JAMESBURG, N.J. – 9 Feb, 2017 – Paul Ruitenberg is living proof that life in the fast lane can be a tumultuous ride even for the most successful business executives.
The 58-year-old Skillman resident was among the first to introduce supermarkets as something more than antiseptic white aisles and display cases. Ruitenberg created customized shopping environments at more than 1,000 supermarkets, building Ruitenberg Design, Inc. (RDI) into a company with $18 million in sales annually. However, a decision to merge the business with what would turn out to be an “unscrupulous partner,” said Ruitenberg, brought the walls tumbling down for the former multi-millionaire.
In a matter of months, his life’s work was gone and so were the luxury homes in Northern New Jersey and Martha’s Vineyard, multiple business real estate holdings, 87-foot yacht and all sources of income. If not for his then girlfriend and now wife, Jill, he would not have had a roof over his head or been able to ease the emotional stress. Now, the husband and wife team are quickly turning their new company, Ruitenberg Lind Design Group (RLDG), into a player in the professional interior design world.
“We started the company in 2015 and did several million in sales; we have continued to grow the business and have increased sales in 2016,” said RLDG Director Paul Ruitenberg. “We have 80-plus active projects right now in the U.S., Canada and Caribbean and probably will reach $20 million rather quickly, but, more than numbers, we’re interested in making RLDG the best source in our industry for one-stop planning, design, fabrication and installation. I had one life with all the toys and that didn’t end very well. We are going to write a more meaningful story this time. We believe in people and community first and money second.”
RLDG President & CEO Jill Ruitenberg has been a senior executive in the retail industry for nearly 30 years, most notably with Century 21 Department Stores where she was mentored by company founder Al Gindi. “He taught me how to see through his eyes not only how to raise the bar in business, but about how to raise the bar in life,” she said. “Not surprisingly, it is the small details and the simple basics that are most vital to both.”
In addition to leading RLDG, she continues to serve as C21’s Corporate Director of Standards & Performance, reporting to the CEO, randomly visiting one of their 11 stores each week. In honor of Al Gindi and all he has taught her, she plans to continue visiting the stores indefinitely.
Jill and Paul Ruitenberg purchased the assets of Lind Design International, a well-recognized supermarket design firm, when its principal Gary Lind closed his business and retired in 2014 and have since more than doubled the company’s client base and tripled the number of employees. Lind continues to be a mentor for Jill. “While the success of RDI and Paul’s business was abruptly taken from him in 2010, Paul saw that good business relationships can never be taken as his clients were thrilled that he was back in action. The greatest successes in life come on the heels of failure. Together, we are building a place where people feel part of the big picture and have fun working together and giving back to the community,” said Jill Ruitenberg.
Paul Ruitenberg points to the support of Jill’s parents as the most vital ingredient in RLDG’s early success.
“RLDG would not exist without the help of Jill’s parents,” said Paul Ruitenberg. “They are people of modest means. Jill’s mom is a retired teacher and her dad is a retired salesman. They believed in us and took out a second mortgage to lend us the money so we could launch the company. We will never be able to thank them enough. When I was living the ‘good life,’ I had hundreds of friends, including Hollywood celebrities that would stay at my home and yacht on Martha’s Vineyard, and I served on three corporate boards. When things started to fall apart, I only had about five people who still wanted to know me. My family and I are thankful for all the adversity, as it has led to bigger and better things that otherwise could never have been imagined.”
Paul Ruitenberg’s rise and fall is a compelling story.
He grew up in Wayne and got his start in design in 1979 in the basement of his parents’ home next to Wayne Hills High School, where he graduated. His father, Paul Sr., had managed a Thom McAn shoe store in Paterson, developed a flair for window displays and eventually started a home-based business.
“I was at Fairleigh Dickinson and a year away from getting an accounting degree when I quit,” Ruitenberg said. “I had no idea what I wanted to do, but knew I didn’t want to count beans for the rest of my life. So I said, Dad, why don’t I work with you?”
Ruitenberg started doing presentations for his father and the family business started to grow. Together, they did a window display for American Airlines in Rockefeller Center in New York, which turned into an assignment with 400 travel agencies nationally. They also created window displays for the French consulate and eventually became the official designer for French tourism offices. The Food Emporium, which later was purchased by A&P, took note of their work and hired the Ruitenbergs to design 38 store windows around the country.
“The windows were unique and boosted sales so they asked us to take the work inside the store,” Ruitenberg said. “We started designing aisle end caps, which were well received, and were expanded to 600 stores nationally. A&P asked me what I would do if I was given a whole store to design and I started creating shopping environments, generating more revenue for the stores. The rest is history.”
Ruitenberg Sr. retired as the business became focused on designing full supermarkets. A&P asked Ruitenberg to take on the planning and design for its 1,100 stores and RDI also added ShopRite and Kings Food Markets into the client mix. He also started designing retail spaces for high-end retailers like Bloomingdale’s, Galeries Lafayette, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Prada, as well as the PNC Arts Center, Parisi athletic facilities and health care centers, including Hackensack Medical Center.
“We were doing extremely well, but my best friend since I was six-years-old, Kenny Faber, died from a rare cancer in 2007,” Ruitenberg said. “Kenny not only was the best friend I would have in my life, but managed the production side of RDI. In 2009, I decided to merge with a competitor that I thought would help production continue to run smoothly, but that company somehow managed to alter our agreement so I was anything but an equal partner, and I soon found myself out of work and out of the business with a non-compete for two years.”
The Ruitenbergs have rebounded quickly with RLDG and the company is growing. In March of 2015, they opened K-Fab Services, LLC for their in-house installation, printing and fabrication. They chose to name K-Fab Services in honor of the Faber Family and Paul’s best friend, Kenny. In September 2015, they acquired a 13,000-square-foot facility to build their shop. Some of RLDG’s recent projects have included Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace in Ramsey, World Class ShopRite in South Plainfield, PSK Foodtown in New York City’s Harlem, and Garafalo ShopRite in Milford, Connecticut.
“Jill and I have really been the perfect match for the business,” Ruitenberg said. “Jill is extremely detail-oriented running the daily business and focused on the vision, culture and future of the company. Our skills and business styles constantly complement one another in many areas from creating innovative designs to developing successful client relationships.”
About Ruitenberg Lind Design Group (RLDG)
RLDG specializes in the planning, design, fabrication, and installation of professional environments for supermarkets, malls, specialty retailers, restaurants, hotels and health care facilities.
For more information, please visit www.beststoredesign.com or call (732) 474-1000.
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