Just over a year ago, the Peoria City Council voted to approve a city-wide deconstruction pilot project. The agreement gave permission to a newly formed company called Peoria Architectural Salvage to enter into homes on the city demolition list and salvage what they could prior to their date with the wrecking ball.
Peoria Architectural Salvage is co-founded by a husband-and-wife team, Tom and Jeanine Wester. It was created by a simple idea they had to reduce the amount of waste going into landfills and to preserve building elements rich with character from being lost forever. That green mentality has now turned into a full-fledged green business.
Within a year, the couple has managed to succeed in their mission and also create a business with growing online sales and a warehouse stocked full of quality inventory that consumers wouldn’t have otherwise had access to.
PEN caught up with Tom at the Peoria Architectural Salvage warehouse located at 2000 SW Adams in Peoria to talk about how far they have come in such a short amount of time.
How has business been over the last year?
The business has been enjoyable but challenging. My wife and I have small children and I also work as a teacher, so down time has been practically non-existent.
At times I’ve entertained the idea of selling off, but those thoughts are short-lived. I even told my wife “I QUIT!” once. After a good night’s sleep I changed my mind. Sales started off slow, but as each month passes we see continued growth. Receiving money for my time is nice, however, what’s even better is hearing the stories from our customers who’ve placed one of our items back into use. That part never gets old.
Is there an emotional connection with preserving the craftsmanship of the homes that are being torn down or remodeled?
I wouldn’t call it an emotional connection, I just really dislike waste. We live in a throw-away society and we often overlook the value of things because it “just needs to much work.” Watching the senseless waste and neglect of salvageable material is what prompted us to start this business.
Can you talk about the learning curve association with this line of work?
Salvaging is a relatively simple task. I mean, it’s simple compared to the actual construction of a house. For me, learning how to remove an item from a home without breaking it hasn’t come without some failure.
I’ve learned when to stop. By listening to the wood, I can now sense that moment when I’m about to splinter it, or worse yet, crack it in half. There was also a lot to learn about how to bid salvage jobs and how to price our inventory.
How has Etsy and social media helped your business?
It’s interesting, we initially set out to sell to the local market and support the local revitalization efforts in Peoria. We still care very deeply for this, but we’ve come to the realization that making sales and keeping the lights on is the only way to progress. That means that we sell online as well. We have utilized social media to sell items and to also advertise our business.
Do you have any favorite customer stories?
We’ve had lots of customers find matches for their original hardware that they’ve been looking for to complete their homes. Several people building new homes after the Washington tornado have purchased from us to incorporate salvage into their new houses. I’ve had people build pieces to be used in weddings.
A new local business in town, Little Raven Creamery, a recently purchased several large pieces and tin ceiling tiles to use as decor in their new restaurant. And, of course, many people come to purchase authentic materials to fix up their turn of the century homes in Peoria such as columns, pediments, doors, light fixtures, cast iron grates, and more.
What are your current business needs?
Public awareness. We need more people to realize that we’re here and that salvage is a viable option.
Are there any big plans in store for Peoria Architectural Salvage in the year ahead?
It’s top secret so I can’t tell you! But I can tell you this, our customers will have more items to come see.
For more information about Peoria Architectural Salvage, visit their website peoriasalvage.com. Connect with Tom and Jeanine on Facebook and Instagram and make purchases via their Etsy shop. Hear more of their story at 1 Million Cups® Peoria.
Startup Peoria is a program of the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council. The Greater Peoria EDC is a 501(c) 6 non-profit organization that drives economic growth in a five county region through targeted business and talent development.