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A New Kind of Hardware Store: TreeHouse

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After the Dwell prefab popup party at SXSW Eco this past October, we spent the next Saturday checking out a number of modern homes and happenings around Austin, where we stumbled with delight upon TreeHouse, the new green hardware store company with a focus on design that's already earned a local tagline as the "Whole Foods version of Home Depot." We toured the store and the next week back in San Francisco, caught up with TreeHouse CEO, Paul Yanosy, to chat.

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  One of TreeHouse's several experiential learning centers educates shoppers about the differences between conventional and eco-friendly toilets.

    One of TreeHouse's several experiential learning centers educates shoppers about the differences between conventional and eco-friendly toilets.

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  TreeHouse displays the company's product filter. Every item sold in the store must pass the litmus test for health, performance, sustainability, and social good. Will it work in Austin? It certainly seems to be. "But Texas is the great experiment," says Yanosy. "We want to show people that this isn't hippie. This is about efficiency, and healthier homes for your kids, and well made products."

    TreeHouse displays the company's product filter. Every item sold in the store must pass the litmus test for health, performance, sustainability, and social good. Will it work in Austin? It certainly seems to be. "But Texas is the great experiment," says Yanosy. "We want to show people that this isn't hippie. This is about efficiency, and healthier homes for your kids, and well made products."

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  The paint zone. On our tour, Sutphin waved a hand towards the wall and said, "A lot of stores wanting to say they care about green will stop at paint. But having a healthy home is more than a coat of paint."

    The paint zone. On our tour, Sutphin waved a hand towards the wall and said, "A lot of stores wanting to say they care about green will stop at paint. But having a healthy home is more than a coat of paint."

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  The hub of the store, the Idea Center, functions similarly to an Apple store Genius Bar. "We really want this to be an experience," says Yanosy of the concept. "We're all on a journey, and hopefully our customers know we are on that journey with them - we think it's important to be humble. Think about what it's like to go into an REI versus some other sporting goods store. No matter what level you're at, you're welcomed and educated and the entire experience is positive," he says. "That's what a hardware store should be like."

    The hub of the store, the Idea Center, functions similarly to an Apple store Genius Bar. "We really want this to be an experience," says Yanosy of the concept. "We're all on a journey, and hopefully our customers know we are on that journey with them - we think it's important to be humble. Think about what it's like to go into an REI versus some other sporting goods store. No matter what level you're at, you're welcomed and educated and the entire experience is positive," he says. "That's what a hardware store should be like."

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  Another look at the Idea Center.

    Another look at the Idea Center.

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  A bit of light bulb whackamole.

    A bit of light bulb whackamole.

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  Every product zone features helpful information that conveys a clear benefit. Health is touted; sustainability is implied. Word of the store has spread quickly around Austin. "We've done some social media," says Yanosy, "but mainly it's grassroots. Local builders and a lot of young, savvy families are our customers."

    Every product zone features helpful information that conveys a clear benefit. Health is touted; sustainability is implied. Word of the store has spread quickly around Austin. "We've done some social media," says Yanosy, "but mainly it's grassroots. Local builders and a lot of young, savvy families are our customers."

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  The flooring zone. "Retail should be a trusted partner and the ultimate consultant," says Yanosy. "And it extends throughout the entire business - employees should be treated well, too." He ticks off people, nature, excellence, belief in dreams, and community as the core values of TreeHouse. As for making that into a successful business model, Yanosy reflects and says, "There's always going to be a bit of tension between the needs of business and values. But we're running toward that, not away from it. We think it can be constructive."

    The flooring zone. "Retail should be a trusted partner and the ultimate consultant," says Yanosy. "And it extends throughout the entire business - employees should be treated well, too." He ticks off people, nature, excellence, belief in dreams, and community as the core values of TreeHouse. As for making that into a successful business model, Yanosy reflects and says, "There's always going to be a bit of tension between the needs of business and values. But we're running toward that, not away from it. We think it can be constructive."

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