'Building a legacy...'" Ruelle family's furniture polish adds Crate & Barrel as a client

Published on Saturday, 1 February 2014 21:10 - Written by By Casey Murphy cmurphy@tylerpaper.com

Gene Ruelle began experimenting with cooking up furniture polish in his kitchen nearly 30 years ago.

But after making such a mess on the stove, his wife, Deb Ruelle, kicked him out to the couple’s garage apartment. He was left using a Coleman stove to experiment with beeswax and oils to come up with Finisher’s Formula in 1987.

Ruelle, 61, sells the “green” furniture polish mostly online, but also out of his furniture restoration business, Ruelle’s, a small shop at 526 S. Broadway Ave.

On Thursday, after nearly a year of negotiations, he found out the polish will be sold by Crate & Barrel. The nationwide furniture and home d←cor chain ordered 1,300 bottles to start and will begin selling it in stores this month. It also will feature it in its Fall 2014 catalogue, Ruelle said.

“It’s a wonderful expansion of our environmentally safe product line,” Ruelle said. “It’s probably building a legacy for the Ruelle family.”

The Ruelles started their restoration business out of the 400-square-foot garage apartment behind his home in 1982. The couple moved it to the shop in 1990.

Ruelle began experimenting with the furniture polish after customers repeatedly asked him how to care for their newly refinished furniture. He said he wanted to make something environmentally safe, biodegradable and “goof proof,” which he did with Finisher’s Formula.

He said it is safe for homes and furniture while providing good looking results.

“Because it is all natural, it is great moisturizer for your hands,” Ruelle said.

After discussing it with a chemist friend of his, Ruelle began dropping in a magnet while heating the oils and beeswax to homogenize it, he said, adding that it was a process of trial and error to get it right.

He’s since moved on from using a Coleman stove and now has a kettle that will make 100 bottles at a time. He’s had a pretty healthy online business, he said.

One of his first commercial clients of the furniture polish was Hollytree Country Club. And the Regions Bank building downtown also uses it, as well as Christ Episcopal Church and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

“I’m really thankful for the Tyler community,” he said. “They’ve been wonderful.”

It is purchased in gallons by Wood Scenics, which is used on the pinewood derby models for the Boy Scouts of America. It is offered in antique malls throughout the United States. Ruelle said the paste wax Finisher’s Touch was selected by Tiffany and Co. for use on the Frank Gherry jewelry line, which incorporates wood.

Ruelle has a Crate & Barrel client to thank for adding to his customer base.

After asking Crate & Barrel employees if they knew of a good furniture polish to use and was told they did not, the customer began searching online and discovered Finisher’s Formula. Ruelle said they were so impressed, they wrote a letter raving about the product to Crate & Barrel, which in May began referring all customers asking for polish to Ruelle’s website, www.ruelle.com .

Crate & Barrel soon contacted Ruelle about offering the product in its stores under its Clean Slate Program, which includes environmentally safe products and accessories. After nearly a year of negotiating and preparing, Crate & Barrel placed its first order on Thursday, Ruelle said, adding that he was allowed to keep his name and website on the polish’s label.

Ruelle said even with the large order, he will continue to make the polish. He spends a lot of time manufacturing, bottling and boxing up Finisher’s Formula and said if he gets overwhelmed, he will recruit his 27-year employee and master furniture restorer, Robert Lugo, to help him.

Ruelle said the natural beeswax polish can be used for a lot more than furniture. It is safe to use on butcher blocks, wooden spoons and counter tops. Some use it as a leather polish for their boots and gun stocks and it has also been used as a finish on concrete counter tops, he said.

Ruelle was green before being green was popular.

Even the restoration is a green business because you’re saving wood, he said.

Ruelle and Mrs. Ruelle, 61, met on a blind date, which they spent “junking.” Since then, they have spent 35 years of marriage collecting their own antiques and restoring others. The couple works together doing all things related to antiques — restoration, repairs and appraisals.

The couple began their business when their son, Justin, was an infant. He worked at the shop throughout college and is now a teacher in Tyler, still helping out with marketing and promoting the polish.

“I think our business is so unique because it’s diverse,” Mrs. Ruelle said during a 2010 interview. “It’s a really nice pace. It doesn’t feel like work … it just feels like life.”

“Because we love what we do and people pay us!” her husband chimed in.

The combined love for collecting and restoring antiques keeps them loving their work.

“I don’t think there are two people who have been in the restoration business as long as we have,” Ruelle said in 2010. “A lot of people don’t know about the shop because “we don’t toot our own horn; we’re kind of just tucked away.”