Brad Black and Susan Griffin-Black realized a long time ago that they wouldn’t be very good employees in a business.
“We’re both entrepreneurial and we both had businesses before we launched EO Products,” says Black, a co-founder and co-CEO along with Griffin-Black. “Once we drank the Kool-Aid, there was no going back to the other side.”
Griffin-Black was a clothing designer traveling in London in the mid-1990s when she found a small company focused on aroma therapy.
“It was like a little integrated pharmacy with aroma therapy, Chinese medicine and homeopathy,” Griffin-Black says. “They made bath and body care products as well and I thought it was just a beautiful model. I was really taken by essential oils and decided we would pursue selling products here.”
EO launched in 1995 as a private label program from Bloomingdale’s. Twenty years later, the business has 95 employees and is able to research, develop, manufacture and ship products from a 40,000-square-foot facility in Marin County to millions of customers around the world. Sales have grown by an average of 30 percent each year.
“To get the company to where it is now required looking at the end game and working backward,” Griffin-Black says. “We started very organically in the garage, moved to a warehouse space, then a bigger warehouse space and have grown in accordance with our values and the people that have joined us along the way.”
Adhere to your values
As Black and Griffin-Black built their business, they wanted to do it without the support of private equity or venture capital funding.
“We wanted to grow the company in accordance with our values and have an integrated life,” Griffin-Black says. “As with any small business, getting through those critical points, understanding cash flow and managing the fits and starts of a business has always been challenging. It’s taken many years.”
The pair are passionate about things that are organic and natural, and they wanted to ensure that every product they produced fit that description.
“It became very important to us from a health standpoint not only for people, but for the planet,” Black says. “We manufacture all of our products because it’s important for us to really be involved and take control and accountability for what we do. We’re like farmers and very engaged in that process.”
EO develops all its own formulas, sources all of its ingredients and has relationships with everyone that is involved in any way with its products.
“We were the first body care company to be certified non-GMO (genetically modified organism),” Black says. “We were one of the first to have a certified organic facility and integrate recycled content into our bottles. We’re constantly going to the plate with different things that end up making it to the mainstream. That’s been a challenge to try to stay focused on what’s unique for us and try not to get caught up in the mainstream or the demand for us to be in another space.”
The commitment to staying true to its mission has never wavered, but that occasionally leads to some difficult times. A shortage of a particular ingredient led to a search for a substitute that needed to be GMO certified.
“It would be easier, if that were important to us, to just have somebody else make it and then it would be a different product,” Black says. “We ended up going with a certified non-GMO item, so we adhered to our values. There are times when it becomes very difficult. However, our actions are shown in the products we make.”
Let it flow
EO ships out more than 700,000 units every month and has built a strong team to make that possible. It wasn’t always easy, but Griffin-Black says she and Black have always been upfront with their employees, no matter the situation.
“We roll up our sleeves and we’re in the thick of it always,” Griffin-Black says. “When there were issues or problems, we got deeply involved and engaged in solving them and pulled together as a team. We would go to a four-day workweek. We would all sit together and try to brainstorm and solve problems. We involve everyone and we’re transparent with what the issues are.”
The goal is to have a group of employees who love their work as much as the company’s owners, says Black.
“It’s not about squeezing the last bit of lifeblood out of them so they put more time in,” he says. “We want people to go on vacation and be happy in their space because they are so much more productive. That integration and responsibility for the greater good of the community; it just flows so much easier.” ●