It would be an unusual day in the beachside destination of Riviera Village in South Redondo to not hear customers gasp when they walk into Harmony Works.
Initially struck by the beauty and whimsy of the hundreds of green-made items for sale, they eventually notice the unique repurposed items used to display the wares. The front counter is made with granite that was found in a dumpster next to a bank that was being remodeled. The CDs for sale sit in a rack made from recycled windows found in the trash. The card rack is made from two recycled doors and many of the risers are old boxes, rocks and recycled drawers.
This store doesn’t just sell green items; it’s created with green items. And Harmony Works co-owners Michael and Royce Amy Morales do more than just operate a gift store and gallery specializing in handmade, artsy, earth sensitive items. They also help others create a green retail business or green the one they have through their consulting company, Harmony Greenworks.
Harmony Greenworks is a consulting business that was generated from our 15 years of research and knowledge gleaned from owning our green shop, Harmony Works,” Michael said. “We both know that we’re here to bring important information and do some important things for our community, as well as the planet.”
Although it’s been passion and hard work that have brought them success, the way they got started was a bit of a fluke. Royce had been teaching spirituality and inner development for 15 years and one of her students contacted her after having a lucid dream that instructed her to “open a place” and call it Harmony Works.
“When I got off the phone with this student, I had an overwhelming desire to be part of this ‘dream,’ not knowing at that point what Harmony Works was even going to become,” Royce said. “I brought with me an extensive green awareness, an art and interior design degree and a strong spiritual base.”
Those three aspects became the Harmony Works theme and direction. When exploring how it could work financially, the clear message came directly to Royce — sell items that are soul nurturing, artsy and earth friendly. Harmony Works opened eight months after that in March 1994. After a little over a year, her student/business partner opted out of the shop and Michael, who had been helping out occasionally with building displays for the shop, became her new business partner.
Green Mission: Accomplished
A direct quote from their mission statement reads, “Harmony Works is not just a store; it is a reflection of our belief that we all need to be responsible consumers, seeing the bigger picture of how everything interconnects. We are committed to green-ness by only selling items that are eco-sensitive and made with love for our planet. Nourish your soul, de-stress your body, enlighten your mind, stimulate your creative juices and bring joy to your senses. Make a world of difference at Harmony Works!”
Keeping that in mind, they began from day one with the intention to build the store using only recycled and sustainable building materials, as well as locate inventory with some aspect of greenness to it. Through the years it has become much easier to source products that fit their green standards, but it is still Royce’s goal to talk to every single vendor and make sure that their products are ecological.
“Other retailers can follow suit just by asking questions and doing a bit of research instead of just making purchases based on price points,” she said. “Set up a small recycling area, take Styrofoam peanuts to their local pack and ship store, etc. The possibilities are endless when you think creatively.”
And they thought creatively when designing their retail space, as a painted floor creates the feeling of walking on a 1,400 square foot ocean scene. This masterpiece faux ocean was a collaborative effort with a local artist who came in at night for almost five months to paint 16 sea creatures, many of which just happen to be endangered.
“Her creation became one more way of presenting the store’s strong ‘green’ mission,” Michael said. “To unveil it, we held a fundraiser for a local educational organization called the SeaLab, with people bidding on adopting the creatures and with all monies being donated.”
This was a great way to not only support a worthy cause, but to also get the name of the store out to the public. And it’s a public that is willing to support a worthy mission.
“Being green can be profitable and improve customer loyalty,” Michael said. “We have people who only shop here because they know that what they will purchase has gone through Royce’s strict green filter. Now that “green is in” we are finding that even more people are concerned about what they are doing to the environment and want to support places that truly care.”
But retailers can’t just offer “green” product if it’s not product that shoppers want. As a buyer, Royce makes sure that nothing screams “earth friendly” in her product mix, and shows that green can be elegant and chic. She finds items by scouring various shows, talking to local artists and poring over Web sites. Most are one-of-a-kind, and all are earth friendly.
“We carry glass art, beeswax and soy wax candles, organic body care products all made with essential oils, handmade jewelry, gift cards (many are handmade), accessories such as scarves and hats, table top, lamps, garden décor, books, music, pet accessories and baby gifts,” Royce said. “Our most popular product, hands down, is our unique jewelry. Books, candles and body care run a close second.”
How can other retailers start carrying more of these items? Michael suggests finding a product that already has a proven track record, such as candles, and finding its comparable green alternative. Then, put signs up explaining why this switch was made, explaining the importance of healthy wax choices, doing a press release, putting it on the Web site or social networking and just talking to customers about it.
“People want to know, and want to make healthy choices, but so many just aren’t aware,” Michael said. “It’s the store’s responsibility to educate and inform, and it’s important to make sure employees know this information as well.”
But aren’t “green” items more expensive? While Michael agrees that some are, given they often cost more to produce, the key is to have a variety of price points so that everyone can feel good about their purchases. That’s good advice for any retailer, “green” or not.
“Times are tight for everyone, and making sure that we’re able to keep fresh inventory in when funds are going toward paying bills is a challenge,” Michael said. “But we’re staying true to our original intentions for opening Harmony Works just as strongly, if not more so.”
He said each person is seen as important, not just as a customer, and hopefully walks out feeling a little bit better about themselves and their purchases. For Michael and Royce, they both feel proud that no matter what their personal financial struggle, they stuck with the dream that was delivered to them — naturally— and can help others do the same.”