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Before taking the job as HabiJax ReStore's deconstruction supervisor, Erik Batsford's career path included working as an automotive technician and as a Realtor.
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Sep. 1, 201512:00 PM EST

Improving lives with garbage

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Batsford stumbles across fulfilling career
by: Kevin Hogencamp  Contributing Writer

Earlier this year, Erik Batsford was living the dream: He had a successful career, happy marriage and no debt. And, he lives at the beach, for goodness sake.

Still, he said, “something was missing in my life.”

Figuring his melancholy might be resolved by meaningful community service, Batsford began researching opportunities with HabiJax, Jacksonville’s Habitat for Humanity affiliate.

Instead of finding a volunteer gig, Batsford stumbled across an intriguing job posting and landed a new career as HabiJax ReStore’s deconstruction supervisor.

Since June, he has directed a program that converts kitchen demolition projects into revenue for HabiJax, which uses the money to build homes in Jacksonville.

“It was just Divine Providence. It’s like the job description was written just for me,” the 43-year-old former Realtor said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to be part of such a good thing.”

Batsford worked for a decade as an automotive technician and the last 13 years in sales and marketing, most recently in real estate. His new post merges his interest in construction, fervor for sales and marketing, and his inherent thriftiness.

“Today, nothing is missing. I am giving back to the community and using all of my talents and skills. I am whole,” he said.

A native of Canada, Batsford’s resolve, gung-ho personality and frugality define him. In 2011, he won a motor scooter by water-sliding for 29 consecutive hours, minus bathroom breaks, in a promotion at Adventure Landing in Jacksonville Beach.

“I am interested in interesting things. I read. I learn. I tinker. I shoot pistols competitive. Golf is awesome. Surfing is awesomer,” his online LinkedIn profile says.

In an interview at the HabiJax ReStore at 5800 Beach Blvd., Batsford said he never buys on credit and he’s particularly adept at finding bargains at yard sales.

“I am a garbage picker. I am an ardent recycler of things,” he said.

He recently plucked his neighbor’s discarded pedestal sink from beside the road, cleaned it up and installed it in his home.

“Doing that added $130 to my net income,” he said.

Habitat ReStores are home improvement stores that sell new and used furniture, home accessories, building materials and appliances to the public.

HabiJax’s 40,000-square-foot ReStore, located just off University Boulevard, opened in 2008.

ReStore revenues are used by the nonprofit to build homes for people based on their level of need, willingness to partner in the program, and their ability to repay their home loan.

Batsford wears many hats in his new role. He conducts an evaluation at every job site before committing to the project (“We don’t do the ‘decon’ work unless there’s profit in it,” he said); helps his team on the job sites and is responsible for the program’s sales, marketing and community outreach.

“I like the grunt work, but the plan is to get the program going so I can spend more time getting more participation from contractors,” he said.

Batsford’s specially trained, two-person deconstruction team carefully removes old kitchen cabinets and preserves them for others to purchase at the ReStore for use in their home or rental property.

Usually finished within two hours, the crew disconnects wires, caps plumbing and cleans up its mess.

The recycled kitchen cabinets, countertops and appliances — if those are donated — are displayed in the ReStore “the same way we took them out of the kitchen,” Batsford said.

“We leave the places immaculate. My goal is to preserve the kitchen, not destroy it. When we leave, the contractor comes behind us and installs the new kitchen,” he said.

At the ReStore, the recycled kitchen sets sell for as little as $500 or so; the average price is about $1,000. Batsford says a ReStore customer recently paid $5,000 for a high-end granite-topped set valued at about $25,000 when it was originally purchased.

Five to 15 cabinet displays are typically on display.

“We provide an opportunity to upgrade your kitchen at a fraction of the retail cost — and help deserving people get into new homes at the same time,” he says.

Batsford said he conducts a cost analysis before committing to deconstruction projects.

“From a business standpoint, I have to make sure there’s a ROI (return on investment) — or else you’re just throwing money away,” he said.

Batsford says his sales pitch to contractors is simple: By making a phone call, they can avoid demolition costs and landfill fees, receive a tax receipt for donating old kitchen cabinetry and help the environment.

“This is truly one of those win-win deals for everyone,” he said.

The Habitat ReStore concept began in 1991 because the organization receives donations of building materials and household goods that donors think can be used in Habitat homes. But it’s not practical to design new homes to fit the dimensions of donated items.

Orange Park resident Jeffry Small says his recent kitchen renovation project began with a call to HabiJax’s deconstruction team — and so will his next.

Having HabiJax remove his old kitchen cabinets, bathroom fixtures, closet shelving, lights, fans and a fireplace insert saved Small about $750 in demolition costs.

“When we called and said we were ready, they were out the next day. Two men took everything ... The contractor started well-rested and with a clean slate,” he said.

HabiJax ReStore Director Rod Borom says Batsford already is helping the deconstruction program reach new heights.

“Erik has the business background, he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, and he certainly has the personality for the position,” Borom said. “He knows what it takes to relate the program to business owners and explaining in a way where they understand the benefits of becoming a partner with us.”

Batsford says there is one troubling aspect of the job: Missed opportunities. Too many recyclable kitchen cabinets are ending up in the landfill, he says.

“It’s just hard for me to comprehend how we’re not busy 24/7,” he said. “We’re not asking people to pull out their checkbook. We’re not asking people to volunteer their own time. We’re not asking you to run a 5K.

“We just want your garbage.”

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