Gallery: Tropical Salvage positions sustainable furniture business for retail focus

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Topical Salvage's owner, Tim O'Brien, was an importer — working to fund his travel habit — when he spied an opportunity 15 years ago to salvage waste wood from tropical forests.
Cathy Cheney | Portland Business Journal

Topical Salvage's owner, Tim O'Brien, was an importer — working to fund his travel habit — when he spied an opportunity 15 years ago to salvage waste wood from tropical forests.  

Tropical Salvage, a furniture company focused on recycling tropical wood, is getting ready to move into a giant warehouse space in a bid to remake its business from behind-the-scenes supplier to story-telling retailer.

The 20,000-square-foot space, tucked into the light industrial neighborhood at Northwest 22nd Avenue and York Street, will be the new home of a Tropical Salvage showroom, displayed along with pictures to tell the story of where the wood came from.


See Tropical Salvage sourcing in action >>

In part, the shift is one of necessity.

"We've got to adjust our business model," said Tim O'Brien, owner of 15-year-old Portland-based Tropical Salvage.

The company, which salvages and reclaims tropical wood in partnership with other organizations, has been a longtime supplier to other retailers, including Ten Thousand Villages. But when the recession hit, demand dropped along with Tropical Salvage sales, which had been averaging $600,000 per year.

O'Brien is betting that opening a showroom, something that wasn't possible at the company's old location on Southeast Division Street, will give the business an opportunity to sway consumers with the eco-friendly and affordable attributes of its products.

Working with Katingan Peatland Restoration Project, Tropical Slavage has been salvaging wood in Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, providing jobs and teaching skills to workers in the region.

"Conservation is not sustainable unless it's oriented to the marketplace," O'Brien said.

To learn more about where Tropical Salvage's wood comes from, click on the image above to view the gallery.

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