Simon Ladaa slowly walks up each aisle, carefully looking at what’s for sale.
So far, he’s found a fuse box, which is in the front of his cart. He continues to hunt through the selection of electrical equipment, including light switch covers. There are about a dozen. It’s not that Ladaa needs a lot right now. He gets his supplies because at some point he will. And supplies these days aren’t always available. Or this cheap.
Also sitting in the cart is an old lumber leveler. That might not be the proper term for the contraption, a single piece of metal with a blade on the bottom, like an old-fashioned sander. He illustrates how it works by running it over a piece of wood, shaving off a slice. It levels the wood, he said. So that’s the name he bears.
He buys there not only materials but also old pieces, antiques, like the razor. He’s kind of a collector.
This is the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on Willis Road in North Fort Myers. And Ladaa is a handyman from North Fort Myers whose Wednesday morning shopping is just part of his weekly routine.
He is one of many contractors, subcontractors, do-it-yourselfers and do-it-yourselfers who are increasingly turning to this Re-Store – and many others in the state and across the country – for building materials. construction.
These are the people in the industry most affected by rising prices and supply chain issues. Unlike large construction companies and developers, they can’t afford to place massive orders for supplies and often have to hunt for what they need to complete projects – and to keep customers happy and bills paid.
A thrift store?
The size and scope of building materials for sale at ReStores may come as a surprise to the uninitiated. There are doors, windows, cabinets, plumbing supplies, rows of new paint, bathroom fixtures, washers and dryers, tiles. The list is exhaustive.
That’s not counting used furniture and even books.
Items for sale have been donated, sometimes by builders who removed perfectly serviceable items from homes during a renovation or by manufacturers who built too much or developers who ordered too much. In some cases, companies donate scratched and dented items that buyers refurbish before installing for their customers.
At the store in North Fort Myers, a donor who wishes to remain anonymous is donating vanities. Lots of vanities. In some cases, these are vanities that come with cracked sinks that the donor cannot sell. At the ReStore, the sink is removed and it goes on the sales floor.
In total, store manager Brandon Eiland says the store receives two truckloads of supplies each day.
And soon after they arrive, buyers show up.
“I have a guy by the name of Mr. Wilson who comes here every day at three o’clock. He is here every day,” says Eiland, 36. “He’s a patient client and he specifically comes to find out whether it’s for a project he’s working on or something he can ship to Haiti. That’s his goal. He is one of many.
Building materials are big business at the Willis Road store. The location had sales of $1.4 million last year, 30% of which came from these products. The store itself has approximately 30,000 square feet of retail space, about a third of which is dedicated to materials and building materials.
Eiland says it’s because her store has earned a reputation as a go-to source in the community. But supply chain issues have helped boost the number of customers. “It’s a bit of both.”
“What we’re seeing is more consistency. A lot of it, like I said, is your DIY customers and also independent contractors,” he says.
“And right now, I mean, I wish I had more, because we kind of feel it too. Some of these big companies don’t over-order, so they don’t donate as often as they used to. But we still have a decent amount of inventory.
The purpose of ReStores, however, is not to ensure that contractors, sub-contractors and do-it-yourselfers have a place to shop when there are shortages everywhere or when they are priced out. by the big players. It’s a bonus. The true purpose of the stores is to support the mission of Habitat for Humanity.
Habitat for Humanity’s first ReStore opened in 1991 in Winnipeg.
According to a stores biography on the Habitat website, the store was started by five volunteers who wanted to make sure that new and used home and building materials weren’t just thrown away. They understood that by selling these items, they could help finance the construction of houses.
“A lot of it, as I said, are your DIY customers and also independent contractors. And right now, I mean, I wish I had more, because we kinda feel it too. Brandon Eiland ReStore Manager.
Customers began coming “from everywhere” to find deals on hardware and, in the process, raise funds.
Today, there are over 1,000 ReStore sites in six countries. Each, according to the website, “contributes to Habitat’s vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live.” Between 2011 and 2021, ReStores were able to raise over $1 billion.
Locally, each store is independently operated by local and regional Habitat for Humanity affiliates, each set up to accept donations, prepare items for the retail floor, and provide money for building homes.
Each local organization has its links with local businesses to obtain donations. And even with relationships, affiliates sometimes get lucky. CBS Sports donated all the lumber it used to build risers and stages for its 2021 Super Bowl LV lineup to Hillsborough County ReStores.
The four ReStores in Lee and Hendry counties, including the North Fort Myers store, are among the most revenue-generating in the state with $3.9 million in fiscal 2021. The stores, including the first opened in 1993, generated nearly 20% of Lee and Hendry counties Habitat for Humanity revenue last year.
That was enough money to fully pay for nine of the 55 branch houses built last year. The goal is to build 60 by the end of this fiscal year in June, although it is not yet known how many of these will be funded by ReStores.
For Eiland, who started working for Habitat for Humanity in 2015 and took over as manager of the Willis Road store in 2019, as much as he loves the job, loves the customers, loves being the manager of a large retail operation, it’s what the revenue generated by the store matters the most.
“And that’s part of why I’m here,” he says. “You know, it impacts the community in so many different ways. Our vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. So we’re trying to create a path where everyone has that opportunity.
While, of course, not everyone can get help with a new home, Habitat offers financial advice to help find ways to buy homes.
“That’s what all income does,” Eiland said. “It helps support that vision.”
As Ladda goes shopping this Wednesday morning, he is looking to stock up on the items he will need to run his business.
Part of the journey is trying to anticipate her customers’ needs, finding the most common things they might ask for. He also looks for his own supplies—electronics, nails and screws, that sort of thing. Nowadays, and with these prices, the more you have, the better off you are, he says.
Ladda says the biggest surprise he found on his weekly ReStore shopping spree was the prices. Not too long ago he found a screen roll that would normally cost him $70-$80 for $5.
“It’s not just the supply chain. It’s a treasure hunt. It’s a guessing game,” Ladda says. “You go to Home Depot, you know what you want, OK. There you go and then it’s ‘Oh, that’s good for the price. I’ll take it.'”