our customers shift to becoming more energy-efficient, too. We already do that by making lighting and hardware that will last a long, long time, and but we’re looking for other ways, too. Last year we sent a free energy-efficient bulb out with every fixture. We based this decision on the fact that each bulb would offset 450 pounds of carbon, as compared to a typical incandescent light bulb.
What are we going to do this year? We’re in the process of honing in on that and have a couple big ideas. We can give you a hint about one of them … it’s going to have something to do with our new store in LA, and the sustainable implications of saving and preserving old buildings. The other is a surprise. Stay tuned!
Having perfected the art of handcrafting period-authentic lighting fixtures and hardware, we were restless for a new way to serve our customers. We thought: Since we already help people rejuvenate their houses, why not help them rejuvenate their spirits!
Offering spa services seemed a natural step. ”We take lights and make them feel like new again,” says Rejuvenation’s PR person, Nicole Curcio, “it can’t be that hard to do the same thing for people.”
Some of our exclusive new services include:
Lacquering: Better than a spray tan. When we say you'll come out bronzed, we mean it!
Light Therapy: For the treatment of SAD, mad, weirdly glad, and trouble reading because it's too dark.
Lots of options for light therapy.
The Bubble Wrap: First we wrap you in bubble wrap. Then we place you atop a pile of boxes and go about our business, leaving you to sweat it out. Demons, toxins, clautrophobic tendencies -- you name it, this will release it!
Hand Burnishing: With steel wool and a fine cloth we buff you to bring out your natural highlights.
Craftsmanicure: Let one of our master craftsmen treat your hands with the same kind of loving attention they bring to our fixtures.
A final touch...
our hand-signed card
Rejuvenation Classic American Lighting, House Parts, and Day Spa
William Morris, the founder of the Arts & Crafts movement, famously instructed:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.
Dude — that’s a tall order. And one that doesn’t exactly fit with our buy-bigger, buy-more culture.
But it does seem like our culture might be changing, doesn’t it?
Like more people are stopping, looking around, and thinking: Where did I get all this crap?
While the answers to that question vary (though a store as big as stadiums used to be probably tops the list),
the answer to the question: What things should I keep? is pretty simple, if you believe old Bill Morris:
Keep only the things you really like, and the things you actually use — you know, regularly.
We’re not talking about the panini press, here.
Does that mean I can finally get rid of all these college textbooks that used to define me
but which now seem an unnecessarily cruel reminder of the passage of time?
Yep. That’s what it means.
Sweet freedom! How about all that Tupperware stuffed in that drawer over there?
Do you have the lids that go with them?
Ummm…somewhere? Maybe? No.
Pitch ‘em. (by which I mean recycle them, of course, but Pitch ‘em is so much more fun to say.)
Goodbye, symbol of my inability to keep plasticware monogamous!
Of course, it’s all very subjective. One man’s trash is Nigel Barnes’ treasure, after all.
That’s why it’s fun to spend some time thinking about what YOU, not anyone else, find useful and beautiful.
And, if you would be so kind, do give the rest of us a glimpse.
Beautiful: rock collection.
The Rejuve Crew - behind the times before behind the times was cool.
Shortly after I started working here I heard that we were called “the company that’s way behind the times.” My first thought was, “but we’re so progressive!” I decided to go straight to the source, Jim Kelly, to find out what was up. By the way, we have the same last name, but we’re not related. Beyond being a couple of talkative micks, that is. So talkative, in fact, that I’ve split our conversation into two posts. Here’s the first. Now for the second:
JK: The other piece of ‘way behind the times’ that makes it kind of fun for me is that, okay, we make all this old-fashioned stuff, but at the end of the day we’re a technology driven company. We could not have the business model we have without modern technology.
MK: What do you mean?
JK: It’s the only way I can keep it like it used to be in the early days. Back then, people would come in and ask if I could do this customization thing or that thing and I’d say Sure I can do that. I’d write a few notes on a 3 x 5 card and do what they wanted and I’d call them when it was done. That worked great, until we had 12-13 employees. Then it started to get more difficult, and I couldn’t keep it all in my head. When companies get bigger they usually decide they can’t afford to configure. But we decided it was essential to who we are to be able to customize. We invested in the technology to do that. So we can now do what we did then, but on a larger scale. (editor’s note: see Ali’s post about Sisco Vo to see how it’s still the people who really make it happen – MK)
MK: Let’s go back to that old-fashioned stuff you started out making, and we still make now.
JK: I don’t know what it is, but I always thought older things were cool. When I was 8 years old I bought one of those huge old 1930s radios for a dollar on my block and hauled it home. It was because my dad was a carpenter, and I saw how old things could be fixed, that the old building on Albina turned into our first store. The whole idea was to buy, and fix up, a building. That one was going to be torn down. We had to jump through lots of hoops to be able to remodel it. Reuse and recycling were part of my hippie background. It was just cooler to reuse than to build new.
Rejuvenation's first store on Albina & Mississippi in Portland
MK: So, let’s fast forward. The company got bigger. Were there pressures to move the whole operation overseas?
JK: Are you kidding?? Are there pressures?
MK: I mean, right, I know there are, but … I think it’s difficult for people to understand how hard it is to keep a manufacturing business going in the US.
JK: Yes. It’s monstrously difficult to do what we try to do. The costs of doing business here are just huge. It’s something I’m thrilled to have been able to pull off so far. When we started making light fixtures in 1979 or 1980 the US had a very vibrant lighting manufacturing industry. We’ve watched factory after factory disappear.
JK: Yeah. That’s why now we have to buy some of our parts outside of the country. Ninety percent of the factories that make parts are just – gone. It used to be that you had a choice: you could buy in the US and pay more or buy in Asia and pay less. Now, many parts are only made in Asia. Of course, we still do work with American vendors, as much as we can. Like many of our shades, which are handblown in the States.
MK: Why did we survive, do you think?
JK: Those companies were really competent at manufacturing, and had all the people and equipment, but a lot of them didn’t have any direct contact with customers – they sold to stores. We didn’t have a clue what we were doing, but we knew we should make what the people who were coming and standing across the counter from us wanted. We’ve always had that direct connection to our customers.
MK: Okay, so, of everything we do, what’s the most ‘behind the times’ thing about us?
JK: It’s got to be our devotion to authentic detail. Most of our competitors don’t hold themselves to that standard. It’s hard. It costs money. You could put a fixture together a certain way and say it’s an interpretation of an historical light and sell the crap out of it, but because we know it wasn’t done that way originally we won’t do it. You can’t quite explain that rationally.
MK: That sounds about right for us. Maybe we should change our tagline to “Way Behind the Times…and Irrational!”
The Rejuve Crew - behind the times before behind the times was cool.
The Company that’s Way Behind the Times: A Conversation with Jim Kelly
Shortly after I started working here I heard that we were called “the company that’s way behind the times.” My first thought was, “but we’re so progressive!” I decided to go straight to the source, Jim Kelly, to find out what was up. By the way, we have the same last name, but we’re not related. Beyond being a couple of talkative micks, that is.
MK: So, Jim, who came up with this whole “way behind the times” thing?
JK: Who do you think? It was me. We were poking fun at ourselves a little bit, but it was emblematic of certain attitudes we had that seemed old-fashioned.
MK: Like giving every employee a turkey at Thanksgiving? That does seem rather old school.
JK: Yes. We’ve always done that. It was especially funny when we first started out. Here I was this hippie kid with like 10 employees, and a lot of us were vegetarian. They would look at me cross-eyed. But to me, that’s just what you did. That’s what my father always did. He had a remodeling and contracting business that he ran from home. (editor’s note: Neil Kelly Remodeling is still in business and is owned by Jim’s brother, Tom.)
MK: Did you spend a lot of time with him?
JK: Oh yeah. My dad was struggling to support a huge Irish Catholic family and so he worked a lot. I was a brat and my mom was always trying to get me out of the house so I used to ride around with him in the evenings and sit in the car and read comic books, sometimes for hours at a time.
MK: Would he talk to you about the business?
JK: Yep, all the time. I learned a tremendous amount about small business and how you treat people. One thing I think was unusual about my childhood, that’s been really helpful in business, is how many different people I knew. We lived in between two neighborhoods – a poor one where I got beaten up and a wealthy neighborhood. And from an early age, I knew lots of blue collar workers, laborers – my dad hired people from all walks of life. He hired some African-Americans from a prison program in Mississippi. That was unusual for 1960. And, on the other end of the spectrum, a lot of my dad’s clients were well off. I’d go with him into the Portland’s West Hills, and they had really cute daughters and swimming pools.
My dad was extremely ethical. His whole approach to business was that it was not a game of winners and losers. Do a good job at a fair price. Take care of everyone you deal with – your customers, your suppliers – everyone. This was pounded into me a zillion different ways. So I had confidence in this old-fashioned way of doing things – of course you can be ethical.
MK: It seems like that should be a given, doesn’t it?
JK: Well, over the years I’ve talked to business people who would be so proud of the fact that they bought something for 5 dollars and sold it for 250. I was always horrified by that. The whole idea of approaching business in a more values-based way is not new at all. I’ve been involved in a lot of socially responsible business conferences and people act like they invented this idea. Certainly sustainability and the focus on the environment is somewhat new, but throughout time there have always been people who have run businesses very ethically.
MK: So you learned a lot from your dad. What about your mom?
JK: Well, it’s really interesting, actually. I’m reading Chocolate Wars, by Deborah Cadbury. It’s kind of flipping me out, because the Cadburys are a Quaker family, and so are lots of other successful business families. The book is interesting to me because in my family my brothers and sisters go on about my dad and his business ethics but my mom is the one – she actually has a Quaker background. Her family was all Quaker. I went to Vietnam protests with her. She was into the peace movement, whereas my dad was more into civic responsibility — trying to bring back blighted neighborhoods and things like that. I’ve always attributed all this business sense and morality to my dad, but reading this book makes me rethink that. Owning a business is a big responsibility, I know that.
We’ll continue the conversation in Way Behind the Times, Part 2.