"I really enjoy the hunt," says Patrick LaMear. The 51-year-old entrepreneur is referring to a very specialized form of hunting, one that requires both an excellent eye and a true vision, not to mention plenty of patience and degree of expertise honed over several decades of practice.
LaMear travels the country looking for old wood, the kind that might otherwise be dumped in a landfill whenever a barn, factory and other old structure is torn down. "Repurposing that wood is an art form," LaMear says. "Underneath the weathered surface you find unique grain patterns, unique colors. To me, each piece has a story to tell."
LaMear is the founder of Urban Reclamations, a Seattle-based company that transforms old wood into new furniture that will, in a very real sense, generate new stories. "We specialize in tables," LaMear says, "because life happens around tables. Whether it's for a commercial client, such as a bar or restaurant, or for a consumer, we want our tables to be everywhere."
Acknowledging the entrepreneurial legacy of the Seattle area, LaMear adds, "I go back to the vision that Bill Gates and Paul Allen had for Microsoft, when they said there will be a PC in every home. It may sound cheeky, but that's the same vision I have for our tables: one in every home."
LaMear founded Urban Reclamations in 2008, but says the company, while on track to reach $1 million in revenue this year, is still in start-up mode. He will no doubt get a boost, however, from his company's victory in the inaugural "Unleash Your Business" competition sponsored by T-Mobile, which includes a technology prize package that LaMear has interesting plans for.
"Winning that event in Seattle was a great validation of what we're doing," LaMear says. "Our company takes a lot of pride in running a small manufacturing operation right in downtown Seattle. But our customer base is already global, and we know we have a lot of rom to grow.
Indeed, LaMear estimates that Restoration Hardware sells $300 million or more in products made from reclaimed wood, without offering nearly the number of options that Urban Reclamations offers. "This isn't a red-hot business," LaMear says. "It’s a white-hot business. Reclaimed materials have a soul, and consumers feel that. It's not a fad that is going to go away."
While commercial sales account for nearly half of the company's revenue today, LaMear says his company's "Phase II" will involve a major push into the consumer side. Still to be determined, however, is whether to achieve that with retail stores beyond the company’s Seattle showroom, or via other means, such as online sales or partnerships.
To help sort those issues out, LaMear sold half the company to investment banker Steve Dorsey, whose expertise in growing businesses will allow LaMear to focus on the things he loves most: finding wood that is ready to be reclaimed, re-imagined, and repurposed into people's lives. "I spent more than six months designing a special attachment that allows them to be re-attached solidly, over and over again," LaMear says. "I want our tables to last three generations. I like to think about a young kid moving the table into a new apartment and thinking, "I can’t believe I have grandpa's table--this thing just won't die!'"
For LaMear, his business partner Dorsey, and the company's half dozen employees, the goal is to prove that not only does old wood never dies--it actually keeps growing.