I love finding out about stuff and always wanted to know more about Replacements, the immense, old-school online business which helps you match and "replace" missing pieces of your china, crystal or silverware. Founded in 1981 by Bob Page, it is still very much a family operation with an extremely sharp and emotionally rich focus that is as much a community as it is a business. Take a tour with me and check out all the pics and videos of this remarkable operation.
The first thing you need to know about Replacements is that it's not just a warehouse of old china that you can buy from when you lose or break something (sliced your mother's silver fork in half in your garbage disposal? They'll put it back together. Chipped the rims of your wedding crystal? They're grind it back down smooth). It is a living, breathing hub for a community of people around the world that are passionate about this part of their lives and both the history and family history that pieces represent.
Replacements building in Greensboro, NC now stretches 500,000 square feet (8 football fields - we walked through it all) and holds a shifting inventory of over 12,000,000 pieces in more than 400,000 patterns. They collect and sell china, silverware and crystal ranging from new to over 100 years old. They also repair and copy pieces and have full scale workshops for working on it all. If they don't have it, they will look for it for you - sending out messages to their "finder community" to see what they can drum up. They are constantly buying new lots and selling through their website.
The Backstory - an offline to an online business
"During the 1970s Bob Page was an auditor for the state of North Carolina. While very busy with this work, Bob's real passion was collecting, which he pursued during his free time. An area of special interest was china and crystal.
In time friends and family learned of his pastime. Naturally, they asked him to be on the lookout for patterns in order to replace pieces. Bob quickly found himself devoting progressively more time to his hobby, often staying up late to fill orders. His storage space was his attic, while his bedroom served as his office.
In 1981, he left his auditing career and founded Replacements, Ltd. With the aid of one part-time assistant and tremendous response from small ads placed in national shelter magazines such as Southern Living and Better Homes and Gardens, Replacements' clientele dramatically expanded. Customer requests were recorded on 3x5 index cards, which eventually grew to a computer database containing pattern and piece requests for more than 10 million customers worldwide. Revenue at Replacements, Ltd. in 1981 reached $150,000 and by 1984 was close to $4 million. In the most recent fiscal year, revenue was over $80 million."
This is the Great Wall of China (above) where you can see over 500 china, 150 crystal, and 150 flatware patterns are alphabetically arranged by manufacturer. Like a tour down memory lane, you'll recognize popular patterns and probably find your parent's or grandparent's patterns as well. It's cool to see so much history side by side.
This business is all about finding and keeping stuff organized, and it's sort of like a very down to earth version of Google. I have to say that I was totally blown away by the inventiveness and efficiency of the whole operation alongside all the smiles I saw from the folks working there.
While this older, more traditional stuff is not my style, I realized that I did have a set of six lovely old bread plates that were given to me a long time ago, and which I treasure AND one was broken. It didn't take me long to find them and to put in an order.
Stuff that moves a lot is kept on open shelves up front, like this Fiestaware section which is sorted by color and runs across the front of this building.
Live action pan across the Fiestaware section!
Overstock and deep inventory is kept in this back building where everything is boxed up.
Special Fiestaware dancing girl!
The packing and shipping department!
The metalwork department!
When testing china and crystal, tapping with a spoon is used to detect any cracks. This hall was filled with high pitched tapping.
Oh and there's a large retail showroom up front where you can browse and buy anything in the whole place.
It's a little like Raiders of the Lost Ark. The aisles go for days and days.