The Goal is Bringing Value to The Community
A few weeks after they’d fixed two rips in a tall, champagne-colored leather armchair, Robert and Chelsey Pegram spotted an event advertisement with Santa Claus sitting in an identical throne.
“Apparently, we were working for Santa,” Robert said with a laugh. “That was a great thing to be able to say at our kids’ career day. It’s always something different in our job.”
Robert and Chelsey own a local franchise of Fibrenew, a global company that repairs and restores leather, vinyl and plastic items in homes, businesses, vehicles, boats, planes and medical clinics.
The York County residents travel all over the Peninsula, including to Williamsburg, to rehab damaged furniture, flooring, siding and window casings, as well as the seats, coverings and interiors of boats, cars, RVs, aircraft, restaurant booths and doctors’ exam tables.
The Pegrams’ goal is to return objects to their former glory days, whether for practical, sentimental, financial or environmentally-friendly reasons.
One of their favorite assignments, for example, was spiffing up a 20-year-old, greenish-blue sofa for a Williamsburg couple who’d bought it as newlyweds. “Sometimes we work on pieces that will be handed down generation to generation — priceless things,” Chelsey said. “We’re also able to keep so much stuff out of landfills. It’s really fun and rewarding.”
A job might require re-dyeing faded or worn surfaces, replacing padding inside a sofa or chair, or erasing scratches, cracks, tears and missing chunks of material on anything from an antique car to a piece of storm-dented siding.
Founded in 1985, Fibrenew has 296 locations worldwide: 222 in the United States and the rest in Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. There are six other franchises in Virginia, including in Norfolk and Richmond.
The Pegrams are high school sweethearts and parents of four children, ages 2 through 8. Robert, 31, is a York County native and Grafton High School graduate; Chelsey, 27, was born in Germany into a military family, moved to Virginia in 2008 and is a Tabb High graduate. Their two older kids go to Robert’s former elementary school, Grafton-Bethel.
Robert’s father taught him a variety of handyman skills from an early age, while Chelsey is a lifelong art lover and painter who embraces color-matching challenges. Robert also describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur.”
“I was selling glow sticks and Pop Rocks out of my backpack by age 8,” he said. “I started a lawn care business at 12. I did do some electrical union work for a while, but I’m honestly a pretty horrible employee when I’m not working for myself.”
Chelsey originally planned to be a nurse but was more drawn to business classes in college. She earned a degree in Business Management from Christopher Newport University.
In 2014, Chelsey and Robert, who studied horticulture at Tidewater Community College, started a landscaping business. However, they struggled to find enough employees or family time and decided to consult a franchise broker, who matched them with Fibrenew.
“We had two main criteria: bring a service to the community that wasn’t already here, and give something of value back to the community,” Chelsey explained. “We also wanted to build something that we can be proud of, that our kids can be proud of.”
After a two-week online training program on maintenance and restoration of specific materials, the Pegrams launched their franchise on Aug. 1, 2021. They receive ongoing support from Fibrenew leaders and fellow owners worldwide, describing them as a family of lifelong learners.
Robert and Chelsey perform most jobs onsite with a mobile model, although they have created a home workshop. Each day is unique, such as when Chelsey tested her color skills by dyeing the center console of a green 1995 Porsche.
As for Santa’s throne, that was an 8-foot-tall chair with elaborate gold detailing owned by event planners in Newport News. Movers had accidentally torn its material while removing plastic covering. “We got it looking good as new,” Robert said.
But sometimes, the Pegrams’ job is to advise that a restoration may not be financially wise or even possible, although the customer ultimately makes the final decision. In one case, Chelsey helped an elderly woman with a leather-bound Bible find an expert in book repair.
“I didn’t want to ruin the pages,” Chelsey recalled. “She’d had it since she was a child. We’re always aware that what we’re working on could have a lot of meaning.”
Robert and Chelsey’s older children already have pitched in to help on some jobs. And on a daily basis, Robert feels as if he is honoring his father, who passed away in 2020.
“Every time I fix something, I think of all he showed me,” he said. “It brings out a lot of memories for me, too.”