Construction Junction

by Paul Ruggiero

Construction Junction is Pittsburgh’s first non-profit building material reuse retailer. Its primary mission is to promote conservation, job training, and community engagement by collecting and reselling donated building materials from local property demolitions and remodeling projects. In 2012, Construction Junction applied for a grant from the Opportunity Fund to create Reuse Retail, a software system that integrates donor management, inventory management, e-commerce, web content, and a point-of-sale system for non-profits selling used goods.

  • Construction Junction sought to leverage its investment in a previously completed proof-of-concept phase.
  • Reuse Retail will be an innovative solution that does not already exist in the marketplace.
  • The information technology system formed the basis for a larger initiative that could benefit the entire reuse sector nationwide.
  • Reuse Retail will transform the non-profit reuse sector by enabling greater inventory management, customer engagement, and interorganizational collaboration.
  • The project rode the momentum of other reuse organizations that had been seeking similar solutions and formed the Reuse Technology Collaborative.

Just inside the front doors of Construction Junction, a complete church pulpit looms in front of the kitchen section, like the prow of a ship made of cabinets and countertops. A gauntlet of ovens leads you to the back wall of the warehouse, where dozens of well-knocked doors stand racked and ready to sell. Songs from the local indie music radio station skitter over shelves of dusty light fixtures, bins of naked doorknobs, stacks of ceramic tiles, a mushroom patch of commodes.

Welcome to Pittsburgh’s biggest treasure chest.

Construction Junction has thousands of donated building items for sale, but not a single bar code. The nation’s biggest reuse retailer has no good way to know what’s selling or track and reward frequent donors. Unlike big-box stores, Construction Junction can’t list all its items online, much less sell them there. Instead, the store hand-writes 10,000 donation receipts a year, posts a sliver of its inventory on its website, and hopes for the best.

Mike Gable, Construction Junction’s executive director, wants to change that—and not just for his store.

“As an organization whose primary mission is to promote conservation through the reuse of building material, what we want to do is to mainstream reuse,” says Gable. “How do we make reuse as convenient as first use?”

The first step is to modernize how Construction Junction tracks donations, sales, inventory, and customer relationships. The available information technology systems that do this are prohibitively expensive for non-profits like Construction Junction, and they aren’t designed to intake 9,000 unique donations every month.

So Gable and Schwartz decided to make their own system. They completed a proof-of-concept and, in June 2012, applied for a more than $200,000 grant from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation’s Opportunity Fund to develop the Reuse Retail system.

Construction Junction used the grant to build the components of Reuse Retail on the Salesforce cloud-based CRM platform. “There’s no reason for the reuse industry to not be running right next to how retail is being transformed by technology in general,” says Schwartz.

Construction Junction is currently stitching together the components of the system. This effort is supported by a grant from the Salesforce Foundation, which was itself leveraged by the Opportunity Fund grant. Construction Junction is also readying a mobile app that Construction Junction pickup crews and dock loaders will use to upload data on donated items.

Chris McCullough, principal of Percolator Consulting and Reuse Retail’s developer, says the data could help Construction Junction engage its customers and donors through programs like donor rewards and tool exchange libraries. “This is a great opportunity to really build a community around this store,” says McCullough.

The Hillman Foundation awarded the grant on the condition that Construction Junction scale Reuse Retail to regional reuse organizations. Some of them are already running the Salesforce CRM platform, thanks to grants from the Forbes Foundation and Google. These retailers will be ready to adopt components of the completed Reuse Retail system.

Retail Reuse will also form a nervous system connecting participating reuse stores to each other. For the first time, they will be able to see price and sales trends across the country, wherever there is a Reuse Retail user. Stores could even swap inventory to reduce their dependence on local supply. Schwartz says the Reuse Retail network could elevate the entire sector. “To be able to see trends and aggregate data from hundreds of reuse organizations across the country, and to be able to learn from one another—it facilitates building of the whole reuse community,” she says.

Gable says the Retail Reuse project gives Construction Junction the broadest stage to demonstrate how sector leaders can multiply the impact of foundation funding by sharing its fruits. “What else would we do?” he says. “This sector can’t be defined by scarcity. It has to be defined by abundance.”