Breaking a favorite piece of china or crystal needn't be a calamity. Bob Page, president of Replacements Ltd., in Greensboro, N.C., is now the largest company in the world to offer assistance to people who need to replace damaged pieces or complete sets of discontinued patterns.
Mr. Page, a certified public accountant, started his unique business as an attic hobby while he was still working as an auditor for the state of North Carolina. He began by buying and selling small collectibles at weekend flea markets and through consignment shops.
``Then I realized that a lot of people out there were seriously looking for china and glass replacements, so I began to focus on that field,'' he says. ``I wanted to change careers and was looking for something enjoyable to do.''
This spring, Page opened a new 40,000-square-foot warehouse that offers a selection of over 20,000 patterns made by major manufacturers all over the world.
He buys from individuals (many of whom, in turn, may buy from flea markets or estate sales), from antiques dealers, and from gift and jewelry stores seeking to dispose of old stock.
Page says Fostoria is, by far, the crystal most in demand. It was made from 1915 until 1982, when the production of handblown stemware ceased.
Noritake china, made by the Japanese, gets the most brand-name replacement requests, reflecting the fact, he says, that for some years it has been favored by many middle-income Americans. Lenox is an important American brand name.
The single pieces of china most wanted are cups, since they succumb first to general usage. The single pattern most in demand is Castleton's Sunnyvale, which ceased being made in 1972.
``Today,'' says Page, ``we have to ask $41 for a Sunnyvale dinner plate that sold for $14 in 1972.''
Yes, he said, his firm did stock the colored Fiesta ware pottery that was popular in the 1940s, ``but ... we do not cater to collectors, as such, but rather to those typical everyday housewives who want to complete their wedding sets or replace broken items.''
When these women were brides, many of them settled for basic place settings of their chosen pattern. Now they want to buy the matching serving pieces, such as fruit/dessert dishes, soup bowls, covered and open vegetable dishes, platters, and gravy boats. Many were confused, he says, by the term ``open stock'' and didn't realize the pattern would only be available until discontinued by the company.
Page says his business has grown from one employee in 1981 to 60 employees in 1987. These include a curator who does nothing but research work to identify and describe patterns. All such information (some of which comes from old manufacturers' catalogs) is then fed into the computer system to be stored for future reference.
The computer system keeps track of every aspect of the business, including the names of some 300,000 customers and what they want to buy. When the pieces they seek become available, the computer even takes care of notifying them.
Page's business was ranked No. 81 in the annual INC. listing of 500 of America's fastest-growing, privately held companies. And in 1986, the United States Small Business Administration named Page the ``North Carolina Small Business Person of the Year.''
For more information, write Replacements Ltd., 302 Gallimore Dairy Rd., Greensboro, NC 27409.