Patrick LaMear, founder and CEO of Urban Reclamations, loves his job-;particularly the part that finds him roaming the country in search of old wood. His Seattle-based business transforms his finds into heirloom-quality tables and other pieces of residential and commercial furniture.
Even as he strives to devote more time to all the challenges of growing his business, LaMear is bumping up against an immutable law of physics: he can’t be in two places at once. Serendipitously, Urban Reclamations’s triumph as the inaugural winner of T-Mobile’s “Unleash Your Business” contest is helping him solve that conundrum.
The T-Mobile prize package included a year of free cellular service and 10 pieces of state-of-the-art Samsung hardware: half a dozen Galaxy TabPro S tablets, two Galaxy S7 Edge phones, and two Galaxy S7 phones. So far, the prize package matches LaMear’s needs perfectly.
“The S7 Edge phones are great in the shop environment because of their dust- and water-resistant qualities, but the sweet spot of the package for us has been the combination of the tablets and the quality and reliability of the connectivity we get, especially in some really out-of-the-way locations,” LaMear says.
Urban Reclamations is growing rapidly, and LaMear expects that growth to accelerate with the company’s recent adoption of e-commerce. Increased orders will correspond to a greater need for materials and inventory, and that poses a special challenge for LaMear, because not just any old wood will do. There’s an art to determining which wood is suitable for repurposing into beautiful new pieces, and that’s LaMear’s particular area of expertise. Until recently, it was something he could only do in person, but he came up with a plan that leverages the T-Mobile package to eliminate that roadblock.
“The idea was to use the tablets and the T-Mobile network to connect the four people most critically involved in the core competencies of our business in a way that had never been possible before,” he says. That foursome includes LaMear, his shop manager, a lumber department employee who works closely with LaMear, and Steve Dorsey, LaMear’s Denver-based partner and co-owner. The degree of connectivity provided by the T-Mobile package has far exceeded LaMear’s initial expectations, so much so that he now works in a new way.
“This has opened a serious door for us by vastly increasing our ability to acquire lumber,” he says. “In the past, lumber acquisition would put me out of pocket for two or three days, and sometimes an entire week. The quality of the video and audio we’re getting with this package means I can now exercise the necessary oversight without necessarily being on-site.”
The technology’s impact became clear when LaMear had his partner scout a potential lumber acquisition in the Denver area. Dorsey’s background is in investment banking and business expansion, but he has no expertise in the lumber acquisition and fabrication sides of the business. “The devil is in the details with reclaimed lumber,” LaMear says, “but now I can literally see everything-;the grain structure and all the checks and twists in the boards. In this case I was able to ask the seller how the wood had been stored, and for how long. I could instruct Steve (Dorsey) to lift up a board and turn it over. I realized that it was now possible to do lumber acquisition remotely without sacrificing anything on the quality control side.”
Urban Reclamations is also using the T-Mobile technology to geo-tag the wood it buys, which helps the company ship and track it more efficiently. The company uses the devices to pay sellers electronically on the spot, with accounting handled in real time, while built-in email, texting, and video-chat features streamline other business processes and reduce the need for paper files.
These cumulative productivity and efficiency boosts have allowed Urban Reclamations to introduce an inventory function for the first time, and LaMear believes the real-time access to market information his new technology provides will support expansion into the wholesale side of the business.
Without a doubt, though, the most significant and immediate impact of winning the T-Mobile “Unleash Your Business” contest has been a dramatic reduction in Urban Reclamations’s procurement costs. (LaMear puts it at a minimum of 30 percent.) “I’m an expensive guy, right? I own the company. Although I love going out and getting the material, there are many other things I could be doing with my time that are more important to the business, especially as we continue to grow. Now I can do those things and still be involved in the most important aspects of lumber acquisition-;without leaving my office.”
Who knew a business built on old wood could benefit so greatly from the newest technology?