InvenQuery powers the ‘Amazon.com for reclaimed building materials’July 11, 2012 by Sarah Binder
The InvenQuery system gives stores a mobile tool for managing inventory. It’s currently being put to the test by the PlanetReuse Marketplace, but the team hopes to find more uses for InvenQuery.
The two Kansas City, Mo. companies share the same leadership team of Nathan Benjamin (far right) and Willow Lundgren (right). Benjamin has been building PlanetReuse for four years, and the team has worked on InvenQuery for the last year and a half. The PlanetReuse Marketplace, which had a soft launch July 5, is the first InvenQuery project.
Benjamin and Lundgren cite numerous benefits to reuse, but they also lay out roadblocks: companies with materials don’t have an easy way to connect with those that want them, reuse centers struggle to track their inventory, only about 20 percent of individual consumers know that reuse centers exist — and those that do can become easily frustrated with the process of hunting down materials.
PlanetReuse and the Marketplace aim to address these problems.
Making reuse an easier option
Benjamin experienced the amount of construction and demolition materials going into landfills while working in architectural engineering, and saw a need for reuse solutions. He assembled the PlanetReuse team to consult on major building projects – the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the Omega Institute for Sustainable Living, among others – to integrate reused materials into building plans, locate the necessary materials and secure LEED certification, if applicable.
But, there still was no easy way for an individual to connect with reuse centers to find specific items, such as a historic homeowner looking for a period-appropriate door or window.
InvenQuery aims to give reuse centers an easy mobile app to manage their inventory and conduct point of sale transactions. When new materials come in, they are labeled with QR code stickers and automatically updated to the Marketplace when scanned (right), and when they are purchased, via the app, they are automatically removed. Stores pay for InvenQuery using a tiered pricing model that takes their annual revenues into account.
“We have been talking about the possibilities, and really the need for something like this, for quite a while.” said Brian Alferman, director of ReStores at Habitat for Humanity Kansas City ReStore. Alferman has worked extensively with PlanetReuse as it develops the InvenQuery-based marketplace.
He explained that most reuse centers currently use QuickBooks or similar software to manage their inventory and point-of-sale solutions, but a program designed for traditional retail operations isn’t a good solution for their specific needs.
“We’re trying to make square pegs fit into round holes every single day,” he said.
The Kansas City ReStores are a few weeks away from a final test of the system, Alferman said, and after that it will implement the Marketplace for its entire inventory.
“We have been talking about the possibilities, and really the need for something like this, for quite a while.” – Brian Alferman, Habitat for Humanity Kansas City Restore
While InvenQuery serves the center’s needs, the PlanetReuse Marketplace helps forge a connection between consumers and reclaimed materials. With an easily-navigable shopping experience, store locator and social media integration, the Marketplace aims to make it easy for consumers to find the materials they are looking for. Lundgren described it as “kind of an Amazon.com for reclaimed building materials.”
Alferman said he hopes that by replicating an online shopping experience like consumers would find at Home Depot or Lowe’s, reuse centers will become a more attractive option.
Though InvenQuery was specifically designed for reuse centers and the PlanetReuse Marketplace, Benjamin and Lundgren hope to find many different uses. The team sees the Marketplace as the testing ground, where they hope to develop and prove the system before bringing it to other verticals.
“Our inventory management piece is very unique, and no one else is doing it,” Benjamin said.
InvenQuery’s ability to scale led it to secure a seed round of funding from a Kansas City-based angel investor. PlanetReuse, on the other hand, has remained bootstrapped.
There are thousands of e-commerce sites, and many of them don’t have any inventory tracking system beyond the ability to add photos, they said. The team is developing a plugin version of InvenQuery to market to these existing retailers.
“We’re bringing a technology solution for a pain in the market,” Benjamin said.
Here’s a PlanetReuse Marketplace promotional video providing an overview of InvenQuery.
Credits: Screenshot from invenquery.com. Photos of Lundgren and Benjamin from marketplace.planetreuse.com. Screenshot from PlanetReuse Marketplace promotional video. Video from PlanetReuse Marketplace on Vimeo.