Rheaply acquires Materials Marketplace to scale reuse across North America

21. Bharani Sankar & Austin Smith on workplace resource management

Rheaply Team Members

Welcome to The Multi-usiverse. Alongside your guide, Garr Punnett, explore worlds of opportunity within the use of physical resources across companies and organizations. Consider this a field guide in scaling reuse, refurbishment, remanufacturing, and recirculation. We’ll learn from guests who have ventured down this path and carved their way. Our aim is to discuss the successes, opportunities, and challenges of scaling a connected, circular economy. On this episode we’re joined by two Rheaply team members: Bharani Sankar, Strategic Partnerships Lead and Austin Smith, Enterprise Account Executive.

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Audio Transcript:

[00:00:07.390] – Garr Punnett

Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the multi plus averse podcast. My name is Garr Punnett, chief strategy officer here at Rheaply. This one’s a little bit of a different episode. You could even think of this one as a multiplug averse or multi use case averse, because we’re going to talk a lot about Briefly and the cool work that we’re doing here. Because while we get to sit in a cool room like this right now, I also kind of am losing track of a lot of the cool projects that we’re working on. And these two happened to be working on one of those cool projects in which briefly got to visit the Google Innovation Fair. So I’m sitting with my colleagues, Barney and Austin. Please introduce yourself.

[00:00:43.520] – Bharani Sankar

Yeah. So, Bharani, I sit on our partnerships team, really focused on trying to identify opportunities for new growth. And I’ve been here since August of 2020, so coming up on two years and really just work with our partners and our clients to identify opportunities that maybe they’re thinking about from a circularity perspective and how we can help support them with a network that we have to get there.

[00:01:09.230] – Garr Punnett

Austin.

[00:01:10.390] – Austin Smith

I’m Austin Smith. I’ve been with the company for almost a year now as an enterprise account executive. Actually, no, I officially crossed my earmark just a few weeks ago. Yeah, exciting stuff. I oversee our utilities, transportation and software, mega cap, verticals. But like you said, garbage are a growing company, so there’s a handful of others sprinkled in there. I think what’s really been exciting over the last year is kind of uncovering a handful of new use cases, and some of which including, like you said, we’re going to talk about the Google Innovation Fair. And our partnership with Google are really powerful and kind of informing a lot of the things that we’re doing with our clients.

[00:01:50.510] – Garr Punnett

Exactly. So that was the great introduction to some of the work that you all went out to do in the Bay Area for, again, this Google Innovation Fair. So tell us a little bit about what this opportunity was, Austin, and why we were sort of called upon to be there. And then I’ll cycle back into what actually ended up happening. Yeah, great.

[00:02:09.800] – Austin Smith

So this opportunity was a really unique one. It was the first of its kind. It was actually put on by our partners, Cushman and Wakefield, who we work with quite a bit in our partnership with Google. And this was an opportunity for CW to bring in a lot of different innovative partners that they’re working with in partnership with Google to show how they’re thinking in ways about kind of standard practices and procedures, things like how do you manage your furniture, how are you optimizing space within your buildings? That might seem boring to the average person, but in reality, it can make a huge impact on a company’s bottom line and their sustainability goals. So this is an awesome opportunity. We were lucky enough to be a part of it, like you said, out in the Bay Area, where we got a chance to show off what we’re doing and meet some really cool partners.

[00:03:01.880] – Garr Punnett

Was it all focused sort of on the furniture fixtures element, or was there more sort of to it? Were there other solutions that were also present?

[00:03:09.810] – Bharani Sankar

I think it was really around building management, property management as a whole. So it seemed like there were a lot of companies that were focused on energy. They were focused on kind of maintenance and operations within the property, if you want to think about it. So there was that one machine, I can’t even remember what it was across from us that was focused on efficiency in terms of cleaning and how they could reduce the operational time to get a floor cleaned or an area cleaned. And then there were other ones like vertical gardens and other things like that, where they were starting to innovate how buildings are being viewed from not only a sustainability perspective, but from an energy and kind of facilities management perspective as well.

[00:03:52.090] – Garr Punnett

So how is our relationship evolved essentially in this space? Again, we’ve been working with Google for some time now, and they’re again one of our premier clients that are really pushing the boundaries of what they can do with their own infrastructure and how they can almost circularize themselves. How has that evolved and why was this sort of a great showcase for us personally to be able to be there and then show others what we’re up to? How did that help?

[00:04:17.170] – Bharani Sankar

Yeah, I can start to feel that pepper I think it was Google starting to lead the way. I think from a circular economy perspective. They’re one of the few companies that we’ve come across in this space that’s got a team dedicated to it. Has an entire group of people that are really focused on how the circular economy apply. From their products all the way down to the buildings that they work in and the materials that they’re using for these buildings and the furniture that’s going into it. And so our relationship really started with the warehouse clean out that we did a few years ago and kind of transitioned into this bigger problem that a lot of companies that we’re talking to have, which is around. Do we know what’s within the four walls of our business? Do we know the furniture, the number of assets, the resources that are there? And how can we start making better decisions that impact, to Austin’s point, the bottom line of how they procure and how they reuse and how they think about extending the lifecycle of something that they have and sharing that across buildings, across campuses. It was really cool from that perspective to see that we were a part of that pie.

[00:05:23.230] – Bharani Sankar

But we’re also a part of this bigger initiative that Google is having and cushman and Wakefield is thinking about is how do we constantly push the status quo with especially property management and facilities management as a whole to be 1% better in terms of a sustainability perspective that can ultimately compound and be impactful with any type of reporting that Google is really looking for from a business perspective.

[00:05:48.390] – Garr Punnett

So what does this mean then for the industry of property management or what you’ve seen from working with Kushman Wakefield of, like, what we could potentially do to scale that? Again, our ability to help more and more clients address their own circular infrastructure needs.

[00:06:03.920] – Austin Smith

And I think one of the interesting perspectives we’re getting in working with Google is from actually cushman because I think there’s a pretty clear void in that industry that Weebly can do quite a bit to fill because again. We’re talking about Google. One of the largest companies in the world. A company that still has gaps in their process that we can come in and help solve if that exists there. We know that in working with Kushman to Wakefield that it exists in other places. So this is as opportunities go, this is an incredibly exciting one, but it’s also the tip of the iceberg, I think, in terms of the sheer scale that we could accomplish and really the innovative things that we could do beyond just working with them.

[00:06:56.760] – Bharani Sankar

And it’s a good example of how I think technology, especially climate technologies, starting to weave into the fabric of maybe manual operations that have been happening for years and years and years. Just like taking a look at a building’s portfolio of furniture that they have makes property managers, facilities managers, jobs 1% 2% easier because they actually have an inventory of what’s available and they’re not scrambling last minute to make decisions.

[00:07:27.030] – Garr Punnett

And I think that’s been super fun for us to explore in the industry is, again, I think we always say this, but that we’re fairly reactive when it comes to furniture and it’s like, oh, we’re moving out of this space. What do we do with this now?

[00:07:41.840] – Austin Smith

Right?

[00:07:42.190] – Garr Punnett

So we just need to start getting more proactive with making those decisions because then again, what we have the potential to really offer in the future is to start getting predictive.

[00:07:53.280] – Austin Smith

Yeah, absolutely.

[00:07:54.340] – Garr Punnett

I think that’s going to be really the next step for all of us in figuring out okay, gaps. That’s totally okay, like gaps we can figure out. Everyone has them. Nothing to be ashamed about. Of course, there’s more decision making that we could make for saying, hey, we know that this plan is going to be put in place in nine months. What do we do now to actually make sure that our furniture is taken care of, that maybe we can reuse it, maybe we can send it to someone else in the community or maybe we can sell it to another sort of organization.

[00:08:20.190] – Austin Smith

I mean, there’s another aspect of that and that’s when you know you’re designing a new building or you’re renovating potentially one of your older facilities, knowing what you have on hand can influence that design of that space. And ultimately you can bake in the savings and lower the overall cost of this, what would entail a large cost project. So Google obviously is building these. One of the coolest things about this is they’re building these two state of the art buildings out in the Bay Area, in Bayview and Charlestonese, these two massive, gorgeous campuses. I was lucky enough to get to go out and see Bayview myself, and it is pretty breathtaking. And the coolest thing for us is that that’s what we’re working on. We’re helping them design and influence the way that this entire massive structure is going to work, not only what’s on the floor, but what will get moved from place to place. They have all this attic stock that’s in the basement and so it’s a big beast that we’re tackling, but the impact is going to be significant.

[00:09:19.800] – Garr Punnett

So from a theme perspective, then, what are we hearing from our clients that they do like working on when it comes to utilization of furniture? Better understanding what actually matters to employees, how to make spaces potentially a little more livable, breathable, accessible to other employees. But what other sort of thematic things can we sort of talk about and which we’re hearing from the market that says, hey, by being more sustainable, by being more circular focused or whatever it might be that goes into making these better decisions around furniture, you’re going to get these added benefits or even reduction in cost or whatever. What are the types of themes are we actually hearing from the market on this?

[00:10:02.530] – Bharani Sankar

Yeah, and Austin, I know you probably deal with this a lot too, but one of the things that we’re starting to see is that employees are a little bit more cognizant of the operations of their businesses and understanding that they want a little bit more sustainable option or they want something that has history behind it. I think about how fashion is circular or cyclical. Like Champion sweatshirts ten years ago were not cool, but now there are $60 retail, which is crazy, but that’s a trend that we’re also seeing with furniture, right, is employees are looking at their employers to see, like, what are we doing about sustainability and how are we designing the spaces that we work at and what is the history behind something?

[00:10:47.620] – Garr Punnett

Yeah. Even probably to the most minute degree too, where people are like, oh, I’m getting a new chair. But they’re like, but this has to be new. Can this be like, what if I actually reduce my own impact as an employee? I don’t need a new chair. I just need a chair that is in storage, probably there’s a hundred of them and spreading it out and I can use that one.

[00:11:04.760] – Bharani Sankar

Exactly.

[00:11:05.440] – Garr Punnett

Yeah.

[00:11:05.700] – Austin Smith

And I think as you consider the fact that so many people are going to be going back into an office and so many employees really are making career decisions based on how sustainable or how green a company is that just becomes more and more prominent. I think when you’re a business and you’re considering how are we going to restock this space? How are we going to create this for large swathes of people that are coming back in a way that is not going to be wasteful. That’s not going to cost us extra money, that’s not going to put unnecessary stuff into the landfill. So I think it’s a really prevalent right now.

[00:11:41.900] – Bharani Sankar

And what’s interesting is that employers when they look at furniture as a category are starting to make decisions based off of what they’re hearing from they’re or employees and thinking through innovative ways to where they’re not just putting that chair in storage but can they think about other opportunities or options where maybe it’s an ergonomic chair that they don’t like the design of the chair or that the back is like a little too stiff. Are there ways they can use refurbishment, remanufacturing to keep things that they already purchased in use with just minor tweaks along the way? Extending the lifecycle, extending that lifecycle in that process? Because one of the things that Kushman has told us is that there’s sometimes sit tests that happen where employees like you get a rating on a chair or a workstation and you give it a test rating based off of the comfortability. A bunch of different things but it’s how are they using those insights to make more sustainable decisions with that piece of furniture versus thinking through typical process which is those 100 shares didn’t work out because they have a really bad set test rating. Let’s just put them in storage until we find another area for them.

[00:12:51.720] – Garr Punnett

Because again what we’ve seen is once you make that decision the next path is like oh they’ve been sitting in storage.

[00:12:57.350] – Austin Smith

Exactly.

[00:12:58.170] – Bharani Sankar

Why are they going now?

[00:12:59.310] – Garr Punnett

We don’t know who they owns them or where they’re going.

[00:13:01.340] – Bharani Sankar

We just throw them away. Exactly.

[00:13:03.200] – Garr Punnett

And so yeah that’s all of that. Well excellent. So we actually then have also we’re going to have another conversation with a partner actually that participated in the Google innovation Fair and Virtue. So look out for that podcast as well. Excellent. Any other last thoughts before we wrap it all up?

[00:13:20.140] – Bharani Sankar

No I think it’s been a really cool project to work on and I think we’re starting to see the market. Look at furniture, fixtures and equipment as a category as an opportunity to be proactive so that they can be predictive down the road because it’s the most commonly used category that we’re seeing and we’ve been learning a ton.

[00:13:41.630] – Austin Smith

That’s just it. You hit that on the head at the very end there. Every major business with office space has this, this is something every single business should be thinking of. And the exciting part for us is we’re seeing that from one of the biggest businesses in the world. And because of that, we’re seeing this Cascading effect. And in working with such an amazing partner like that, has all these other amazing clients, we think there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity as well.

[00:14:10.910] – Garr Punnett

Love that. Cool. Thanks.

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