I’ve heard it said that you could measure your success by the amount of trash you produce. In fact, I felt like a major milestone had been achieved when we ordered our first dumpster. When we reached three dumpsters all lined up in a neat (did I just say neat?) smelly row, I was so proud. I’ve often said, “If you want to know how a business is doing, look at their trash.” I thought more trash could only mean one of two things: Business is booming, or people in the neighborhood are stealthily contributing their trash during the night to your dumpsters. I have to say I’ve changed my mind. There’s another reason for more trash. A reason that we can do something about.
Workrooms produce a lot of trash. There are fabric cores, fabric scraps, boxes, poly fill, wrapping plastic and all manner of packaging that encases our supplies. Then there’s boxes and packing for hard coverings and hardware. And my company has recently added new furniture to our product line. Sofas and chairs come in gigantic boxes that rival the dumpsters in size. Disposal of this mass of mess is an issue. Are workrooms simply destined to forever plump-up the landfill? Not necessarily.
I am proud to say we are now a two dumpster company because of some of our efforts. Some of these efforts not only help the environment, they have proven to be good for our company as well.
ALL AROUND THE WORKROOM
Let’s start with fabric. For years, I wondered what to do with the fabric cores — the tubes of cardboard that fabric is rolled on. I offered them to local churches for crafts, saved them just in case I came up with a bright idea of how to use them, and stored them until they overwhelmed me before they ultimately went into the trash. As it turns out, fabric suppliers pay good money for fabric cores. At about 50 cents each, it’s no wonder I kept sensing that there was value in my ever growing bundle of cores. We now give them back to a fabric supplier for re-use.
Scrap fabric itself can be turned into an asset for the workroom. Pieces that we used to put in the trash are now saved. We are finding that decorators are drawn to our “library” of scraplets. Their creativity soars when they can add on a dab of this and a dash of that as a coordinate without paying extra to order small amounts of fabric.
Other artisans are eager for them as well. Local entrepreneurs that are venturing into the designer purse market covet even the smallest scrap of fabric or trim. They are happy to take discontinued sample books and turn them into works of art. We give scraps to local church groups who make lap robes for nursing home residents. They seem to love left over interlining.
Everything we receive is in some sort of packaging. We have learned to reuse as much of it as possible. Plastic bags that hold fabric are saved for making patterns. Boxes are stacked together or broken down for later use. Wooden crates are converted to cornices or other projects, such as shelving.
Some of our suppliers seem to be getting in on the act as well. Our shutter supplier has converted to reusable pallets rather than box after box of individually wrapped shutters. One particular fabric supplier is sending multiple fabrics rolled onto one core. That same supplier faxes all invoices rather than mailing them. We have recently started seeing little plastic pillows of air rather than Styrofoam to cushion hard coverings. Pop the pillows and they shrink down to almost nothing.
Out at the woodshop, I used to tease my carpenter about her incessant hording of wood scraps. That was until she started turning bits of wood into wall medallions, ottoman legs, picture frames and stuff-holding boxes that sit on shelves. I know it kills her to do it, but anything she can’t use is sent off for kindling in a wood stove. Sometimes I see a gleam in her eye that tells me she is itching to turn the smallest pieces of wood scraps into toothpicks.
Rather than buying furniture blanks, my decorators on staff have learned to watch for quality furniture that can be refurbished. Often they find wonderful pieces they can rescue to reupholster for a client.
GOOD FOR BUSINESS
Being green can mean more than just recycling and thinking of new ways to use leftovers. Offering interlining for draperies to our customers is a great way to help them save energy. As the cost of heating and cooling rises, interlining is a wise investment that helps to insulate windows from the heat and the cold.
The subject of heat and cold brings up another energy problem that we have faced in our shop. Some employees crank up the air conditioner while others in the same room are wearing a sweater and sitting by an electric heater. While control of the thermostat can be an ongoing struggle, it points out that workrooms can be wasting energy and resources by the way they are doing business. Other than grouping employees according to their internal thermostat, here are some other ways to help your business by being green:
• A water cooler for employees minimizes the waste of individual water containers.
• Minimize paper waste by using electronic banking and bill paying.
• Minimize paper bulk by using a paper shredder.
• Save gas by keeping company vehicles in good repair with tires properly inflated.
• Check air conditioning and heating unit filters on a regular basis.
• Use recycled products when possible.
• Buy energy saving products, such as high-efficiency heating and air conditioning units and water heaters.
• Switch from regular light bulbs to low-energy CFL light bulbs.
• Provide a receptacle for aluminum cans and other recyclables.
• Plan ahead when leaving the shop. Make each trip count for multiple purposes.
• Order in bulk when possible. Multiple small shipments use more energy and cost more than one larger shipment.
Making the effort to be green takes a little thought, and it takes forming some new habits. However, not only does being green make life better for the planet, it’s good for the workroom as well.
Don’t think of it as a chore, think of it as a money-saving, money-making adventure that just happens to help our environment in the process.
Mary Ann Plumlee is the owner of a retail and wholesale workroom. Starting with only $50 and a home sewing machine in 1985, her business has expanded to include a showroom, 12 employees and two locations. She firmly believes that in this business only the tough survive. Finding the humor in the everyday life of a “curtainlady” is how she not only has survived, but thrived in this industry. Plumlee is often seen traveling around the country teaching classes and seminars. She is the author of The Adventures of Curtain Lady and has launched a workroom related blog: www.workroomintelligence.com.