The Refinishing Touch's Mario Insenga talks learning new tricks

R. Mario Insenga. Photo credit: The Refinishing Touch (R. Mario Insenga fixes things—all kinds of things. He started out refinishing, then he learned upholstering. Now he's refinishing his own company's processes, and he's not done learning.)

R. Mario Insenga fixes things. As a young man, he worked in in the family business restoring musical instruments and spent his days refinishing, restringing, repadding and reworking anything that could play a note. It was more than an interesting job he undertook with his folks—it served the basis of his origin story, culminating in his founding of furniture restoration company The Refinishing Touch in the early 1980s.

The year was 1977—Insenga thinks it was, at least. He had just chosen not to pursue the family business and was attending Arizona State University. During a conversation with his girlfriend's father, the elder mentioned offhand that there was a large amount of furniture to be found in hotels, and much of it would need repairs eventually. It was something Insenga had never considered, but the statement caught his attention.

He quickly learned that being able to refinish was a prized skill at the time, but it was only one of several he would need to be successful.

"When I started my refinishing business [hotel clients] used to ask if I could reupholster, even though it's so different from refinishing," Insenga said. "So I said yes, instead of no, and just figured out how to do it. The same happened with fabric, and so the client and the industry gave us a direction through their requests."

Before and after refinishing. Photo credit: The Refinishing Touch

Insenga has come a long way since those early days, and this year he has taken steps to bring in additional offerings to augment The Refinishing Touch. In his own words, refinishing, upholstering and engineering are the three core aspects of his business, but with the addition of new designers he is now adding more variety in the designs and color schemes his company is able to offer.

"In years past we didn't offer that kind of service, but now we feel we're strong enough where we can develop that, so we brought in a skilled person to handle it," Insenga said.

One of Insenga's more novel ideas is to offer financial services to clients that request it. These services are on offer for clients looking for furniture, fixtures & equipment packages to meet product improvement plans, and in some cases Insenga said these plans can be capital expenditures.

"We were hesitant to introduce some of the new things we've been working on, such as financing, because they had to be in the right place before releasing them," he said. "Without it, it used to extend the time clients would take to do business with us, as right after we'd meet they would go off to shop for financing. So now we include that, and we've fine tuned the offerings to the industry to meet what they are asking for."

On the topic of furniture, Insenga has a lot to say. He is critical of flimsy pieces, or anything that sacrifices strong construction for design, as well as anything that chases a trend and may have to be replaced in less than seven years.

"I always thought furniture should transcend a time period," he said. "I believe in less planned product change, that way hoteliers can spend dollars on higher quality that will have a longer tenure in their rooms. Everything should be designed to last, but sometimes in order to get that you may have to deal with certain aspects of fashion."

Most of all, Insenga wants to restore furniture that makes a statement, rather than add old pieces to a burn pile somewhere.

"We want to understand what a proper and thoughtful expectation is based on, at a price point that makes sense," he said. "And we're enthusiastic about it."

From furniture to upholstery to fabric, refinishing is far from simple. Photo credit: The Refinishing Touch

Logic In Logistics

It may not come as a surprise that someone who has spent their life fixing aging products finds wisdom in the phrase "bang for your buck." Insenga likes things that last, and making a dollar stretch sometimes takes a little extra effort. But if it’s effort you’re looking for, look no further than a refinisher.

"Giving clients the most for their money can be done with quality work, with time or with various elements in the way we operate or how we design," Insenga said. "That is a challenge in this business, but that's what I spend my time on. Thinking how to create a better process for our client and ourselves is what eventually led us to offer things like financing, even though that may not specifically be at the core of our business."

Clicking With Clients

Insenga considers casegoods to be the second most valuable asset a hotel has (right after the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system), and continues to be shocked at how often hotels throw aging casegoods away. He chalks this up to the seemingly daunting refinishing practice, where one product is expected to be transformed into another while retaining consistency and quality. The biggest barriers to a successful refinishing, Insenga said, are a lack of vision for the end product and a healthy dose of fear or skepticism. Both of these, he said, can be countered with a little education and interaction with the client.

"Many people don't know how often these pieces can be refinished. Often the concept hasn't been introduced to them in a format that makes sense," he said. "This has been a real challenge. There is no 'standard' in the refinishing business... and the client should have expectations, but often there are none because they've never done it before."