At a time when most college students are still trying to figure out how they want to make an impact on the world, 22-year-old Kacie Meyers is already building a business empire with Pal Hardwood, transforming discarded wooden pallets into well-designed products, and giving jobs to people with special needs. We recently had the privilege of chatting with the Johnson and Wales University graduate in Charlotte, North Carolina, during her public presentation as a college entrepreneur in ImpactU‘s business accelerator program. Check out our interview with this young social entrepreneur who is finding ways to use design as a catalyst to do good for individuals in need, as well as for the planet.
INHABITAT: How did you get your start in designing hardwood floors? What/who were your key influences growing up that lead you to become interested in design?
Meyers: My dad has owned a flooring store for my entire life, and while I was growing up, I worked in his office—initially just cleaning all the samples—and eventually working my way up to sales, and designing customers’ floors and kitchens. Most of my training has come from my father, who has an incredible eye for color and design. He has always been able to put timeless looks together and has inspired me to be confident in my designs.
INHABITAT: What sparked your interest in using leftover pallets? Was your initial plan to launch a business? Was it easy to source materials?
Meyers: Working at my father’s flooring store, I noticed that there were always pallets being thrown away, and they kept piling up in front of the warehouse. These pallets were costing my father money to dispose of and I realized the wood was actually good wood that could be used. I started out making two coffee tables for my stepmother and one for me in college, and then entered a competition at my college to see if I could take the idea of reusing pallets and combine it with my love of flooring. Pallets are abundant and very easy to find: any small company that ships materials in bulk will have them.
INHABITAT: When did you know that you were ready to launch a business? And why, specifically did you know you wanted to offer opportunities to people with disabilities?
Meyers: During the summer, I was offered an opportunity to take my business plan to the next level and launch it. The ImpactU program opened doors to incredible resources as well as everyone we would need to talk to in order to make our business plan viable. Also, with the support of my family, I had the confidence to really make my business a reality. The reason Pal Hardwood is focused on offering opportunities to those with special needs is because we don’t just recognize the inherent value of materials, but also the incredible value and love of individuals. Growing up, I have always volunteered at the local therapeutic barn, leading and assisting individuals with special needs. After years of working with these people it’s amazing to see the pride and love they take in seeing things that they’ve completed. Pal Hardwood is all about maximizing potential and the core vision of this business is about bettering the community as a whole.
INHABITAT: What has the response been like to your products and designs? Are you receiving attention from both commercial and residential clients? What is their reasoning for choosing your non-traditional wood flooring in lieu of traditional woods?
Meyers: The response is still that of any new product: There are a lot of questions, primarily about the durability, quality, and upkeep. Just like any hardwood, it is a natural product and will show some scrapes, but the beauty of Pal Hardwood is that it is character wood, and a scratch here and there adds to its character. The main response has been of excitement when seeing the samples and the product firsthand. Pal Hardwood definitely has a distinct character that sells itself when seen in person. Currently, I am talking to a few architects and have received a lot of positive response from residential clients. I am also working on a office space in which Pal Hardwood was chosen to go with a one-of-a-kind industrial desk that they picked up at an old factory. The most common reason most customers are interested in Pal Hardwood is because of the unique aesthetic and the fact that no two floors will look alike.
INHABITAT: Upcycling pallets has been a trend in recent years, but many people warn that most pallets are treated with toxic chemicals, potentially putting people at risk. Can you please explain your treating and cleaning processes?
Meyers: All pallets have different codes stamped on them, which tell you more about how the pallets were made and how they were treated. Also, when I am making Pal Hardwood, it goes through multiple processes and I kiln-dry the wood in addition to planing off its treated portions. It should also be mentioned that pallets have fewer toxic chemicals than barnwood or railroad ties, which are treated multiple times with various chemicals in order to withstand the weather.
INHABITAT: Compared to traditional hardwood floors that can last upwards of 20 years, how durable are upcycled wood pallets? Is there special care involved?
Meyers: Hardwood floors are considered “lifetime floors” because they have a lifetime of 80-plus years. Pal Hardwood has a character finish—or hand-scraped finish—which allows for scrapes and scratches that add character to the hardwood, whereas with traditional hardwood, you have to sand and refinish the hardwood occasionally depending on how much traffic the floor receives. Pal Hardwood has the same degree of durability and is finished with a linseed oil that allows homeowners to easily refinish their floors themselves instead of having to pay someone else to sand and oil the floors for them.
INHABITAT: What are your future plans for Pal Hardwood? Do you see any future products, partnerships or use of other discarded materials down the line?
MEYERS: The future of Pal Hardwood is to stay a niche company and grow. Pal Hardwood will stay local in manufactuing in the community that helped us prosper. We are currently focusing on the east coast and will distributing in the future to the west coast. Currently we are working on a few new finishes and designs with pallets. In the future I look forward to experimenting with repurposing plastic bottles and other discarded material into flooring.