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The maxim "necessity is the mother of invention" aptly describes the creation of The Renovator's Supply Manufacturing in 1978, when after returning from a stint with the Peace Corps in West Africa, Claude and Donna Jeanloz purchased a run-down farmhouse in rural Western Massachusetts and set bout reviving it. But they soon found the products they needed to repair the colonial-era structure weren't available anymore. The couple had to scour flea markets, antiques stores, and junk shops to locate necessities such as Norfolk latches, rimlocks, plain lighting fixtures, old-fashioned knobs, and cross-handle faucets; windows to match the 19th century frames had to be custom made; wide boards for flooring involved trips to a sawmill; even paint colors and wallpapers weren't appropriate!
The Jeanlozs had the idea they weren't the only homeowners facing this struggle. They had been early subscribers to Clem Labine's Old House Journal, and Donna had even contributed articles to it on landscaping period homes. Starting in the 1970s and gaining considerable momentum in the 1980s, an increasing number of homeowners became interested in restoring their old homes. Publications such as Early American Life, Americana, Hearst's Colonial Homes, Labine's Old House Journal, and later Victorian Homes, Old House Interiors, and scores of others steadily increased the market for new old-style furnishings.
Back in 1978, Clem Labine doubted that the Jeanlozs could make a living selling period fixtures, but they persisted. After refinancing their home to raise capital, they identified 400 available products which others might need and purchased about 3 of each; each was photographed, and Claude and Donna spent hours at the kitchen table writing descriptions. The result was a 34- page, black and white catalog which was mailed to The Old House Journal's subscriber list. The old farmhouse sheds had plenty of room for warehousing, and the Jeanlozs partitioned off part of the house for an office. An old drafting board served as a packing/shipping station as orders started to trickle in.
Almost immediately Claude, who had some prior experience in manufacturing management, realized that many of the items folks wanted simply weren't being made, especially things like brass bathroom fixtures, glass doorknobs, clawfoot tubs. Other hardware items were available, but they were junk and didn't work. It seemed obvious that the solution would be to manufacture themselves, so by 1980 Renovator's Supply Manufacturing, was incorporated as a Massachusetts manufacturing corporation. With 12 employees, and rapidly growing, the business moved out of the farmhouse and into a former Model T garage and showroom in the village of Millers Falls. Soon that, too, was outgrown and it bought and moved to the 19 th century brick mill complex that had housed the Millers Falls Tools Company an ideal spot to manufacture hardware.
With computerization and modern manufacturing techniques, the business grew rapidly. A woodworking shop; a forge for wrought iron; a foundry for brass; assembly and finishing lines for plumbing, lighting, locksets: CNC milling machines for hardware and parts; a bindery to streamline the mailing of catalogs were all housed at the mill.
Soon we had a number of divisions: Old Mill Marketing, an advertising agency; the Merge Purge Factory, specializing in computer enhancements; Aristera, a catalog of products for left-handed persons; Play for Growth, another specialty catalog for children's toys; Country Notebook, a purveyor of country-style accessories. Catalogs were mailed every six weeks to millions of homeowners across the nation and internationally.
In 1982 Renovator's Supply Manufacturing launched and spun off a consumer magazine, Victorian Homes, to promote 19th-century style decorating and liifestyles. The company also plunged into the retail market, opening 16 stores from upstate New York to Maryland.
During the 1980s, Renovator's Supply Manufacturing could hardly keep up with demand for its products. It was a leader in the mail-order industry, mailing millions of catalogs each year and employing hundreds of people in manufacturing, distribution, catalog production, retail, and data processing.
In 1992 We acquired Yield House, an established manufacturer and catalog retailer of wood products, furniture, and accessories located in North Conway, NH. The factory was relocated and updated, with an emphasis on larger furniture items in Shaker and country style; however, during the 90s manufacturing increasingly moved offshore, and the furniture industry, faced with increasing safety and emissions regulation as well as wage pressures, suffered. Yield House was closed in 2004.
Computer issues surrounding the turn of the century ('Y2K') also adversely affected the company. Along with other IT-dependent companies, it faced daunting upgrade issues to move forward in the twenty-first century, and had difficulty attracting IT talent in a rural area. In 2002 it suffered a computer crash which wiped out much of its customer history; the previous year its only modern building, a fully-automated warehouse, collapsed under the weight of snow. Since then, the company has diversified the space available at the mill to accept tenants small businesses, craftspeople, and musicians and to provide warehousing, manufacturing, and shipping services as needed.
In the past decades, Renovator's Supply Manufacturing has successfully made the transition from mail orders, through telephone and fax orders, and into e-commerce, and boasts an extensive website. It offers products not only on its website, but also through hundreds of affiliates and Amazon.com. Product is sourced overseas as well as manufactured at the mill; distribution is handled from Millers Falls. We continues to be a robust player in both the renovation and contemporary markets, for both residential and commercial projects, offering many old- style products not easily found elsewhere.