Volume 8, Number 1, Jan. 1986, pp.13-14

Profile: Conservation Materials, Ltd

by Dorothy and Doug Adams

A profile of Conservation Materials Ltd.? We had never thought about it until your Editor asked us to do it for you. For a change, we had plenty of time to think about it--we were to drive to Prescott, Arizona and the Sharlot Hall Museum for the Thanksgiving holidays. So here we are in Prescott--

The first thing you should know is that we did not establish the business. It was started by another fellow from whom we bought the business as we came to realize that he was not going to be able to operate it successfully.

When we first learned about "conservation", we were not really sure what was involved. We are both art, artifact and history lovers but without any talent or training in these areas. In our travels, we would always try to visit the available museums, but we never penetrated behind the scenes and so never learned about the work of the conservators.

As we became acquainted with the fellow who began this business, we realized how well it fit with our desires. First and foremost, it would permit us to participate in the broad field of art without training or talent! We could work together and we could relocate the business almost anywhere. We chose to move to Sparks, Nevada because we both like the West. Nevada has quite a favorable tax structure for an inventory heavy business (as we are) and United Parcel Service has their modern Western Distribution Center in Sparks.

We purchased all of the assets of the business--inventory, books, records and papers--in the Spring of 1978 and as we pored over the files, we discovered that there was to be an AIC Meeting in Fort Worth in just a few weeks! We headed for Fort Worth not knowing what to expect. Well, five very special people among you took pity on us newcomers and really helped us to understand conservation, its methods and its ethics. We left Fort Worth even more enthusiastic than when we arrived!

We also arranged to visit some of the conservation laboratories and discovered lots more helpful people. We got good ideas for products to stock and those not to stock. We got comments about packaging and the need for speedy service. We listened carefully.

The move to Sparks was accomplished easily and we began to get organized. We rented a warehouse and set up shelving. We put the office in our apartment. CML was tiny at this point with just the two of us.

During the several trips across the country which were necessary to make the move, we talked long and often about what we wanted Conservation Materials to be. Dorothy's background was in retail and auto marketing and Doug's was in chemical engineering and chemistry. Both of us had worked for large and small firms. Some of these we admired, and others we disliked. We tried to draw the best from our experiences. We knew that we wanted a small personal company able to respond to the individual needs and wants of our conservator customers. Dorothy had the concept of a "carriage trade" service based upon her past experience and we have tried to model the business along these lines. We knew that we did not want policy manuals, organization charts and effusive position titles. We wanted a small, close-knit group of customer oriented people on staff, each whom could do several tasks. CML was not to be a home for narrow specialists. We also wanted to establish and maintain close contact with our conservator customers from whom we knew would want to obtain product suggestions and comments.

At the time we drew up this list of characteristics, it seemed pretty easy to achieve. But time has proved otherwise, because we have learned that it is not easy to change the work habits people have learned over the years at more formal organizations, and certain people are simply not happy in a loosely structured work environment. Fortunately we have found a few people who thrive on it!

Here we are 7 years later. We are larger. We have the best crew now that we have ever had. We have more products than ever before. We get great suggestions from you. We ship nearly every order the same day it comes in. But we still have work to do. Keeping the Catalog up-to-date has turned into a real effort. Changes occur so fast it is difficult to keep up. Backorders from our suppliers (and therefore your orders) continue to plague us. Since we deal with over 200 suppliers, many of whom are located overseas, it is a hard job to assure a smooth flow of needed items. There are lots of glitches and we try to work around them.

Well, we think this is what we are all about and what we are trying to do. Hope you enjoyed this little write up.

One thing is for sure--we love this business!

Dorothy and Doug Adams
Conservation Materials, Ltd.

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