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Green Building Business is Booming for Greenovate

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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The Short North is a neighborhood well known for its restaurants, bars, boutique shopping, and art galleries. But Tyler Steele and his business partners have something completely different in mind. Together, they operate Greenovate, a green building product supply company at 9 Second Avenue, right around the corner from Zen Cha and Nida’s. Their presence in the Short North will be growing soon as they expand their offices and revamp their showroom space into a retail store. We sat down with Tyler recently to discuss various development projects, and the direction they think the green construction movement is headed.

Walker Evans: Hi Tyler! Thanks for chatting with us today. For those who are unfamiliar with your company, can you tell us a bit about it?

Tyler Steele: Sure. Greenovate is a green building product supplier located in the Short North. The business has been around for about four years now, and was started out of necessity. I have a background in residential development, and before that I managed an art gallery. From there I found myself paying attention to what was happening in other parts of the world and other parts of the country, specifically with green building trends. In 2005 we were doing a condo project here in town and trying to build it as green as possible.

WE: Which condo project was it?

TS: Just a small single-family development.

WE: Ah, gotcha.

TS: And in doing so, some partners and I really started exploring the material chasm. There are so many lessons to be learned by not having access to different materials. We started forming relationships with national level manufacturers and then bringing those relationships back to Central Ohio and using them in our own projects.

Shortly thereafter, the condo market tanks. And in that process we sort of stepped back and reevaluated what we were doing. We had these relationships with 20+ manufacturers, who had been encouraging us all along to set up a distributorship or dealership. So we did that.

That’s sort of the long and short of how I got where I am. We’ve had triple-digit growth every year, and we’re expanding our current 1,000 sqft office to include a neighboring building. We’re moving our offices over there and turning our current showroom space into a full retail model. It’s a big step for us, and it’s something that I’ve looked forward to doing for three or four years now.

We also maintain a large warehosue down the street for stocking materials. That’s sort of the footprint of the company. In terms of supply… we do have about 50 manufacturers now, and these manufacturers are typically smaller, niche types of green building product manufacturers. They’re really the smaller manufacturers who really tend to share more with a company like ours than they would a Lowe’s or Home Depot. We’ve been able to team up well with a lot of these companies.

WE: They probably share a lot of the same same values as well.

TS: Absolutely. One in particular is a green carpety company who’s founder we’ve become friends with. We all go out camping every summer in North Carolina. We have similar close relationships with other companies on the west coast where we can sort of be their Ohio representatives. And that’s been very lucrative and valuable in this market.

On the supply end we work with individual consumers, design & build firms, architects, and large builders. We’ve been involved with over 30 LEED projects so far, from either a supplier or execution services standpoint. We really service the whole market.

WE: Yeah, when I took a look at your website and looked through the list of services and list of products it all seemed pretty expansive. It sounds like you’re able to step into a project in any sort of capacity, and it sounds like that has served you well at a time when the housing market has been in a pretty big slump.

TS: Well, trust me, I do lose some sleep some nights. Everyone is hurting in the construction business. I’ve been very active in the commercial business lately, so we’re dealing with Universities, cities, towns and various organizations around the state, but even some of our large University jobs are slowing.

And in the private sector… it’s pretty bleak. I can’t think of an architecture firm with more than 10 people that hasn’t laid off. Some firms are down 10-20% and some are down 75-80%. Since we provide supplies or consultation services, we’re an auxiliary member of their process. I’ve really had to step back and look at where are the opportunities are in all of this. We’re really seeing that in the residential market right now. A lot of people still have jobs, and people still want to remodel and increase the value of their homes.

So in large part, that’s why were doing the new retail model right now. We’re a small enough company so that we can say “hey that makes sense over there” and steer our company more in that direction.

WE: Yeah, it sounds like you can still be pretty flexible in the short term.

TS: Absolutely. We’re a lot more nimble, which works well with our manufacturers because they’re also smaller companies.

WE: Nice. Well, I heard recently that you’ve done some interior work for Jeni’s Ice Creams. Can you give us a some other local business examples that people can check out?

TS: Absolutely. One of my favorites lately that we just completed is the new offices for Columbus Eyeworks, which we supplied a number of materials for. Dr. Koch and I started working on the space in the fall and we did some beautiful bamboo flooring, great wall materials, and some great shelving items. It’s not necessarily a LEED space or anything, but it’s a great use of alternative materials in an authentic way. He’s concerned about durability and style and innovation.

So that’s one space that somewhat publicly accessible. I’ve also been involved with Otterbein’s new three story atrium entrance to a new building they’re working on. It’s been about a six month process and I think it’s finished and open by now. It’s a very elaborate structure and really beautiful building that we supplied a lot of material to. We’re also currently working on two or three different projects at Ohio State. We’ve been working with a property management and owner of a 22-story building downtown who is looking at approaching LEED EB certification. Which is a first in this part of the country. There have been some major retrofits like Lazarus and some new builds around the city, but to see this happen with just a large existing building should be a landmark opportunity for Columbus.

WE: And you said that you guys do a lot of residential as well.

TS: Yeah, we’ve done everything from remodels in Upper Arlington, to new build construction in Delaware County. It’s all over the map.

WE: Are you more in favor of complete home remodels or do you prefer smaller renovation projects? “Is there any job too small” I guess is what I’m trying to ask.

TS: Ha! This morning I actually had half a dozen emails where people were looking just for scraps. There’s one material in particular called Paperstone which is phenomenal. It’s very dense and people use it for windowsills, tabletops and things like that. And it’s made from 100% recycled paper. Anyway, it comes in 60 inch by 144 inch sheets and that’s a big freakin’ sheet! Weighs around 600 pounds. So, we keep some sheets in stock and we’ll cut it down and sell people smaller bits. But there’s a guy over in Dayton who did a vanity and a piece of his kitchen in it and all of his friends want pieces of it.

WE: Hahaha!

TS: So now we’re trying to ration out the scraps and see who we have enough leftover material for. It’s a little viral… and I think a lot of green building is like that. You see it and you understand it and the more you experience it, the more it makes sense. People are asking new questions and trying to understand as much as possible about what they are building with.

WE: So do you think that sort of thing will translate well into the new showroom space… with people being able to come in and actually see materials and experience things and have a more hands-on approach?

TS: Absolutely. Having normal retail store hours is very important. It’s a very experiential thing. And I think the store fits into the uniqueness of the Short North. Since we do projects statewide, we have visitors weekly from around the state, and what better place to have them come than the Short North? The business community here is strong. That’s why we’re putting the retail space here. We’ve been asked to relocate to several other parts of Columbus as well as proposal both in Cleveland and Cincinnati. We’ll continue to consider expansion plans, but right now we’re looking to focus on the heart of the state in what I consider the hottest region in the state.

WE: Good to hear that you won’t be leaving Columbus anytime soon. As a final note to end on, can you give us some information about your current hours when people can stop in with questions?

TS: Right now we’re open on Saturdays from 11 to 5. Being in the Short North, it’s a great time to just open the doors and hang out and have some of the community stop in. Every Gallery Hop we have a little party. We try not to always take ourselves too seriously and get to know our clients and customers on a personal level and I think that helps to strength business relationships. We’re more invested in each other.

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