Back in 2006, Patricia Spencer was a soccer mom and a frustrated entrepreneur. Her plan to create and sell an all-in-one kitchen mixer had stalled out because everyone confused her product with a blender. Standing on the sidelines of a game one typical Saturday, Patricia explained her frustration to Michael Edell, a fellow soccer dad. When he asked about her plan B, Patricia mentioned an idea she’d had years before: She wanted to create an effective, non-toxic, eco-friendly laundry detergent. Michael was intrigued. The next day, Patricia arrived at his office with a presentation about the market potential of a natural, safe detergent. They soon decided to work together, and Patricia, a self-described “closet chemist,” set to work to create her dream product. After a year of nonstop testing, she hit on the formula for making the first pod-based detergent in the homecare industry. Grab Green had officially shifted from concept to company, and Patricia couldn’t wait to introduce the world to her new products. Patricia tells us about starting, running and growing Grab Green and explains why she’s passionate about making “clean” products available to everybody -- and their pets.
Patricia, tell us about how you turned your idea into a product.
For years, I’d watched my kids come inside looking like ragamuffins after playing outside. I’d try to clean their clothes by saturating them with detergent until I realized I was exposing them to terrible and toxic ingredients. As a self-taught chemist, years ago I’d come up with formulas for making a better laundry soap. Once Michael and I teamed up, I went to work to bring them to market.
I reached out to the company that made the film for the first “mono-dose” dishwasher powder. I also contacted a botanical fragrance house to help me come up with the right scent. Fragrance is really challenging, and we ended up launching our first product as fragrance-free. I didn’t have time to figure out the balance of fragrance!
The incredible thing is that all these people were willing to work with me for free. Everyone truly believed in the product, and they stepped up to help me make it. When I think back on that, I’m still amazed.
Describe the operations and manufacturing process for Grab Green.
We have a team of ten employees including one of my “ragamuffin” daughters who now is our integrated marketing manager. Michael and I have very distinctive roles. He handles all the financials and sales. I run the R&D and the creative side of the business. I oversee operations as it relates to production, and I handle marketing to help sales.
I’m still very hands-on with developing the chemistry for new products, including our new line of baby-safe detergents, dryer sheets and a diaper-pail odor remover. I’ve been working on this line for a year and a half, and I’m really excited about it!
All our manufacturers are in the U.S., plus one in Canada. We select our partners and co-packers based on their proficiency in a particular product. It’s probably more challenging for us to work with multiple partners, but our priority has always been to create the absolute best product available. Most of our co-packers have been with us from the beginning, and they all truly believe in our product.
Working with a great team lets me use my entrepreneurial skills much more efficiently and effectively. I need a telescope, a microscope and a wide-angle lens to run Grab Green, and having a trusted team means I can shift from one perspective to the next quickly and easily.
How do you approach building a brand rather than simply creating a product?
My goal is for Grab Green to be recognized as the safe, healthier brand for homecare products. All our detergents and cleaners are third-party-tested to ensure our performance promises stand up. We think constantly about the user experience, too.
We include thoughtful details that set us apart from our competitors. For example, instead of those tricky plastic zippers, we close our pouches with Velcro. We offer traditional scents like lavender and less-traditional fragrances like vetiver, an ancient grass from India. Our packaging is pretty and stylish – no giant white jugs of soap that are bulky and hard to lift. We also offer different collections at various price points. I firmly believe that green products should be available to everyone.
What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were starting out in business?
We would have saved a lot of money in the beginning if we’d said no to all the retailers who had a “slotting fee.” A slotting fee means paying to have your product on a retailer’s shelf. It could be up to $10K per product! We thought it was just what we had to do, and, as a new brand, it took a long time to recoup our money. Now we say thanks but no thanks if someone requests a slotting fee.
Patricia, you’re passionate about creating safe products for pets, too, right?
I am. I’m thinking about how to integrate messaging about using clean products for our fur-babies as well as our human family. We all love our pets, but we don’t always consider how harmful our cleaning products can be for them. I hope to educate people about choosing pet-friendly ingredients for washing bedding or mopping the floor. We need to keep our animals safe from toxins, too.
Now it’s your turn
QB Community members, are you working with a co-packer or manufacturer for your business? Tell us how you’ve built a great relationship with your product partner.
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