After an experience 23 years ago involving the hospitalization of several co-workers, who became ill after inhaling a water-based coating considered to be safe, Pace decided there had to be a better way.
"Our workers couldn't breathe, and we also received complaints from people living in the condos above our work area," he said. "We decided we would not jeopardize our reputation and our business by selling poisonous materials, so we started the Green Design Center to get healthier products to people with chemical sensitivities, allergies, asthma, and families with autistic children. "Most of our customers cannot tolerate the types of chemicals used in today's building materials in their homes," says Pace. "We exist to provide healthier interior finishes."
Pace says that even though "green" has become part of business vernacular over the last 15 years, most people don't realize that "green" products are environmentally friendly, but not necessarily human friendly. "Many folks who are buying green building materials think they are buying healthy products, but a lot of green products are toxic to people with sensitivities," he says.
The Green Design Center sells products that are well-tested for such adverse reactions through seven stores of its own and 150 other locations, mostly specialty stores. It also does a brisk online business. Direct-to-consumer sales are important to the company's mission since its products are not readily available in many areas.
Nearly all residential orders are delivered by FedEx or the U.S. Postal Service, Pace says. "As we start to get larger consumer orders, we will have to bring in our freight carriers, but current orders are mostly small packages."
As with all retailers, the push for faster deliveries is having an impact. "In our business, we find that couples do a lot of research and then make decisions on things like flooring, cabinetry or new counter tops. They wait until what we consider to be the last minute to order, then they want it the next day," says Pace. "So we have to accommodate that as well as we can."
The Green Design Center currently carries about 7,000 SKUs and expects to broaden its scope into such areas as HVAC and water purification. "Our customers are part of a demographic called lifestyles of health and sustainability," says Pace. "It is an incredibly large and growing demographic in our country and across the world, so we see a lot of potential."
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