From the city that gave us Whole Foods Market and took organic groceries mainstream, another retailer is hoping to change the way we live. This time its focus is the roof over our heads.
Austin-based TreeHouse, a home improvement retailer focused on eco-friendly construction materials, has selected Dallas as its first stop outside its hip hometown. Tuesday, it will announce plans to open a store in early 2017 in a new shopping center in North Dallas.
TreeHouse CEO and co-founder Jason Ballard believes he can sell the world on eco-friendly homes in the same way that Tesla is broadening the customer base for electric cars.
“We resist being a niche company,” Ballard said. “We’re not just for customers with dreadlocks and card-carrying members of environmental groups. We’re going to prove with the Dallas store that we’re not a store for special people, we’re a store for everyone.”
The timing is right, with cultural trends leading people to craft beers and quality coffee, he said. “It’s a refinement of the American palate.”
Dallas architect Russell Buchanan said client awareness of eco-friendly homebuilding materials has grown rapidly in recent years.
“It used to be that clients didn’t even talk about it. Now it’s the first thing they ask, particularly energy-efficiency,” Buchanan said.
The 25,000-square-foot Dallas store will have more than 5,000 to 10,000 square feet of outdoor space to display native landscaping, rainwater collection and other projects the store will sell. The store features home decor products, including paint and flooring, and performance products, including roofing, insulation, windows and LED lighting.
TreeHouse will anchor a shopping center in the works on the northeast corner of North Central Expressway and Walnut Hill Lane.
Dallas-based Cypress Equities is redeveloping the 16-acre Corner Shopping Center. Cypress purchased the property located across from a DART rail station about a year ago and is renaming it the Hill Shopping Center.
Piney Woods past
“We want to grow first in Texas,” said Ballard, 33, whose rural upbringing where Texas’ Piney Woods dips toward the Gulf Coast had everything to do with his professional path.
That tension between loving the outdoors and earning a living in the oil refineries made a huge impression on him as a boy, he said. “I remember going around the deer camp with my grandfather charging everything up with a solar panel, and I thought, ‘Why can’t everything be like that?’”
After leaving Texas A&M in 2006 as a conservation biologist, he moved to Colorado and thought about becoming an Episcopal priest. “I learned about the sustainable building movement and discovered how many toxins are in our homes.”
Ballard co-founded TreeHouse with his wife, Jenny, and best friend from college, Evan Loomis, who had the finance expertise they needed to get their idea off the ground. TreeHouse opened in October 2011 in Austin and now is ready to expand with multiple stores and an e-commerce business. TreeHouse originally raised $7 million and last year received an additional $16 million for its expansion.
Its lead investors are from Dallas and have some big retail names behind them, including a family that was among the original investors in Home Depot.
Container Store co-founder Garrett Boone was an early investor, and others include Gary Kusin, former CEO of FedEx Office; Bill Robinson, executive vice president of Southlake-based Sabre; and Justin Cox, whose father, Berry Cox, was an original and longtime board member of Home Depot.
TreeHouse is the first retailer that Tesla has authorized to sell the Powerwall, its battery for the house. TreeHouse is also one of the top-selling retailers of Nest smart-home products, Ballard said.
Single-store sales have increased 35 percent every year, he said, without disclosing annual sales. Inc. Magazine said last fall that the store was on track to do $10 million in 2015.
While many make the analogy with Whole Foods, Ballard gets his inspiration from Tesla, which he said took “electric cars from being slow, small and ugly to being fast, comfortable and sexy.”
“We have to succeed in helping to make homes safe but still beautiful and comfortable,” he said. “That’s the reason we have a house in the first place.”
Dallas architect Buchanan said many people are also motivated by energy savings:A 4,000-square-foot home that he designed was recently completed in Dallas, and the monthly electric and gas bills combined are under $200.The house next door is smaller and has a monthly bill of more than $1,000, he said.
Residential solar panels have fallen by half or more in price since 2007, making them affordable for regular homeowners, said Barbara Kessler, editor of EcoBayou.com. “And rain catchment has become more popular with gardeners for outside irrigation especially since the drought.”
Also, much has changed from a health standpoint, Buchanan said. Manufacturers are selling low VOC — for volatile organic compounds — paint and carpet, which emit fewer gases that can hurt people with asthma and allergies, he said. “It’s time for more ideas to be mainstreamed.”
Kessler believes the timing is right for a store to present the growing number of products and projects available.
“People are better informed about the unhealthy effects of toxic building materials and also want to reduce their dependence on finite fossil fuels,” Kessler said.
BY THE NUMBERS
From 2015 to 2018, annual green building construction spending in the U.S. is projected to increase 15 percent a year, reaching $224.4 billion in 2018.
In Texas for the same period:
*Green construction is expected to have a direct impact of more than $32 billion on the state’s economy, almost double the total of the previous four years.
*Green buildings will directly impact 426,000 jobs in Texas and contribute more than $27 billion in income to the state’s workers.
SOURCE: The U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Building Economic Impact Study, prepared by Booz Allen Hamilton
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