By Elizabeth McGowan
Since 2003, Gary Piscopo had insisted on lugging around at least two carefully wrapped pallet loads of unsold artwork. After moving the stacks of colorful and intricate shadowboxes for the fifth time, however, the entrepreneur began to question his sanity and business acumen.
So the 46-year-old felt vindicated—and relieved—when he discovered an outlet for the handmade treasures he feared he’d have to trash. The place? Community Forklift, of course.
“Clearly, this is what I was saving it for,” says Piscopo, vice president of Wholesalers USA Inc., a family-owned and operated outfit in Frederick, Md. “We have limited space, so we can’t keep everything around. And donating is way better than throwing it away.”
He first stumbled upon the Forklift last summer when his fiancée needed building supplies to update her kitchen in Takoma Park. An online search guided them to the Edmonston warehouse, where Piscopo was bedazzled by the expansive inventory and the possibility of a long-term, give-and-take relationship. By September, the Forklift had arranged to send a truck to Frederick to pick up not only the artwork but also 1,000 pounds of glass tiles and 1,500 pounds of glass gems.
“It’s good for us, it’s good for them, it’s good for everybody,” Nancy Meyer, the Forklift’s chief executive officer, says about the new link with Wholesalers USA. “It’s great for our customers when we can make higher-end products available at discounted prices.”
Connecting Piscopo and his ilk with the Forklift isn’t just a haphazard occurrence, Meyer emphasizes. Instead of waiting for deliveries from donors already in the pipeline, the eight-year-old nonprofit is now ramping up its efforts to cultivate and maintain bonds with targeted industries unaware of the Forklift’s existence. These contractors, property managers, retailers and small businesses often see the landfill as the only option because they don’t have the time, space or energy for excess inventory.
“We find that a good number of folks just end up with stock they can’t use or sell,” she says. To keep it out of the country’s burgeoning junkpile, “we want to make it simple for donors to get the benefits of working with the Forklift.”
Piscopo and his brother, Mark, first invested in the elaborate shadowboxes about a decade ago. They put time and money into an arduous licensing process with artists and traveled to China to pick up the unique creations. Initially, they envisioned making the artwork the centerpiece at kiosks in shopping malls in the mid-Atlantic where they would also sell vases, flowers and glass gems. So they pursued their plan.
Well, the artwork was moving, “but not like hotcakes,” Piscopo recalls. “I’m on the road trying to sell these pictures and people are blowing up our phone lines trying to buy the glass gems.”
The realization that customers couldn’t keep their hands off the gems—the small, shiny, polished pieces of tinted glass used for creating mosaics and murals—was an aha moment for the siblings.
“We listened to what our customers were looking for and went out and got it,” Piscopo says about the decision to shelve the shadowboxes, boost their inventory of glass gems and add glass tiles to the mix. “We followed the trail of nuts, and basically it was our customers who led us.”
Plenty of their buyers are domestic but they also do a booming business in Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia.
Once the brothers lasered in on glass gems and tiles, they made the commitment to move the company headquarters from a basement and shipping container in Rockville to a warehouse in Frederick at the end of 2005. Wholesalers USA now has six employees—and four of them are related. A portion of the 12,000 square feet of space is dedicated to an offspring venture, a limited liability corporation called Giorbello Elegant Tile Products. Gary and Mark’s nephew, John Gray, sells that brand of tile to retailers.
Piscopo says the Forklift will continue to be the beneficiary when his company cleans house every six months or so. He is elated to ally with a place that has such an appreciate audience of artists and do-it-yourselfers.
“We have a warehouse full of product,” he says. “Why not share the wealth?”