(Courtesy of Guest Bloggers Bill and Colleen Ulbrich, co-owners, American Eagle Antiques)
I started American Eagle Antiques in 1973 in my home state of New Jersey. Shopping local flea markets sparked an interest in antiques, particularly furniture. I was buying and selling for several years before I married Colleen, a native Clevelander and good friend from student days at Case Western Reserve University.
Together, we spent about 30 years as antique furniture dealers — buying, repairing and refinishing, then selling traditional American Victorian and oak furniture, then expanding to French furniture, 1880s through Art Deco. We travelled to numerous events, from formal shows, like Chicago O’Hare, Papabello Cleveland Coliseum, NYC Pier Shows, to outdoor markets, like Brimfield, Mass., and Burton, Ohio. We logged thousands of miles each year, from New Jersey to Ohio to Minnesota, to D.C. to Atlanta.
About 10 years ago, we returned to Cleveland. Colleen worked for five years as a Cleveland Clinic medical secretary while I did full-time furniture restoration. Colleen “retired,” translated as returning to work with me, and we became intrigued by the repurposing of industrial salvage and discovered HGR!
Many hours are now spent together at our workshop located in an old factory building near Midtown, where we create one-of-a-kind furnishings from industrial salvage items, most acquired from HGR. We turn utility carts into brightly painted bar carts, machine stands into handsome end tables, lift tables and conveyor frames into distinctive bars or kitchen islands. We even began to incorporate local hardwoods into our repurposed pieces.
Most recently we’ve expanded to include live-edge furniture, constructed in our workshop for inventory and for custom orders. The emphasis is on dramatic grain using highly figured locally-sourced maple, walnut, oak, cherry and sycamore, to produce dining tables, desks, coffee tables, console and side tables, custom dry bars and kitchen islands. We continue to creatively use HGR salvage for one-of-a-kind furnishings for customers, who will treasure their unique “finds.”
Most of our training was on-the-job and self-taught training, including woodworking skills, repair and refinishing techniques, and above all, our teamwork! We now sell from our workshop/showroom, at markets and trade events, and have a division named UrbanFactoryClassics for selling industrial furnishings via Etsy.com and other online outlets.
We have many local customers but have shipped many major pieces to California, Utah, Florida, Texas, and around the U.S. thanks to Etsy. Our customers range from Millennials to middle-aged professionals and business owners to retirees.
Through 40-plus years, we have enjoyed the good times, coped with the tough times, changed and adapted, continue to learn, and still enjoy the challenge to be creative. We treasure each other and the wonderful people we meet, including the great folks at HGR!
(Courtesy of an HGR customer who wishes to remain anonymous)
We are an HGR Industrial Surplus family. My husband first noticed your sign on a drive by the area. Since he has a manufacturing background, he stopped in to see what you were all about. That was about 15 years ago.
My first purchase, after a few foraging trips, was a roll of fabric to use as skirting for tables for my garden club’s flower show. We are still using that fabric today. One thing led to another, and some of the other purchases for the garden club include spools to stack for pedestals to put flower arrangements on, cardboard tubes for short pedestals, and coat racks to display hats. We also bought industrial aprons and gloves to repurpose for fundraisers. Aisle 1 is my place to shop; you never know what you’ll find.
My husband and I have a few HGR chairs that we use in our home. One was a Saturday morning breakfast special for only $2.50! We have a very nice bookcase in our dining room. I also have a great carrying case for my laptop computer.
Two of our grandsons and other visiting family members have been taken to HGR to see what we feel is one of Cleveland’s attractions.
(Courtesy of Guest Blogger Matt Williams, HGR’s chief marketing officer)
What does your department do?
The Marketing Department at HGR Industrial Surplus is responsible for all inbound and outbound marketing. Core responsibilities of the department include: e-mail marketing, social media, events and tradeshows, graphic design, videography, blogging, public relations, and community relations.
Over the past two years the marketing team at HGR has focused intently on content marketing (hence all these great blog posts!) in the company’s efforts to learn more about its customers, vendors, and community and to serve as a connector in the manufacturing sector.
How many people work in your department, and what are their roles?
The Marketing Department currently has three full-time employees and one part-time employee and also relies upon the expertise of several contractors and consultants. Gina Tabasso is our marketing communications specialist and is responsible for developing content, interviewing customers and other stakeholders in the community, and managing a variety of different departmental functions integral to the team’s success. Joe Powell is our graphic designer and videographer. Joe designs fliers, website landing pages, internal communications, and a variety of other internal and external communications pieces used throughout the organization. He is also an FAA-licensed drone pilot. Paula Maggio is our social media specialist. She manages our Facebook, Twitter, and other social media posts. She is also a skilled public relations professional and drafts and distributes press releases for HGR. Matt Williams is the chief marketing officer at HGR and is responsible for managing the marketing team. Matt also has principal ownership of the website and e-mail marketing and manages the activities of several contractors.
What qualifications do you need to be successful in your department?
The Marketing Department receives daily requests from various departments at HGR. Organization to make sure that deadlines are met is critically important. It’s also important that team members are able to bring creative ideas to the table and to synthesize the ideas of other stakeholders in the company to help bring those ideas to life.
What do you like most about your department?
The Marketing Department at HGR has the latitude to pursue creative and innovative ideas to drive engagement. This has been evidenced recently through the F*SHO modern furniture show that was hosted at HGR and which drew somewhere around 5,000 visitors during a five-hour period on a Friday evening in mid-September.
What challenges has your department faced, and how have you overcome them?
Working on the website was very difficult just two years ago. The website was developed by a South Korean firm. While the firm is very technically sound and capable, the language barrier required the use of a translator for e-mail and phone calls. Additionally, the difference in time zones slowed things down. The Marketing Department worked with a local Web-development firm to redevelop the company’s website on the WordPress platform, which makes it much easier to publish posts just like this one. It has become the foundation for our content marketing efforts.
What changes in the way your department does business have occurred in the past few years?
The Marketing Department at HGR was retooled in 2015. All of its current employees were hired in 2015. This created an opportunity to take the company’s marketing efforts in a different direction, and the feedback from other employees and stakeholders has been very strong. One of the biggest changes has been the launch of a new website in 2016.
What continuous improvement processes do you hope to implement in the future?
Gina Tabasso has been interviewing customers for the past several months and has conducted more than 100 interviews. These interviews will be used to develop a customer satisfaction survey that will be sent out in the first quarter of 2018 to gauge opportunities to improve how we do things.
What’s HGR’s overall environment like?
HGR is a relaxed work environment where people care about one another. It’s a fun place to work. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we’re serious about the work that we do.
What is your perspective on manufacturing, surplus, investment recovery/product life cycle/equipment recycling?
HGR helps customers to extract the last measure of life out of older capital equipment. Our company serves a role in the manufacturing ecosystem where we help entrepreneurs, startups, and high-growth companies to preserve capital for growth by putting equipment that might otherwise have been scrapped back into service. We also help to validate end-of-lifecycle of capital equipment. If no one buys a piece of equipment from us, it has probably met the end of its useful life and will be recycled. Finally, we are seeing an uptick in interest in industrial elements (e.g., machine legs) that are upcycled into other products, such as modern or steampunk-style furniture.
We talked with HGR Frequent Shopper Jason Wein of Cleveland Art about his life as an artist, his philosophy and his connection with manufacturing. If you visit HGR’s new offices located at the rear of our existing building, you will see tables, chairs, signage and decorative items that he made. Since his work is owned by famous Hollywood stars, such as Ellen DeGeneres, Gwyneth Paltrow and Steven Spielberg and is featured globally, including the Timberland store in London, we are honored to have his work in our building. If you’ve ever visited us on a Wednesday for lunch and sat at the tables with built-in stools or at the computer terminals in our customer lounge, you are sitting on and at Jason’s creations. You can see a glass bowl in our new offices that is just like the hundreds he blew for Spielberg to use as ice buckets and to give out as gifts at his parties.
When asked about how he got his start as an artist, he says, “I have dyslexia really bad. As a kid of about eight years old, I embarrassed my parents when I garbage picked bicycles and went to abandoned industrial buildings. I always had busted knuckles from working on cars, garbage picking and making furniture. My teachers told me that I wouldn’t make it in anything and were abusive, but then a high-school art teacher told me that I was talented and encouraged me to follow a career in art rather than a mechanical career. I went to Kent State University for a year but the teachers didn’t like how I was doing things; so, I went to Alaska to get inspiration from ice and water for my blown glass.”
He was born in New Jersey, lived in Cleveland since he was 10 then lived in Alaska for many years and didn’t think that he would leave, but, since his art is inspired by The Rust Belt and he wanted to raise a family, he came back to Cleveland, and here he remains. He is married with two sons: one 18 years old at Ohio University where he majors in film writing with a minor in marketing, the other 14 years old who wants to make money and may work with his uncle’s bank.
Jason shops for materials and makes everything in Cleveland then ships it to his 10,000-square-foot Los Angeles gallery to sell. He also makes pieces on commission and for architects and designers to furnish to their clients. In Cleveland, he blew an 80-foot glass chandelier and made furniture for The Metropolitan at the 9, Cleveland’s only five-star hotel.
About his inspiration, he says, “Most people don’t look at a bridge as a piece of art, but it is a perfectly balanced piece of art. It is the epitome of art. The reason I chose to do the project for HGR is because I walk in HGR the way people walk in parks to get inspired by trees. I get inspired by machines. I’ll see a machine that three people spent their lives behind. Their initials are carved into it. You can see their fingerprints and wear marks on the seat. These machines tell stories. The people who made and worked at the machines are artists and never got recognition for building our country. Those machines cost more than a house, and factories had 50 machines in one room. Now, one person can operate several CNCs and take over a whole factory of people. In a time where we have time, we don’t have time anymore with cell phones and computers. People spent their lifetimes punching holes and slicing metal; they did one thing, and that’s all they did. Machines look like beautiful prehistoric creatures. And, there’s no place in the world like HGR where you can see 10 acres that are a sign of the past when things were made quality. The drill presses there will outlive you, but a new one is disposable.”
He started out bartending from age 19 to 22 to subsidize the art. He says his background is in garbage picking and buying junk, art and antiques. He mainly makes functional objects, such as lights, tables and shelves but, lately, has been getting into some sculptural stuff like the interior and exterior lighting, outdoor sundial and globe sculpture at One University Circle, a five-star, high-rise apartment tower in Cleveland. He uses wood, metal and glass, more natural materials, not those that are synthetic or manmade, like plastic.
He learned about HGR because he used to drive around neighborhoods in Cleveland looking for old buildings to get claw-foot bathtubs. He took 40 of them with him to Alaska. That’s how he met the HGR guys — when they worked at McKean Machinery and he was a customer. HGR CEO Brian Krueger was his salesman. When they left McKean to form HGR, Jason followed him.
I asked Jason if he is considers himself a maker or upcycler. He says, “We were doing it before it was cool. When I started in the 90s, it wasn’t cool. People didn’t want “used” stuff. In 1994, I got the marble bathroom stalls and bronze gargoyles and dragonflies from Terminal Tower and some barn stalls. I used them with stone and marble to make shoe-shine stands and clock faces. People were convinced they were antique clocks. I bought camouflage, combat boots, trench coats and Levis from the U.S. Army and from thrift stores to sell to high-end stores in New York City. The full name of my company was Cleveland Art and Antiques. I started out in hiding as an antique dealer so people didn’t think I was an upcycler.”
I asked him what he does when he’s not making art. He doesn’t. He says, “I live, breathe, think and dream it. I like to work.” He also shared his insights about manufacturing trends that affect his work. He says, “For my business, the technology we use is old and outdated. It’s handmade and handcrafted. I pay 20 percent of my employees’ wages to the Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation. As a small business I struggle to stay afloat then large, chain hardware and home furnishing companies steal my designs and farm them out to India for $3-4/week in wages to make what I make for pennies on the dollar. It’s hard to be competitive; so, I’m always changing my designs and have to sell to the top 2 percent of the population because the stuff I make is expensive. I never wanted to be restricted to who I sell to but it’s hard to sell to a regular market with cheap imports.”
His advice to aspiring artists and makers? “For anyone who goes into the arts, people told me you’re so inspiring and that they wanted to go to school for glass or furniture making. I would tell them to go to school for business and minor in art. They need the education in the business end of selling their art. They need to be a good buyer, seller and smart manufacturer. There are so many hats you have to wear. A lot of people blow glass and are color blind and try to use color but don’t understand color. So, I do clear glass and can have every color of the rainbow in it. I understand what sells. It’s a very difficult way to make a living.”