How TreeHouse is Changing the Home Building and Remodeling Paradigm
TreeHouse, a sustainable home improvement retail company, is ready to take on giants such as The Home Depot and Lowe's in the same manner Whole Foods Market challenged traditional grocers.
This was a key finding gleaned from a fireside chat with Garrett Boone, board chairman of TreeHouse and co-founder and chairman emeritus at The Container Store, at the Retail Innovation Lounge event on Sept. 26 in Dallas.
TreeHouse, based in Austin, Texas, was founded in 2011 as a first-of-its-kind home improvement store for those looking for more earth-friendly home improvement materials, equipment and appliances. It specializes in curated products and services that promote healthy and sustainable spaces, with an emphasis on high performance and design. Products include rainwater barrels, solar panels and toxin-free paints. It was also chosen to be the first retailer to sell the Tesla Powerwall home battery.
Boone, who stepped down from his position at The Container Store in 2007, became involved in TreeHouse in 2010 when co-founder and CEO Jason Ballard reached out to him and asked him to be an investor in the company before its launch.
"I said, ‘I love the idea. I think it's going to be hard to do. But what the heck, I'll go along for the ride,’" said Boone. (So far, TreeHouse has raised about $17 million from investors led by Boone.)
During the wide-ranging discussion, Boone said TreeHouse is planning to open its second store in Dallas next year. The store's footprint is 25,000 square feet, and it will be practicing what it preaches: it will be the world's first big-box, net zero energy store (i.e., the total amount of energy used by the building annually will be equal to the amount of renewable energy created on-site). What does this mean in layman's terms? The TreeHouse's power bills will be literally reduced to almost nothing.
"We will have solar panels laying on the roof of the building, so during the day the building will be lit almost entirely by natural light," Boone said. "It will be 70 percent more energy efficient than other buildings. In essence, we're creating a commercial building that we would recommend our customers to build."
Boone admitted that sustainable design does require a higher up-front investment, but that it pays off over time with lower operating costs. "We try all day long to convince people that [sustainable design] is what they should do," he said. "And obviously, if we're not doing it ourselves, we're sending a message that it isn't worth it."
TreeHouse also plans to use virtual reality (VR) at every step in the new store, and plans to have it be a big part of its strategy in all stores going forward.
"Virtual reality is going to become a core part of TreeHouse's project planning and consultation process with customers," Boone said. "If we can figure out how to help design our customers’ kitchens in VR, we will do it at every store, for free."
During the chat, Boone also offered some key lessons he learned from his time at The Container Store that he brought with him to TreeHouse.
"One lesson is the importance of hiring great people," Boone said. "At The Container Store, we really focused on hiring people who would have been very successful in any business they worked in. We focused on hiring entrepreneurs who would help build a strong culture at our company. And we're doing the same thing at TreeHouse."
Another lesson, Boone said, is understanding that TreeHouse and The Container Store are very different. Therefore, when making big decisions he has to make sure he's making them with TreeHouse in mind; not the other way around.
"At TreeHouse, we design solutions for customers," Boone noted. "Every order is a special order, which is different than how we sold products at The Container Store. Treehouse is also much more tied into new technologies around home remodeling."