My family owns a manufacturers representative firm of commercial construction materials that dates back to the 1930’s. Growing up, the dinner table conversations were not only about school and sports, they were about products, architects and contractors. So, after I finished my education, it was quite an easy decision for me to step into the family business.
When I joined the business, I had a desire to embark on new and exciting sales opportunities. So, with great interest, I learned all about the concrete waterproofing and coating industry and developed a market for my products throughout the Midwest. I was involved in just about every trade organization for commercial construction and architecture. Well on the way to success in this industry, an event occurred that would change our company, and my life, forever. Several workers applying a “low- VOC” water based epoxy coating (which I supplied) were rushed to the hospital due to breathing difficulties. Several people living in the apartment complex called the landlord and complained about dizziness, coughing and other ailments. My customer was so appalled that a manufacturer could produce a material so dangerous that he threatened lawsuits. Common knowledge was that if a paint or coating was water based, it had to be safe… right? At that time, no one really knew better. That is when I decided what my career mission would be. After several months of searching, I found a company in San Diego, CA called American Formulating and Manufacturing that produced non and low-toxin paints and coatings for residential and commercial use. This was the beginning.
For over a year, I attempted to promote these products in the same manner as our others. Architectural presentations were well received, but the commercial building industry wasn’t ready for them yet. The term “Green Building” was in its infant stages and architects were afraid to specify products that didn’t contain the usual host of chemicals. I spent quite some time on sales calls to hospitals, nursing homes and schools; all places one might think could use our products. The administrators of these facilities did not believe in “Sick Building Syndrome” and therefore could not justify the 10-20% price increase for my products. But the doctors, nurses and teachers who approached me after the sales presentations were quite interested in purchasing for use in their own homes. Selling retail was quite a departure for our company, but we were all ready for the challenge.
We formed a business called Safe Building Solutions, and filled up our mail order catalog up with AFM paints and stains, air and water purification devices, and a host of other personal care products. But a few years into this, we sensed a major shift in our customer base. For the first few years, our customer base was made up of 95% chemically sensitive (people who needed to use our products due to health), and 5% environmentally aware (people who don’t necessarily need to use safer products but choose to use them for many reasons). But there was a trend in residential construction that would dramatically change our focus. Unknowingly, the average homeowner in the new millennium has started to emphasize environmentally friendly design and construction. Take a look. Energy efficient HVAC systems and low-e coated windows are now commonplace. The increase in natural light in a house to create a sense of well being is becoming popular. And now, people are asking for products that don’t outgas and building materials that are not man-made.
We decided to change our name to Green Design Center. A name that we felt was synonymous with premium quality, safer and more natural building and remodeling materials. Although we no longer sell the personal care products, we have developed an extensive list of products related to the building industry such as bamboo, cork and wool flooring, natural oil finishes, non-toxic caulking, and much, much more.
So, I guess we have gone full circle, back to what we know best, construction and remodeling materials. Currently we occupy a 15 ,000 square foot building that features our builder’s showroom, as well as plenty of warehouse space for our retail and wholesale distribution. Green Design Center is dedicated to providing the highest quality safe and more natural building materials direct to the consumer and though distribution channels. Be on the lookout for our “Healthier Home” package for new home construction, which should launch this summer.