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TreeHouse: Smart Building, Better Living

Painting Green

Dunn-Edwards has arrived in Austin, Texas. Known throughout California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and West Texas as the “#1 choice of painting professionals," is now available at a new kind of home improvement store called TreeHouse. I recently sat down with Jason Ballard, co-founder of TreeHouse, to discover more about the store concept and how his dream came to life.

Boyhood Dreams

Growing up on the east Texas gulf, Jason had a Huck Finn childhood full of boyhood dreams, fishing with his grand father and staying outside until all hours playing with friends and family. With this deep love of nature ingrained in him through his teen years, he ended up majoring in biology and ecology at Texas A & M, then moved on to Boulder, Colorado to become involved in the green building industry.

Jason's friends, Ryland and Sherry, who are professional green builders, taught Jason the green building trade. Jason reveals, “During this early time of green building, green builders had to seek out green products from everywhere, creating higher costs and longer wait times for these projects." Yet, there was still a belief in this way of life.

Concept and Inspiration

Great ideas tend to form through solving everyday problems. Jason, seeing the problems that builders go through on a daily basis of price and travel, and inspired to be the solution, decided to be a green retailer. Social entrepreneurship meets ecology! “With this idea forming, we hit the ground running – building back-end systems, finding investors and vendors, and ultimately naming the storefront. I give that credit to my wife, Jenny, who came up with the name TreeHouse," he disclosed. Opening in Austin, Texas, in October 2011, Jason's dream came to life.

Centered on a team of educated experts from New York to South Dakota, Colorado and beyond, TreeHouse is a green idea center. Three certified interior designers and an architect are among the employees, all sharing the same values of green building and moving the company forward in the right direction.

Along with Jason, who is has the official, creatively-named title VP of Sustainability and Education/Fly Fisherman, the other founding members of TreeHouse include Greg King, CEO/Visionary; Kevin Graham, VP Marketing/Technical Rock Climber; Evan Loomis, VP Business Development, HR & IR/Adventure Aficionado; Brian Williamson, VP Merchandising & Operations/Baseball Coach; and Paul Yanosy, Chief of Staff & Counsel/Backpacker.

TreeHouse Design

Local-centric in values, the merchandising concept is built around the local Austin lifestyle. “We built our company based on the idea that people, communities, nature, excellence and dreams all matter. Sourcing local and green vendors, all committed to making TreeHouse the perfect one-stop shop for most green home-building needs." Jason details, “We never want to be cookie cutter; our merchandising will ultimately vary place to place as we face expansion opportunities. Right now, we are testing the perfect mix of product and want to become known as Austin's home center choice. Ultimately, the vision of green building for us is to be as normal as sliced bread, not a separate division of the building industry."

Partnerships in local Austin companies in building categories such as windows, air filtration, solar, water filters, kitchen and bath products, hardware and tools, and of course, paint, provide the Austin consumer an abundance of opportunity to easily go green in their home. There is also a “Better Living" category of products, all aimed at providing items that you may need to live and work better.

Education is a very important part of sustainable living, and TreeHouse provides a continual schedule of classes on everything from native planting to flooring installation. And, with a stream of public relations campaigns to highlight local and green living, ranging from hosting regular farmers' markets to Earth Day event involvement to grass roots marketing campaigns, TreeHouse is gaining a cult-like following among the Austin crowd.

The Involvement of Dunn-Edwards

Committed to providing Austin with the best that green building has to offer, the folks at TreeHouse searched and found Dunn-Edwards. With the Dunn-Edwards commitment to green and the launch of Enso®, the company's Zero-VOC, no odor product line, the choice was easy to make. With this partnership in place, Dunn-Edwards is one of only two paint manufacturers in the store front. “As future expansion plans formulate through the Southwest region, we are looking at Dunn-Edwards to continue being a paint partner," Jason explains.

Brad Wheeler, Director of Channel Management at Dunn-Edwards, has been part of the TreeHouse dream prior to the launch of the store. Jason further states, “We feel like Brad is an employee of TreeHouse. He assisted in so many ways, helping us to set up the merchandising to providing assisting in classes and events, Brad and Dunn-Edwards have provided that extra level of partnership we need to be successful."

What's Next?

Committed to making TreeHouse successful, there aren't any immediate plans to expand. As Jason details, “We want to make sure we have the perfect product mix, get profitable and become a home leader in Austin, only then we can think of what comes next." Expansion plans may either follow a regional path or follow the where the green movement takes them.

What's Up, Jason?

As is a specs+spaces® custom, we like to find out more about the person behind the story. Who is Jason Ballard? What does he do outside of work? Surprising and thoughtful answers provide insight into the man behind the idea.

Growing up on the Gulf Coast of Texas, surrounded by nature, Jason became an avid trail runner. With the goal of running an ultra marathon, the Black Hills 100, he finds this pursuit the ultimate in pushing a person to this limits of what one can do. “I love the outdoors and really any activity that keeps me outdoors is a key to a very happy day." Other hobbies include fly fishing, reading, watching Texas A & M football, and listening to music.

Ultimately, Jason's future dreams include becoming a priest in the Episcopal church. Early on in his education, he began pursuing this line before committing to biology and ecology. “I'm a conservationist at heart, and like my father who was also an entrepreneur, I find that this genetic predisposition to follow my dreams of having my own business led me in this direction."

Facing this journey of entrepreneurship with his wife, Jenny and two children by his side, is the ultimate dream. “We've faced some personal hardships recently, and with two young children, launching a new business and this hardship, I find that the best time spent outside of work is just to be with my family. Making sure the children get outside every day and play, providing them a similar experience to my childhood puts a smile on my face," states Jason.

Parting Words of Wisdom

As our interview comes to a close, I ask Jason for any final words, a perspective on life. He pauses to reflect on his life and accomplishments, turns and says, “TreeHouse isn't going to solve the world's problems, but hopeful signs are pointing us in the right direction. Creating meaningful work opportunities, a place where values and craftsmanship intermingle seamlessly, is something I can be proud of. Why we do what we do is just as important as what we do in life."

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All photography courtesy and permissions of TreeHouse