|Vetrazzo Keeps Making Headlines
January 3, 2009
Richmondís Vetrazzo just canít stay out of the news. Below is from todayís West County Times. We remember fondly that Vetrazzo split with the Chamber of Commerce and endorsed Measure T in the November 2008 election. Itís nice to have a recession-proof business that will only double instead of tripling in size this year.
Richmond firm leads recycling counter-culture
Updated: 01/02/2009 09:45:40 PM PST
James Sheppard eyes your empty beer bottle and sees the ingredient for a colorful kitchen countertop. He wants your firehouse-red wine goblets and stained-glass windows that might otherwise be destined for the landfill.
"Last night's Heineken bottles and Coke bottles are today's countertops," Sheppard said.
Sheppard, 39, heads a growing multimillion-dollar company that's building its fortunes on bits of recycled glass. Vetrazzo, headquartered in Richmond, manufactures bright countertops, tabletops and other surfaces from recycled glass, and soon hopes to branch out into smaller items such as serving trays and cutting boards.
The company has catapulted itself in the business world and was named by Forbes Magazine as one of the top five small businesses in the country in 2008 from a pool of 1,500 entrants, though Vetrazzo missed the No. 1 title and $100,000 prize.
Even amid a national recession that began in December 2007, the company experienced 400 percent growth in 2008. Vetrazzo reaches the higher-end tier in the home-remodeling market, which hasn't been as hard hit, Sheppard said.
Still, the company is not immune to the economic slowdown. Sheppard foresees growth in 2009 but has scaled back on his projections.
"We expect it to double this coming year, instead of tripling," Sheppard said. "We're not thinking that the economy can't touch us."
Sheppard declined to disclose the company's production and sales figures, citing his competition.
State recycling officials are giving grants to companies that help "close the loop" by making something out of recycled products and creating jobs. Vetrazzo landed $1.4 million in December.
"Most glass gets recycled into glass bottles," said Bridgett Luther, director of the Department of Conservation. Vetrazzo "is one of the more fun ways glass gets recycled."
Vetrazzo's product is the brainchild of Berkeley glass scientist Don McPherson, who teamed with architect Bruce Brubaker in 1996 to create something functional from recycled glass. The duo shifted production from a garage to a warehouse as word-of-mouth spread, but didn't quite have the business model to keep up with demand.
In 2005, Sheppard and two other entrepreneurs excited about the product raised the capital to buy the company. A year later, Vetrazzo opened its manufacturing plant in the remodeled Ford Assembly Plant on Richmond's waterfront. They expanded production and are selling the countertops as an alternative to granite to homes and businesses around the country and in Canada.
Sheppard sees the eye-catching surfaces as the ignition for conversation.
"People notice it, they ask questions, and it starts a dialogue about recycling," said Sheppard, who quit his job in the software industry to help launch Vetrazzo. "They'll buy it because it's beautiful; they'll change behaviors because it inspires them."
Three days before Christmas, Sheppard walks through the plant at the Ford building where employees mix the glass bits with concrete and other additives before pouring it, shuttling it into a gigantic oven, adding sealant and inspecting it.
Fat, 4Ĺ-foot-tall sacks of glass separate the shards by color. Skyy Vodka bottles supply the bright blues. Soft drink bottles are the pale greens. Glass from windows and doors of demolished buildings add grays to the color palette.
Most of the glass is purchased in bulk from Bay Area curbside recycling companies. Some of it comes from demolition sites. Less common sources include art glass, stained glass, old windshields and the red glass lenses from traffic lights, which Vetrazzo got when some cities switched to acrylic.
There are 15 standard color palettes, not counting any limited editions. Each 9-foot-by-5-foot panel weighs 750 pounds and takes 11/2 weeks to make. The typical countertop contains 850 beer bottles; about 85 percent of each slab is recycled glass, and the rest is concrete and other additives.
The product, sold through a network of authorized dealers, costs $150 to $200 a square foot for installation, which is similar to premium granite.
Vetrazzo wants to open plants in other metropolitan areas, Sheppard said, with the first debuting as early as 2010.
"We want to take this model and make it Chicago's waste glass, Atlanta's waste glass," he said. "There's glass in every major metro market."
Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@ bayareanewsgroup.com.