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Reusing the cycle in re-cycle

By EILEEN M. GARVIN

Special to the Hood River News

March 8, 2006

Graham Bergh and Jim Hassert won’t take offense if you say they’re involved in a trashy sort of business.

In fact, they are proud of it.

“We are taking something that is garbage and making a product out of it,” said Bergh, founder of Mosier-based Resource Revival.

Bergh’s company is interested in a particular kind of trash — the leftover bits and pieces you might find in the dumpster behind your local bike store. Since 1994, Resource Revival has harvested old bike chains, used freewheels and worn-out wheel rims to create its unique gift and home décor items.

“We make everything from key chains to coffee tables,” said Hassert. That range includes Resource Revival’s signature bike chain bottle opener, clocks, key chains, picture frames, candleholders, organizers and tables.

But when the company runs out of material, it can’t simply call up a supplier. “We can’t order it, like some sort of widget. Used chain exists ephemerally, and then it’s gone,” said Bergh. So historically, Resource Revival has paid for Northwest bike stores and the Community Cycling Center in Portland to send their waste to its shop. Pointing to an old freewheel, Bergh said. “This one-pound piece of garbage can become 10 products. That’s the magic of what we do.”

If things go according to plan, it’s going to get a whole lot trashier around the State Road shop this spring. In February, Resource Revival sent a mailing to 4,500 bike stores around the country urging them to turn in their waste. The postcard, which features a reduce-reuse-recycle message, reads, “Recycle your bike chains with us. We pay freight, you win prizes!”

While the arrangement will help bike shops keep their trash out of the landfill, it could help Resource Revival in a couple of ways. The partners hope that the mailing will increase their supply line while simultaneously attracting new customers. “We are getting our foot in the door with recycling. We hope the stores will start carrying our products,” said Bergh.

Green hearted —

On a recent sunny day in February, with the faint smell of burnt metal hanging in the air, Hassert and Bergh sat in their Mosier shop and explained that while they are certainly interested in what Resource Revival can do for their wallets, the company is rooted in their hearts.

Bergh said the product line reflects the core values of environmental conservation, recycling, art and fun. He conceived the idea for the business back in 1991 when he got a flat tire riding to his job as coordinator for the City of Portland’s Recycling Education Project. A little research got him thinking about the amount of waste generated by bike shops.

The company’s first product was made from old inner tubes (a product no longer produced) and was picked up by outdoor retail giant Recreation Equipment Inc. (REI).

“It’s been hard for me to focus on making money because I was more motivated by the recycling part of it,” he said.

Hassert joined the company three and a half years ago following a year-long stint as an AmeriCorps volunteer teaching at-risk youth at Jefferson High School in Portland. He believes that Resource Revival’s products might make average consumers think before they spend.

“They look at the bottle opener and think, ‘Oh, look. It looks like an old bike chain.’ And then they realize, no, it is an old bike chain. It kind of blows them away. I think it is contagious, and it might convince them to examine their buying practices.”

In keeping with its values, the company donates 1 percent of its gross profits to environmental and educational organizations.

Featured in such publications as Sunset magazine, Organic Style and Bridal Guide magazine, Resource Revival enjoys a growing and nationwide appeal in the recycled goods market. Wholesale customers make up 95 percent of the company’s revenues with the remainder of sales coming in through the Web site.

Resource Revival’s customer list includes such big names as the New Belgium Brewing Company, the Guggenheim Museum, REI, Uncommon Goods and, most recently, Whole Foods. Samples of the company’s custom work can be seen at 10-Speed Coffee Co. in Hood River.

While the partners declined to discuss specific revenues, they said the company has been profitable for quite some time and sales continues to grow from the new Mosier location. Bergh relocated the business from Portland about 18 months ago, and in the process, the company shed most of its former employees.

“Jim was the only employee who wanted to move,” he said. Resource Revival currently employs five, including the two partners.

Moving from a 10,000-square-foot location to its current 1,200-square-foot digs caused a great purge.

“We left a lot of stuff. We should have left a lot more,” said Hassert. On a tour of the well-organized space, Hassert demonstrates that the shop is divided in half. The “clean side” houses office space, clean production and fulfillment.

The dirty work, which takes place on the other side, is a lengthy process of sorting, breaking, washing, tumble-drying, polishing, welding and finishing. Hassert said inhabiting a smaller space has forced them to think about their priorities.

“We have to ask ourselves, ‘Is this going to contribute to our bottom line or not?’ It makes us stronger.”

When asked to verbalize the company’s strategy, Bergh grins. “Keep moving? Look busy? I don’t know. I am a total seat-of-the-pants person.” For the first several years Bergh said he just worked constantly building the business. Part of Hassert’s role will be to help determine its future direction. Bergh said he spotted his partner’s potential quickly when Hassert was first hired as temporary help.

“It was obvious that he was not only hard-working, but innovative. But I didn’t realize how smart he was until about a year ago. I thought, ‘Wow, he’s really a lot smarter than I am,’” said Bergh with a laugh.

For his part, Hassert thinks the next stage is about focusing on what works best. “The challenge is staying focused on what is really important.”

And of, course, there is the fun. “We should enjoy what we are doing,” said Bergh. “Otherwise, why would we do it?”

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