How we started an eco-friendly cleaning product business that leverages a successful subscription-based model

Lauren Simonelli & Joe Budzienski (co-founders)
Founded: January 2018
No of employees: 1
Location: USA

ThreeMain is an eco-friendly cleaning brand that offers sustainably packaged, non-toxic products. The brand targets eco-conscious shoppers who are looking to reduce the amount of plastic packaging and toxic chemicals they use in their home. 

As consumers have needed cleaning products more than ever during the pandemic, Covid-19 has produced some availability challenges for the business. But after reintroducing a subscription-based model and leveraging affiliate channels to drive traffic, ThreeMain is on track to reach all sales goals for 2020. We chat to co-founder and Head of Product Lauren to find out more. 

Who are you and what brand did you start?

I’m Lauren, Co-Founder and Head of Product at ThreeMain, located in Boston, MA. ThreeMain is an eco-friendly, household cleaning brand, offering sustainably packaged, non-toxic products for eco-conscious shoppers. We currently offer a Multi-Surface Cleaner, a Bathroom Cleaner, a Liquid Dish Soap, and a Liquid Hand Soap, all in reusable, refillable, aluminum bottles. Our refills use 80% less packaging than a traditional plastic bottle, and are recyclable through our zero-waste recycling program! 

How did you come up with the idea, brand name and logo for ThreeMain?

Health, wellness, and doing my part for the planet have always been important to me. I start each day with a workout, bring my reusable water bottle, snack bag, and coffee mug (to name a few!) with me everywhere, and I always read the labels of anything going on my skin or in my stomach. In late 2017, I found myself taking all of these necessary steps to live healthy, yet I was coming home and cleaning with toxic chemicals from plastic bottles – and I realized that did not fit into my lifestyle. I searched the cleaning aisles in stores, and all I saw were chemicals I couldn’t pronounce, fragrances, neon color dyes, and plastic bottles – so I knew something needed to change.

We started ThreeMain with three main guiding principles – to be simple, sustainable, and effective, from our packaging to our processes, and everything in between. Our name and logo both represent these guiding principles!

Describe the process of launching ThreeMain?

Myself and my business partner Joe started R&D of ThreeMain in late Q4 of 2017 along with George, who is our Chemist and Formulator. 

We spent quite a bit of time evolving the formulas, which included modifying ingredients and processes of addition, testing for microbial and efficacy performance against competitors, collecting market feedback, and more. 

During this time we also explored multiple options for packaging. We considered using PCR (post-consumer resin), Ocean-bound PCR (PCR collected from areas where ocean plastic pollution is at high risk), a blend of the two materials, glass, steel, and aluminum. We chose aluminum because it’s infinitely recyclable, lightweight, durable, and does not contribute to the plastic pollution problem, among other benefits.  

In the summer of 2018, we launched a KickStarter campaign that generated over $20k in sales. We relied on digital marketing tactics to promote the campaign, including social ad campaigns, contests, social media, and some media/influencer outreach. 

The major hurdles we faced early on were mostly related to supply chain and packaging. Within the few years we’ve been established we experienced a warehouse closure and relocation as well as outgrowing our original manufacturing partner and expanding from CT to MA. We also experienced plenty of unexpected delays with various aspects of production. Though stressful, these supply chain hurdles have definitely prepared us well to set proper expectations as we continue to grow! 

The other area we experienced some challenges was packaging. We’re now on our second iteration of aluminum bottles (and made in the USA!), closures (more durable sprayers and soap pumps), and shipping boxes (now with custom inserts to protect products while eliminating the need for any extra or plastic packing materials). 

Since launch, what has worked best to attract and retain customers?

Efficacy and efficiency are the two major needs for cleaning products. In our space, customers are looking for safe alternatives to traditional toxic cleaning products that don’t require them to sacrifice efficacy or efficiency. 

At ThreeMain, we’re giving them just that, along with the ability to reduce their plastic consumption with no extra effort. Solving for these two major needs has helped us to attract and retain customers. From a marketing perspective, we are always fully transparent about our ingredients and packaging, and we take the time to educate potential customers on the purpose and benefits of each ingredient we use.

With regards to business growth, how have things changed from a digital, revenue, customer and sales perspective?

We soft-launched ThreeMain at the start of 2019, and spent the majority of the year learning about our customers and their buying habits, testing various digital marketing channels, and making improvements and additions to our product suite based on customer feedback. 

Towards the end of 2019, we revamped our selling strategy to focus on our subscription model and also began to narrow in on our acquisition strategy, leveraging an Amazon brand store, onboarding several boutique brick and mortar retailers, and putting an emphasis on driving traffic through affiliate channels.

In 2020, we reintroduced individual ordering, but have continued to focus on prioritizing subscription, and leveraging affiliate channels to drive traffic. We have also introduced a series of giveaways, both independently and with like minded brands, as well as our own referral and rewards programs. All of these strategies combined, have helped us to be on target to reach all of our 2020 sales goals.

With regards to managing change during a crisis (e.g. Covid19), what are your biggest learnings and advice to others. 

Covid-19 presented the cleaning products space with a plethora of hurdles. With a significant increase in cleaning and handwashing nationwide, we quickly sold out of our cleaners and hand soaps. Even after restocking with what we thought would be enough inventory to support the incoming volume, we sold out a second time shortly after. This, while on one hand can be a good problem to have, challenged us significantly as we didn’t want to let our subscription customers down in a time when cleanliness was at an all-time high priority. We quickly pivoted our messaging to notify customers of delays, and recalculated our volume projections to ensure we didn’t sell out again. 

Covid-19 also brought delays across all parts of our supply chain. With the state regulating the number of essential employees allowed on-site, our manufacturing and warehousing teams were not able to produce or ship at the pace for which they had done so previously. 

We also saw significant delays, increased costs, and increased minimum order requirements for things like components (soap pumps, trigger sprayers) and raw ingredients. 

As a result of Covid-19’s impact, we introduced greater buffers for every aspect of our supply chain. This included additional supply chain partners, increased budgets, and increased lead time expectations. My recommendation to other new businesses would be to do the same. It’s always important to have alternates for all your supply chain players, but now more than ever, it’s important to have several additional layers.

How is the business doing today and what does the future look like?

Though 2020 has been a challenge, the demand for safe and effective cleaning products has never been better, and we’re thrilled to be able to provide consumers with products that they can feel confident in, especially during such unprecedented times. We are on target to close out 2020 hitting all of our sales projections, and are looking forward to a new year filled with new product launches and exciting new partnerships.

What’s been the biggest learning experience since starting your own brand?

Startups are like roller coasters, full of ups and downs. 

As founders, we feel the highest highs, and the lowest lows. We all know that we should always hope for the best but prepare for the worst – but through this experience I have learned that to be far more than necessary than I had ever expected. 2020 has obviously been a unique year, but even prior, I had learned that you can never expect things to go perfectly. If they do go perfectly, I think you’re lucky, and you’re probably not taking enough risks. If they don’t go perfectly, it’s all part of the ride and what’s to be expected. What matters most is that you are prepared for things to go wrong, prepared to pivot, and always keep your mission at the forefront of all your business decisions.

What are your top 3 tips on how to setup an Ecom store for success?

  1. Research! We initially launched our store on WooCommerce, but quickly found several limitations with our ability to offer subscription-based products. We eventually migrated to Shopify as it was better suited for our product offering, but it was an expensive and time-consuming project to do so! 
  2. Invest in quality development up-front. We have gone through several web development partnerships and iterations to get to where we are today. If you aren’t a developer or have one you trust, engage other companies whose websites you like, to see who they’ve used and might recommend.
  3. Keep your inventory organized. It may seem like a no brainer, but having your inventory clearly labeled and organized will help streamline order management and development, especially when you start to grow your SKU catalog.

What are some of your favorite online business tools you use to run ThreeMain?

Our most utilized tools/platforms have been Google Analytics to track performance, Klaviyo for Email/SMS campaigns, and YotPo for generating and displaying reviews.

TypeTool Name
CMS platformShopify
Project ManagementHomegrown tracking docs in Google Sheets
Email MarketingKlaviyo
AnalyticsGoogle Analytics, Reporting from Shopify & Klaviyo
ShippingUPS, Shopify
PaymentsPaypal, Stripe, Shopify, AmazonPay, GooglePay
AdvertisingWe work with third party agencies to manage
Social Media ToolsWe do most marketing directly in the platforms – Facebook, Instagram, etc.
DesignCanva, Adobe
ReferralsSmile, GoAffPro
CRMKlaviyo, Shopify

See what business tools other founders are using.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts or other educational resources?

“How I Built This” is my go-to podcast. Not as a resource for my business specifically, but rather for challenges I can relate to, and inspiration to innovate and overcome.

Who have been the most influential people for you during this business journey?

One of my favorite entrepreneurs is Sara Blakely, the creator of Spanx. She really has that “started from the bottom” story with self-funding her company and running it out of her apartment when she was just in her mid-twenties. What’s most admirable though, is that through her growth to a billion dollar company, she has kept her original mission to empower women at the forefront. She’s truly inspiring!

Any other advice you’d like to share with other aspiring entrepreneurs?

There is always more to learn and a solid support system goes a long way. Surround yourself with those who support you as well as those you can learn from. I’m fortunate that my family and friends have always been my biggest fans, and that there is a wonderful community of female founders here in Boston, whom I have been lucky enough to learn from.

Where can we go to learn more about your current offers and promotions?

We are currently offering Free Shipping on orders of $25 or more, as well as 30% off of refills when you subscribe to ongoing refill deliveries! Please refer to our website for a list of all current offers

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