People we Love: Eco Me
Robin Levine and Jennifer Mihajlov have an eco-minded mission—but they needed a little help to make it a success. Just a little over a month ago, their green cleaning product company Eco Me got a business makeover by multi-millionaire Camping World executive Marcus Lemonis, who has made it his mission to invest in and save struggling small businesses and make them profitable. While this is something Lemonis has done for over 100 companies in the past 10 years, he recently started taking his mission to TV via his CNBC show “The Profit.”
Lemonis decided to work with Eco Me, including investing much-needed cash flow into the company, because the company’s environmentally-friendly aspects appealed to him. “Green products work for everyone whether you are truly green or not,” he says. “Who wants chemicals in their products?”
Eco Me’s product roundup, which now includes cleaning, skin care, and pet care products, focus on the natural and contain no sulfates, no perfumes or dyes (phhalates), and no harsh preservatoves. They are rated #1 on ECO SCALE by GreenSeal.org. Here, we check in with co-founder Mihajlov, Eco Me’s VP of Marketing, on how Eco Me found its legs, getting a leg up from Lemonis, and why green cleaning matters.
GreenCleaningMagazine.com: How was Robin inspired to launch a green cleaning products company?
Jennifer Mihajlov: Robin and I have known each other since kindergarten, we grew up together. She moved to California after college and then in 2005 her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35. With no family history of cancer, the doctors said it was likely caused by environmental factors. But, they said it just like it was accepted as a matter of fact. So, Robin started researching further and she went to help her sister in New York and when she opened up her kitchen cabinet she was bowled over by the smells of the commercial cleaners. She had her “aha moment,” and so she started researching the ingredients and found many to be cancer-causing agents
But, most of the bad chemicals weren’t in there to aid the cleaning process; they were preservatives. So, she started looking at what we used before these industrial cleaners became popular.
GCM: How did Eco Me get started?
Mihajlov: In 2006, Robin created a make-it-yourself green cleaning kit that came in a burlap sack with a set of three bottles to make cleaners—one wood polish, one scrub cleanser, and one all-purpose.
I was selling advertising space in New York and having babies but she asked me to help her with the business side of her idea. So, we created these do-it-yourself kits and we took them to a natural products trade show. We created a body kit, a baby kit with essential oils, and dog/cat kit with citronella, too. We started having a lot of feedback that while people liked the idea of the do-it-yourself kits, they really wanted a ready-made product, so we launched that in 2009. Our products were 100 percent natural and we fully disclosed our ingredients—we used simple things like vinegar, water, and baking soda. We loved that we could put that on a bottle and consumers loved that they could understand the ingredients.
GCM: What were Eco Me’s limitations to growth?
Mihajlov: Our rate of sale was great and I closed 99 percent of our accounts, but because we needed a stronger story to explain the products to consumers, we were missing the sell-through at retail. You have 1.5 seconds to make that connection. So, with Marcus’ help, we repackaged the entire line and now it tells our story plus offers full ingredient disclosure.
GCM: How did you get involved with Lemonis and “The Profit?”
Mihajlov: We got connected with the profit in March of last year, they saw us at a trade show. Our struggle as a small company has been working capital and the bigger you are the more you need plus we also knew our labels weren’t working.So, Marcus came in and assessed our business and looked at our challenges, such as packaging and sell-through. The show featuring Eco Me aired August 20th.
GCM: Have Eco Me’s sales grown since then?
Mihajlov: Yes, the support that came in was unbelievable and our website even crashed because sales were doing so well. It’s really amazing to get an email from a breast cancer survivor that says ‘Thank you so much for making these products.’ And then, no matter how much work it all is or how many bumps you may have to deal with in the road, we get goosebumps and feel like it’s all so worth it.”