The part about creating I love most is combining my passions for the function of engineering with the animated responses of art to make something that has great utility and elicits a really animated emotional response at the same time. Thus creating functional pieces of artwork, whether it be a Refresh Glass to drink from or a chair to sit on, that people can call their favorite to reach for or use every day. I constantly sketch different ideas I have and always get a kick out of finishing a project, checking out my scrapes and wondering why making the first of anything always seems to require 6 trips to the hardware store, soaking it in for a second and then saying, cool, what’s next!
Ray DelMuro + Refresh Glass
Creator: Ray DelMuro (@delmurodesigns)
Location: Tempe, Arizona
Words of Wisdom – “I think that it’s really important for creators to listen to what the market likes and not just create what you think is best. The way you get to do what you love is by creating multifaceted value for others through doing what you love, not just through the act of doing it for its own sake.
Often I have had a lot of great ideas spin off of conversations and feedback from customers about what works best for them and what they appreciate most about what we do. Plus being asked what they think and having input breeds a more ravenous brand loyalty and connection to the uniqueness of what we do.“
Almost certainly most people have heard the quote from George Bernard Shaw that states:
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.
If this is true, then Ray DelMuro is the embodiment of living this mantra.
One part Einstein wiz kid & one part James Dean, DelMuro is a blend of what happens when an industrial technologist and engineer realizes that there’s more to life than following a set path and working a corporate job to nurture his talents.
And while he’s undoubtedly grateful for all that he learned straight out of college, something felt missing; he needed a creative outlet that not only mixed his passion for function and operational efficiency, but one that brought out design and beauty.
I met Ray several years back and within moments I was impressed. The man started his company, Refresh Glass, drinkware and home decor made from “rescued” wine bottles, after returning from a year sabbatical.
Ray DelMuro | Refresh Glass
By now you’ve seen companies create glasses and other home goods from recycled wine bottles. What you probably didn’t know is that Ray was not only one of the first to really mass market it, he also trumped the competition by developing and engineering the technology to customize it in a way no one else has replicated.
Like I said, one part wiz kid, one part James Dean.
So, what did Ray do after “early” retirement from Corporate America and before coming upon his revelation for Refresh Glass?
He did what everyone from our generation and those coming up are doing. They take their proverbial life savings for a house with a white picket fence, and tour the globe for a year hitting up 21 countries and 39 cities.
What I like about Ray is his ability to take chances; to take risks in light of knowing the outcomes and then turning his life’s lessons into profound experiences; personally and professionally.
Oh yeah, and his goal with Refresh Glass – rescue 10 million bottles and repurpose them for high end products, all while proving conscious capitalism is the new industry standard.
“The movement is working to combine the heart of a charity with the horsepower of a corporation to create purpose driven for profit companies that care about more than just quarterly profits.”
Welcome the new CEOs of today – Photographer, engineer, artist, designer, world traveler, and businessman.
I caught up with Ray for a bit and we discussed his company, the changing state of global companies and their movement towards more open, culture driven, impact proving, profitable entities, his love of hot rods, globe trotting and more. Here’s what he had to say:
Ray DelMuro | Engineer + Creator + Entrepreneur + Artist + World Traveler
HDF: Ray! This is awesome. I met you several years back and after crossing paths again, I immediately became excited to do this.
Ray: Thanks man me too! I really dig with what you’re doing with H&DF! Thanks for including me in it!
HDF: That means a lot! Thank you!
Before we get into your current company, can we start by diving in a little bit more about where you’re from and where you’re living?
Ray: I was raised in the Pasadena area of southern California. Growing up my dad was a fashion designer and my mom ran regions of retail stores. I’ve always felt like I was meant to be both an both creative and technical.
My sisters and I were lucky to be around such a cool mixture of talented and hard working parents.
Ray DelMuro | Age 5
Ray DelMuro & Family
When I was young I loved to draw and make anything I could with Lincoln Logs and Legos. At a young age I was completely obsessed with the Dutch artist, M.C. Escher. His works were masterpieces to me, blending the best of geometry and art.
He wrote about his
“intense interest in the laws of nature and geometric rhythms in space and on the plane.”
I was fascinated. He also talked about how it’s not just about the quality of the work but also the ability to get through to people and make them feel something.
Ray DelMuro | Studying MC Escher
HDF: That has to be the absolute truth about a brand. People want to feel something from it. And in some way you knew that art was going to be a part of your life.
I was recently listening to some of your awesome stories along your journey, which I think is pretty amazing. Ray, besides the art, you’re one pretty smart dude. One part Einstein Wiz Kid & one part James Dean. (laughter)
While I want to talk about Refresh Glass, let’s go a bit further back. You got your bachelors and masters from Cal Poly SLO in Industrial Technology? What? (laughter).
How did going to Cal Poly come into the picture initially?
Ray: When it was time to start looking at colleges I was torn between whether I wanted to pursue a degree in art or one in business.
I ended up opting for business, figuring that I could always do artwork in my free time. I wound up choosing to attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and still really appreciate their learn by doing style of teaching.
After a specific event I choose to major in Industrial Technology, which is a blend of both business and engineering and it seemed like a perfect fit.
While I was in school I was able to get a co-op with Toyota in the bay area. It was here that I was first introduced to large-scale manufacturing, lean principles, and statistical process controls.
I worked in the injection molding plant and got to work around huge machines and robotic painting equipment. I was hooked.
HDF: So, in other words, you had some pretty big toys to play with and put your creative side to work? (Laughter)
Ray: I did. I loved the central coast and decided to stay after graduating, and my first job was as a manufacturing engineer for an aerospace company in the area.
HDF: Wow, so that was a nice transition. I’m sensing you were always into tinkering with things, no?
Ray: Oh yeah! When I was growing up I would always take whatever tools I could find and just modify stuff.
I was always messing with my bmx bike and taking things apart.
I don’t think it was until I got into college that I started getting good at putting things back together.
HDF: I’m sure a few people appreciated that. (Laughter)
So Ray, one of the many reasons I wanted to do an interview with you is because I heard you say something to the effect of,
“I quit my job to avoid a mid-life crisis and go truly see the world to discover my next phase”
What were you doing before that prompted you to say this?
Ray: In my late 20’s I hit a point to where I had worked for the aerospace company for about 5 years, and was asked to take a new position they created as the Director of Manufacturing Technology.
It was my job to manage the automated manufacturing equipment for the 16 divisions worldwide. I was living a block away from the ocean in Huntington Beach and was on track with where I wanted to be on paper, but something was off.
Surf Sculpture | Huntington Beach, California
Visitors’ Sunset | Huntington Beach, California
I was treated well at work I just didn’t feel the way I thought I should.
When you grow up you are told that you have to go to a good school, get a good job…. and you will be happy.
I felt like I did that but I didn’t feel the way I thought I should. I knew I missed the emotional connection that comes with making art and couldn’t put my finger on what I should do next but I knew I had to make a change.
One day I had a crazy idea, I then circled a date on the calendar and resigned on that date.
HDF: I think that’s what’s changed in this new time we’re living in. With this new way of “Millennial” thinking. We’re more aware of ourselves, and when you go after the things you’re told to and then suddenly things don’t feel right, we want to take responsibility to go find out why.
So your resignation is when you went to travel? I understand you visited something like 21 countries and 39 cities?
Ray: Sometimes you just need to pivot, I knew I needed some time to figure out what my passion profession was going to be. So I said screw it, I’m going to take the money I was saving to buy a house and go on a trip around the world for a year and I was determined to pull it off.
I asked everyone I knew if they would be traveling abroad anytime soon and started making plans.
First month I spent visiting people I wanted to reconnect with in the states and in Canada, and then from Boston I left for Austria.
Ray DelMuro | Travel Route
HDF: Wow, you were serious. A year abroad will definitely give you perspective. What did learn about yourself while you were traveling?
Ray: A lot! I would travel to a new city and just go on walkabouts and explore. I ended up falling in love with photography.
I think travelers have a really cool perspective and respect for how everything is connected between people, material things, and the environment in general.
Ray DelMuro | Enjoying Photography in China
I would journal on trains and boats and decided that my dream job would combine the function of engineering, the animated responses to art, and helping the community somehow, while being my own boss.
HDF: And I bet you saw some awesome places?
Ray: Oh yeah! There are so many amazing places I saw and met lots of great people. I went bungee jumping in Interlaken, Switzerland, surfing in Sydney and I rented a scooter in Croatia. It was all a blast.
Ray Bungee Jumping in Interlaken, Switzerland
Ray in Hong Kong
Ray in Croatia
HDF: Top 3 Destinations?
Ray: Bali: The people are amazing and the sunsets unforgettable, great fruit smoothies too, ha. On the subject of sunsets, Sayulita, Mexico is up there too. Sayulita is a gem located in new Puerto Vallarta. It’s quite with lots of locals and a ridiculously gorgeous backdrop to play in.”
Ray in Sayulita, Mexico
Croatia: The coast of Croatia is a photographers dream.
Ray in Hvar, Croatia
China: I was also fascinated by the blend of old world and new world Asia.
Ray DelMuro | Chinese Protection
HDF: Yeah, traveling for me has always been life changing so I can understand.
So, let’s talk about Refresh Glass for a bit!
While I’ve come to know more about your company, can you tell me in your words what it is and how it came about? I’m assuming it was shortly after you returned from your travels?
Was there just an “aha” moment that you said,
“Something feels missing. I know what I want to be doing the rest of my life.”
Ray: Well, when I got back from my trip I took a job working with a friend in Phoenix on automated machinery again. I had already spent most of my cash.
HDF: A good investment might I add. (Laughter)
Ray: That position didn’t work out, so then I got a job as a six sigma consultant. Three months later that didn’t work out.
Then I started bartending and taking entrepreneur classes at the local community college.
I bought a kit online to turn bottles into glasses and thought they were kind of cool. Showed some friends and they wanted to buy some from me.
HDF: So you started thinking there was something to that?
Ray: Yeah. See, back then they had sanded rims and I thought there had to be a better way to make them. I thought of it as an engineering challenge.
I figured out early on how to melt the rims so they are smooth and polished. We transform the bottles into drinking glasses, vases, planters, carafes, candle holders and other functional wares.
Ray DelMuro | Refresh Glass
HDF: And you’ve done this now with quite a few bottles?
Ray: Yeah, fast forward a bit and today Refresh Glass has collected over 700,000 wine bottles and are working towards our 10 Million Bottle Rescue Mission.
HDF: I bet you get crazy good feedback?
Ray: We get fantastic feedback from our customers every day. They seem to love the uniqueness and being a part of a bigger story.
HDF: How do you approach which products to make?
Ray: Well, after a few years of running Refresh Glass I found that it has been better for us to have a few excellent products that we sell a lot of as opposed to lots of products that are poorly marketed.
HDF: As you are undeniably creative with your company, I was also looking through your personal site, delmurodesigns.com. I see the creativity goes beyond glassware.
Ray: Yeah, I still draw on occasion and go on traveling or hiking trips to shoot pictures when I can. It’s important to constantly have a creative outlet for me.
Lately my favorite thing to do is to build one off custom furniture.
HDF: Seriously? Furniture too?
Ray: Well, it’s fun for me to use the bottles since I have so much access to different pieces.
Recently I have worked wine bottle parts into a chair that is LED backlit, a book shelf, and an end table. The LED chair works on a remote control, such fun technology out there.
Ray DelMuro – LED Chair
Ray DelMuro – Bottle Shelf
Ray DelMuro – End Table
HDF: Well, put that stuff up for sale, and I’ll jump on that as well. (laughter)
I see “We Love Glass” in quite a few places online. Either on your website or in other digital properties. So, the all important Simon Sinek Question (Start With Why) – Why Glass?
Ray: Actually I wasn’t all that into glass originally, it’s just another material like wood, metal, plastic that has specific properties and processes that go with them depending on what needs to be done.
For me what was important is that every bottle was originally crafted at a particular winery, in a different country, enjoyed for an occasion, and collected and transformed by our team.
HDF: So the glass had meaning? They’re not just a commodity.
Ray: Exactly, each bottle color, thickness, and shape is slightly different in addition to its story –> they are anti-commodities.
HDF: And I bet people like that about your products.
Ray: Absolutely! People first buy our products because they are unique conversation pieces and support a great cause. They repeat buy or gift because they just feel great in your hands and are so many people’s go to glass that they reach for.
HDF: Now, I had originally asked you about competitors now that we’re seeing all kinds of differentiated versions in the marketplace. However, you’re different altogether, no?
Not just because you were among the first to launch this type of concept, but because you figured out a process that’s not easily replicable.
I’m sure that puts you among the elite in your industry because your product is of much higher quality, no?
Ray: You might see someone who looks like they do something similar at a farmers market but if you are a hotel looking for 2,000 glasses with melted rims in a particular color and size to ship in the next week, that’s a different story.
Ray DelMuro | Refresh Glass
HDF: Love it! Tell us how you really feel. (Laughter)
Ray: It’s true. (Laughter) We have built relationships with our local restaurants and hotels and collect over 20,000 bottles a month from them.
The tooling we use I custom built to take off the labels, separate the bottles, and melt the rims.
All of our glassware is also stress relieved in a process called annealing that requires big ovens.
We are also working to largely create and expand a market for our glasses in retail and hospitality segments, so there are a lot of moving parts if someone were to want to compete.
Refresh Glass | Bottles
Refresh Glass | Bottles
HDF: You got that right! (Laughter).
What’s been some of the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced with Refresh Glass?
Ray: I would say that some of my biggest challenges have been personally getting out of my engineering/ creator comfort zone and becoming a leader who focuses on marketing, sales, and branding.
Ray: So many of us start businesses as a technician who loves their craft and have to learn how to be a business owner instead. We have a disruptive product in the large glassware industry and have great market validation from home users, retailers and restaurants.
Our problem isn’t that with people liking our line and price points, it’s that we need to let the world know that we exist.
HDF: Well then, let this conversation expand to the world! I want everyone to know about you guys! (Laughter)
I do know there are a lot of businesses using your glassware. Who are some of the “Bigs” that have become your biggest fans?
Ray: We work with multiple Wolfgang Puck locations, and lots of other restaurants.
There are two cool Husk restaurants that deserve a specific mention, they have always been great to us.
Refresh Glass | La Savina
HDF: Holy Shit! (Laughter). You play with some REAL BIG BOYS.
Ray: This is a subject I’m really passionate about. There are texts now being written and studies done that are showing that purpose based businesses with values driven cultures are outpacing their competitors in the market place.
I think this makes a ton of sense because of the simple fact that people choose to buy emotionally and rationalize logically, in that order.
HDF: Conscious Capitalism?
Ray: Exactly! I got involved with Conscious Capitalism a few years ago and am a founding member, and on the board, of our local state Conscious Capitalism Chapter.
The movement is working to combine the heart of a charity with the horsepower of a corporation to create purpose driven for profit companies that care about more than just quarterly profits.
Conscious Capitalism Model
The differentiator is including the employees, vendors, and the community as stakeholders, in addition to the owners, customers.
It makes a lot of sense to me because it blends logic and emotion like Refresh Glass blends the function of the glass with the emotion of the cause and unique story. Thirty years ago the phones were boring and colorless, now people want functionality and design, food that is good for you and tastes good, etc
HDF: Perfectly well put. I believe this is why you’re seeing a whole new generation of businesses disrupting the market, even with well-known existing products.
As everyone knows, I love watching older companies that can’t adapt to new methodologies have their jaws drop when they see these new disrupting companies in their space. (Laughter).
Where do you see this movement going?
Ray: Our next evolution in business will be profitable companies who have cultures and offerings that help the community. This doesn’t have to be companies like Tom’s Shoes or Refresh Glass that have such obvious ties, a company can work with interns, charities, support a local bill being voted on.
Courtesy of Toms.com
There are now impact funds where investors are voting with their dollars by infusing companies who have strong purpose in addition to their viable products or services.
Running businesses the way we’ve always done because “that is the way we have always done it” isn’t good enough anymore. Real change is coming and it’s exciting to be involved.
The more ties that are made to between values based operations, profitability, and market advantages, the more that industry will adopt best practices, schools will change curriculum, and policy will be written.
HDF: And here’s the irony – This way of thinking is actually turning out to be more profitable than our predecessors. Food for thought if any big shot CEO’s are reading this.
So what’s next for Refresh Glass?
Ray: We are really starting to have fun with our custom etched corporate gifts.
We offer our products as employee, customer, or closing gifts and can custom etch text.
What has been really popular are closing gifts for realtors where we etch the last name of the buyers on a 4-pack of glasses and then make a banded sleeve that goes around the 4-pack with the realtors brand.
Refresh Glass | Corporate Gifts – Etched Glassware
This really helps keep the realtor at top of mind since the new home owners will use the upcycled wine bottle glasses with their last name etched on them all the time.
It’s really a win-win for everyone and the responses we have gotten back from the agents and the families have been fantastic!
HDF: That’s awesome!!
I’d be curious to know what are some of the biggest challenges or obstacles have you faced throughout your life that have taught you incredible lessons? Any lessons you’d like to share?
Ray: For me it’s really important to have written goals and to surround myself people who live their life with charisma and tenacity.
I started out professionally building a resume and now I focus on building relationships and having experiences.
It’s the foundation of Refresh Glass and my other creations.
I had a great conversation the other day with a good friend about how:
The people that talk the most crap usually imitate in the market place… and the leaders innovate.
The people in the world I admire most don’t pay that much attention with what other people are doing because they are digging every day trying to better their best, and know that at the end of the day the only person they really compete with is the person they were yesterday.
HDF: Well said!
Ray: Thank you! Oh, and from a business perspective I think the most powerful lesson I’ve learned is about building a team.
There are some things I suck at and others that I flat out hate doing. Cool thing is that there are people who love doing the things I don’t, and by building a team of people with the right complementary skill sets we can collectively get so much more done.
HDF: Ray, you are flat out, a huge creator. It hasn’t been just with Refresh Glass, but with Cars, Photography, Art, etc.
Artwork by Ray DelMuro
Street Rodder Drawing by Ray DelMuro
What’s the best part about “creating” for you? Cause you clearly do it . . . A LOT! (Laughter)
Ray: The part about creating I enjoy the most is when someone tells me that something I, or our team made, is their favorite, and that they use and appreciate it every day.
Whether it’s a Refresh Glass or a chair it makes me happy.
I constantly sketch different ideas I have and always get a kick out of finishing a project, checking out my scrapes and wondering why the first of anything always takes 6 trips to the hardware store, soaking it in for a second and then saying, cool, what’s next!
HDF: On the subject of cars, I saw on your personal website that at 21 you purchased your first “hot rod” which you called functional art. Did you work on that car?
Ray: That car was another major pivot for me, just like my resignation and trip was later. I was able to buy my hot rod when I was 21 and still at school.
It was my first real piece of functional art. I modified everything. I changed the motor, tranny, rear end, put on dropped spindles and disc brakes.
Ray’s First Hot Rod
Ray’s Working On His First Hot Rod
Ray’s First Hot Rod
The car was actually the reason why I switched from business to Industrial Technology and wanted to become an engineer.
In addition to the way it ran, it was also a unique piece of art because of the different mods and particular style it had.
HDF: And your favorite car?
Ray: Similar to the way I am kinda known by my friends as the wine bottle dude now, in school I was Ray with the ’55 Chevy. I can still say now that there isn’t another car that I would want more.
HDF: I always ask this but it’s important to do so. What’s the best advice you can give someone just starting out with their own company? Or creating for that matter?
Or maybe just pursuing their dreams?
Ray: I think that it’s really important for creators to listen to what the market likes and not just create what you think is best. Often I have had a lot of great ideas come from talking to our customers and getting their feedback.
I also think that if you love to bake, find someone who likes to sell.
Ray: Every business needs a visionary, a sales person, ops pro, and someone who manages the money. Some people can take more than one role but it’s rare that someone can and should be responsible for them all.
HDF: If you could describe the essence of your brand, how would you describe it? This is a fairly abstract question, so you can answer it any way you’d like.
Ray: I would flat out say that the essence of the Refresh Glass brand is that we want to make our product your favorite glass to drink from every day.
This applies to your guests favorite glass to drink from at a restaurant or hotel.
The combination of the story of each bottle, variations in glass colors, shapes and thicknesses, the environmental impact, and just the feel and function all add to this same appeal.
HDF: And you’ll be hitting a million bottles soon?
Ray: We should hit our first million bottles collected in early 2016. We are going to have a party, then we are going to work on diverting and transforming a million bottles a year or more.
The way we are going to get there is by creating tons of value for businesses in retail, hospitality, corporate gifts, and on individual dinner tables.
It’s not a matter of if but a matter of when. Too many people win when we succeed. We help retailers make money, restaurants help happy guests, and real estate agents help retain clients…
HDF: How important has social media and the Internet played in the building of your brand? Or at least, how important do you think it will be as you continue to grow it?
Social media is incredibly important to our brand.
If someone wants to know about your business they don’t ask you, they look to see what other people are saying about you.
Refresh Glass Facebook
Refresh Glass Twitter
Refresh Glass Instagram
Social currency is the new driver of brand image. It is the user driven content and storytelling about what we stand for that I believe will help our presence grow.
HDF: I couldn’t agree more! When user driven content and storytelling align, you have HDFMagazine.com. (Laughter).
Final Question: If you could meet any entrepreneur, or person for that matter, throughout all of history, past or present, who would it be and why?
Ray: I read the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin every year and think he was a ninja at bettering his best.
He was a creator, a trailblazer, brilliant interpersonally, and an intellectual giant. He taught himself different languages on his lunch break. Dude was a badass.
HDF: Uh, yeah he was!! Ray, seriously, thanks for doing this. Your company is just plain cool and you’re mission is kicking ass and taking names.
Ray: This was great man! I’m honored to be a part of this movement you’ve got going.