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Claremont business will assemble anything, really

by Steven Felschundneff | steven@claremont-courier.com
Claremont resident, John Schleis, had a problem. Returns were cutting into the profits of the big box store he managed and that, in turn, was cutting into his bonus. Frustratingly, many of the returns were perfectly good products that customers simply could not figure out how to assemble.

“Of course Walmart gives you your money back 100%. And then the manager signs off on it, marks it down to zero, and takes it to the trash dumpster and throws it away. It’s a huge loss,” Schleis said.

He began to think about how to turn this cycle around. One day, when a customer tried to return yet another perfectly good item, Schleis suggested that for a small fee he would come to their home and put it together. It was a bold move.

“I did that a couple of times, and a couple times turned into more times, and pretty soon I had loss prevention reviewing my books and pulling me in the office asking me how my [profit and loss statements] had so little shrink on returns,” he said.

The little work around cut weekly returns at his store from $4,000 to less than $1,000.

“I had to confess, and although they did not like the idea, they liked that the profit was staying in the store and they allowed me to continue,” Schleis said.

It’s rather surprising that someone at Walmart didn’t seize on the idea and launch a new service. But corporations can be slow moving beasts. Not so with Schleis, who in 2015 decided to quit his job to make putting things together his full-time gig.

That year, he initiated iAssemble Anything, which started out slowly but has doubled in size every year since. The business revolves around a simple concept — Schleis and his crew will assemble anything that comes in a box.

That first Christmas, they had no tree, let alone presents. But by the next year he was doing better and before long he started hiring people to help out. Seven years later he has 23 employees, 10 full time, including his son Tyler Schleis. His fiancée, Elaine Yap, is the bookkeeper and lone office worker.

“I really give a lot of credit to Walmart. I learned a lot of time management and organizational skills and it has given me a great springboard with iAssemble,” Schleis said.

He grew up in Claremont, attending Sycamore Elementary, El Roble Intermediate and graduating from Claremont High in 1987. His parents, Pitzer College professor Ronald Gary Rubin and Susan Perry have doctorate degrees in philosophy, although Schleis says he did not inherit an interest in the “study of life’s general and fundamental questions.” His parents also operated an aikido studio called Musubi Dojo, so perhaps Schleis did inherit the entrepreneurial spirit.

During a recent windy afternoon in Rialto, a crew was diligently building a gazebo from Costco. The men made quick work of erecting the pillars, the roof, however, was rather tricky. Divided into four triangle-shaped panels that are heavy, awkward and must be aligned perfectly, the roof is the undoing of many do-it-yourself types.

“Costco sells them every year from February to October. They are right there on the sales floor, so everybody sees them, but not everybody can build them. We get a lot of calls from people who have assembled everything but can’t put the roof on, which is where we come in and finish it off at a little bit of a discount,” Schleis said.

Gazebo building, which runs about $1,000, is a big part of iAssemble’s business and Schleis’ teams builds 12 to 15 units per week. The work is so consistent that he had a custom “gazebo king” bumper sticker made for his shiny blue Jeep. Still, he estimates the bulk of the assignments are assembling boxed furniture.

Homeowner Stephanie Betancourt called iAssemble Anything on Tuesday, expecting that it would take several days to get the job scheduled. She was pleasantly surprised when they said they could be there the next day, particularly because her son Richard turned 18 that Saturday and they wanted to host the party in the backyard.

“It saves my husband’s back and my headache,” Betancourt said.

Not all jobs are as straight forward as building gazebos, like the time he assembled a giant indoor playground for 3 Point Play Zone basketball academy. The academy had purchased the play equipment from China and everything arrived in several large containers with zero instructions. The team had to use intuition and experience gained from building smaller playgrounds to calculate how it all went together. Ten days later they were done.

Another interesting project was a clean room at a food processing plant consisting of a large metal structure with curtains to keep everything contained. Following initial construction, they installed a complete ventilation system including air conditioning vents.

“We have to use common sense, look at the boards and the lengths and the hardware and figure out which way they join for a successful completion. There is a lot of reading step-by-step but two people can look at the same picture and perceive a different result,” Schleis said, sounding somewhat philosophical.

“But we already know the common parts, we already know the common ways things are assembled and the way they are joined together, so it’s much quicker and easier for us to complete a project than for someone who just goes to Ikea and buys an organizer or closet system,” he said.

Schleis definitely lives by the mantra “No job too small,” including one time they assembled a cat tree of three main pieces and a series of cat toys on one side.

Obviously owning a business is much different from working for one of America’s largest corporations. But aside from the lean times that first year, it’s a god fit.

“It really helps that I love what I do, and the rest of the team loves what they do, so it doesn’t really seem like work,” he said.

Of course it comes with a fair amount of responsibility, for peoples’ homes, his team’s well being and the end result. But it allows for a lot of flexibility and every day is something different — unless it’s your third gazebo.

Anybody with anything that needs to be assembled can call John Schleis directly at 909-493-0761.

 

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