Eco-Me was founded in 2006 as Robin Kay Levine cleaned her sister’s house and was put off by the noxious chemical odors coming from the standard cleaning products she was using. She started making her own eco-friendly, all-natural cleaning products, and pulled in her friend Jen to help with the project.
Robin and Jen quickly grew from a single all-natural DIY cleaning kit to an expanding line of 17 products that were being sold at Target, Whole Foods, and other retail outlets. Robin and her friend, Jen, worked hard to make Eco-Me profitable and grew to the point of hiring six employees and seeing $500,000 in profit.
While the business was struggling, with debts totaling over a half-million dollars, The Profit host Marcus Lemonis understood the recent popularity and trends toward all-natural cleaning products in the booming cleaning products industry. Marcus wanted to see if he could help Robin make Eco-Me profitable and take the company to the next level.
Eco-Me on The Profit
The Profit Season 1 Episode 4
The first thing Marcus saw when he went to visit Eco-Me was employees manually filling bottles and putting on labels, an inefficient method of production that he saw as a significant issue. He told Robin that he was impressed with the branding efforts she and Jen had made. However, Jen lives across the country from Robin, and Marcus questioned the effectiveness of working with an employee who lived so far away. Robin explained that Jen had been an invaluable resource for the early sales success of the company and that they were incredibly proud of what they had accomplished together so far.
Robin told Marcus she had not taken a paycheck since she started the business, and Jen had not been paid for her efforts in quite a while as the company’s debt grew to $500,000. Both were concerned that if they did not get some funding, the business would go under.
Eco-Me products are made from vinegar, water, a solubilizer, and a mixture of essential oils. Each product was given a personal name, such as a floor cleaner called “Dave.” Marcus referred to this naming process as the worst marketing idea he had ever heard. But the names were important to Robin, who said that what mattered most was what customers saw on the shelf. Marcus disagreed, saying that what was inside the bottle is what mattered and told Robin she was making a mistake. Robin responded that while she respected Marcus’ opinion, he was wrong.
Marcus laid out what he thought were Eco-Me’s most glaring issues as a lack of proper production machinery and their inefficient production process, and expressed additional concerns about the sales team being thousands of miles from the company home.
A member of the production team explained to Marcus the tedious and time-sucking production process involving faulty machinery and manually placing labels on the bottles. The production team was only able to produce 1,200 bottles at a time, preventing the ability to fill large orders with higher profit margins. He was shocked to learn that it could take over a full minute to fill a single cylinder. This was unacceptable.
The Profit host strongly believed in Eco-Me’s product line, as well as the people behind the business. He offered Robin $500,000 in exchange for a 20% equity share in the company. Of course, the deal also came with Marcus taking over the business for one week. He would pay off their debt, purchase new production equipment, and take over the handling of the finances.
Like many business owners who come to The Profit, Robin was hesitant to hand over control of the company that she had built but willing to make the sacrifice to help save her business. She was particularly concerned that Marcus would fire one of her employees, but she accepted the check and handed Eco-Me over to Marcus.
As he announced he would be taking over the business operations for a week, Marcus outlined the issues he saw in the operation of Eco-Me to the rest of the team, explaining that everyone in the company had a lot to lose if things continued as they had been going. A brand new production machine that cost $180,000 was able to churn out filled and labeled bottles ten times faster than the former process.
A couple of buyers Marcus brought in to review Eco-Me’s products began criticizing the labeling and product names, telling them that the product was not ready. Jen immediately got defensive and could not give a clear explanation of what the product actually does. Marcus felt that Jen was not in the right role in sales.
A focus group Marcus brought in to evaluate the products and branding also was not taking to the naming and labeling of Eco-Me products. Marcus was frank with Robin, telling her directly that the names had to go, which upset Robin, who walked away. Ultimately she agreed that she might have made some poor branding choices.
Marcus brought in a graphic designer who created a new tree-shaped logo for the Eco-Me product bottle. Robin resisted the change in branding, but at this point, Marcus was in charge.
Next, Marcus brought Jen to a big sales meeting with an executive from the Strand Hotel, whose business could result in three times the profit for Eco-Me. Jen was unprepared and unable to answer basic questions about their products. Marcus was not impressed with her performance and felt she did not step up for this crucial meeting. He offered to coach Jen in sales techniques if she was willing.
The graphic designer let Marcus know that Robin went behind his back to change the labels. He was not pleased and let her know that it violated his trust, as well as the details of their agreement. While they spoke, Robin admitted that she overstepped and has a tendency to be a bit of a control freak.
When the new production equipment arrived and began churning out their product more efficiently, Robin was happy with the results and admitted she could not succeed without the help of The Profit and Marcus. Jen was improving and taking Marcus’ advice to heart, and the business was benefiting and thriving as a result of his efforts.
Eco-Me After The Profit
While he was no longer involved with the company, Marcus helped Eco-Me broker a strategic asset purchase with the Kittrich Company in 2014, selling off his portion of the company. Eco-Me is still in operation today.
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