Sidewalk Buttler Gets The Big Order
National Resource Council of Maine’s 2014 Sustainability Report heightened community awareness and support of our Sidewalk Buttler program. We also began attending trade shows and Keep America Beautiful national events to start making connections with like-minded manufacturers and activists. Orders for anywhere from three to 50 units started to come in, and on most days, our garage was busy and noisy. And then…Sidewalk Buttler got The Big Order.
One day, Mike got a call from Lauren at Lapine (a consumer engagement agency). Lauren told Mike that Lapine was representing Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, and they wanted to know if we could fulfill an order for them to be part of Keep America Beautiful’s cigarette litter prevention program.
Mike immediately responded: “Yes! How many would you like?”
Lauren said, “Ten thousand.”
Not sure he’d heard her correctly, Mike repeated, “How many?!”
“Ten thousand,” Lauren repeated, matter of factly. “But we’ll need to inspect your shop. Will that be a problem?”
“No problem,” Mike said.
A New Shop to Call Our Own
Well, at that point, an urgent search for a new, roomier shop was on! With such a big order on tap, and Lapine ready to set an inspection date, we needed to be set up as soon as possible too.
Mike immediately started making calls, scanning Craigslist, and generally scouring the local Southern Maine area for the best option. With no time to spare, he found a great location at the right price. But I never doubted Mike for a moment — this is A Man With A Plan!
In the meantime, Mike called his brother John, hoping to lure him out of retirement to come work at his new venture. Fortunately, John accepted (and his wife was very happy)! An expert welder and fabricator, John’s expertise was exactly what we needed to kick off production of such a large order.
Up to that moment, Mike had been making units completely by hand, using a Sears chop saw and hand drill. Now he needed to buy the tools necessary to manufacture Sidewalk Buttler’s biggest order yet.
Mike is a gear-head and knows machines — he can build them from scratch. So, at night, I would wake up to him, on his computer, researching hydraulic punches (to create the signature Sidewalk Buttler opening) and watching YouTube videos about deburring aluminum extrusions (to make them smooth). Our interactions often went something like this:
Me: Honey, it’s really late! Come to bed.
Mike: Yeah, but you’ve gotta see this! It’s really cool.
When I’d get up to see what he was looking at, invariably it was some tool I couldn’t even identify, much less understand its use. So I would just pat him gently and retreat back to the bedroom.
Mike and John started to build and purchase what was needed. And, through trial and error, they kept moving forward.
Next, Mike had to source 45,000 pounds of aluminum extrusions and get them delivered as soon as possible. Extrusions come in 21 foot lengths and we needed 13 foot pieces, so Mike negotiated with American Steel for the custom cutting he needed. They agreed to source and store our order, and deliver the custom-cut 13' sticks on demand (about 5,000 pounds per delivery).
With a Little Help from Your Neighbor
When our first 5,000 pound delivery arrived, we immediately realized that, while those 13’ pieces were the optimum size for production, they certainly weren’t going to fit through a 10 foot door!
Fortunately our shop neighbor took pity on us and loaned us his forklift to take the aluminum off the delivery truck. Meanwhile, the delivery driver was tapping his foot and repeatedly glancing at his watch. (Thank you, Bluet Wine for generously loaning us your forklift!)
Over one long night, Mike and John did some very heavy lifting, carrying all 438 pieces of aluminum by hand through the door. And after the last piece was inside, the brothers got right to work building a trolley, which Honey (our adorably stubborn shop mascot) immediately claimed as her shop-bed.
But at least now they could load the aluminum sticks using Bluet’s forklift and push the load through the door length-wise. Once the aluminum sticks were inside, they re-stacked them using the pallet-lifter Mike had purchased from Craigslist.
We were making real progress and ready for Lapine’s inspection! Will it surprise you to find out that things didn’t go according to plan?
Stay tuned for Part III!