A California start-up company today announced plans to open 25 green building materials stores in the Golden State, the opening move in what its owner says is a plan to place a store within a mile of every Home Depot and Lowe's outlet in the country and build a huge green training and networking site on the Internet.
New Home Inc. plans to open its flagship store in Dublin, Calif., next January. That will be followed by nine more stores in the Bay Area and Sacramento, another 15 elsewhere in California, and eventually stores and distribution centers in the rest of the United States. Each of the stores will cover about 30,000 square feet, employ roughly 40 people, and carry more than 200,000 eco-friendly products drawn from more than 500 manufacturers, New Home said in an announcement. New Home's Web site says those products span more than 36 categories, including lumber, roofing, flooring, insulation, and cabinets, but it doesn't identify any brands.
New Home founder and CEO Rich Rifkin, in an interview with ProSales, said the company will appeal to professional builders and remodelers as well as the do-it-yourself crowd. He said much of the staff will be drawn from experienced builders who happen to be out of work because of the housing crash, and said many of those staffers will be certified as LEED Accredited Professionals or hold similar green documents. The result, he said, is "a different level of service than at a big-box store."
Rifkin stressed that New Home will differ from other green building centers in that it won't just rely on retail sales. "We have eight different revenue streams or sources of business, and retail is the eighth one," he told ProSales. "Our Web site is expected to be the premier source of green info on the Internet. We already have more than 100,000 documents and videos on it. We'll be issuing the LEED AP course and the Green Building Professional course. There are blogs, news, RSS feeds, user-document news, and videos. We're even building this out for individual building departments to post their rules, guidelines, and design applications."
The site also will serve as a matchmaker, Rifkin said. For example, if a couple in San Francisco is searching pages dealing with eco-friendly flooring, New Home's site will send a pop-up message giving the visitor the opportunity to search a list of contractors located near them. In addition, the site will be set up so that customers can compare products from different companies, and even rate the products.
"We'll be able to supply contractors even where we don't have physical locations," he added. "You'll be able to shop online. We also are opening up regional distribution centers for things like solar panels. We want to be located within a mile of every Home Depot or Lowe's in the country. We are capable of scaling on a mass level." At the moment, New Home has roughly 15 employees and a 13,000-square-foot building in San Rafael, Calif. It's moving its headquarters to Dublin next week.
New Home's announcement said the company "aims to make green building materials as affordable and available as non-eco friendly materials." It didn't say how it would do that, but Rifkin said he's importing supply chain techniques from outside the LBM industry. Again comparing New Home to The Home Depot, he said: "We were able to scale down, using technology, a 150,000-square-foot store into a 30,000-foot footprint. We're much more efficient than they are."
The only LBM-focused dealer that Rifkin said he has examined closely is Green Depot, a chain of similarly eco-focused stores based in the northeastern United States. While praising what Green Depot has done to date, Rifkin said his stores will have more product categories, vendor variety, and SKUs.
Rifkin's official biography describes him as a real estate developer, mortgage broker, and a board member on nearly a dozen companies. A Bay Area newspaper described him as a "serial entrepreneur."
He said he has put more than $1 million of his own money into the company, which he has been developing over the past three years, and has additional investments from an undisclosed number of wealthy individuals.
He hasn't pursued traditional venture capital, but he is full of confidence he'll grow big. "We have the ability to make green mainstream," he said.
Craig Webb is Editor of ProSales.