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Tom's of Maine - Leader of Natural Products
Background: "Romancing the Land"
The year was 1968. When they said goodbye to corporate America and left Philadelphia to begin their life in the country, little did Tom and Kate Chappell know that their first journey to bring them closer "back to the land" would lead them to a larger and more dynamic journey filled with excitement.
Tom and Kate chose the rural town of Kennebunk, Maine to raise their family. When they settled into their new home, they decided they would only eat what's natural - straight from the rich, fertile land - and use products that were made from natural, fresh ingredients. They vowed to stay away from adulterated and processed products. For them, the most important thing was their health and their children's.
Doing it Their Way: The Birth of Clearlake
No matter where they looked, the Chappells could not find any personal care products that were pure and natural; the ones they found either had too many chemicals, preservatives or artificial by-products. The absence of natural products motivated them to create their own. In no time, they were selling their homemade products to friends who kept asking them for more.
Inspired by this repeat business from their little community, Tom and Kate borrowed $5,000.00 from a friend. That loan would later turn out to be manna from heaven, because what happened next was the birth of a very successful type of detergent that passed the "environment-friendly" grade: Clearlake.
Determined to make products that would not harm the environment, Tom and Kate's Clearlake would soon become the country's first liquid laundry detergent without phosphates. Apart from being an all-natural detergent, consumers were attracted to the refillable containers. Using their entrepreneurial talent, the couple added a postage-paid mailer to the containers so that their customers could return them to be re-used.
By doing it their way, Clearlake took on a life of its own. To celebrate this milestone, Tom and Kate made a promise: they would make their company a "different kind of company" with a special theme: respect for customers and for the environment.
Entrepreneurship Has Its Rewards
One thing led to another. It was only natural for this enterprising couple to use their maiden product, Clearlake, as the launching pad for other natural products.
In the first five years of operations, the company branched out to personal hygiene. In 1975, the first natural toothpaste appeared in the market. When their child Eliza was born, Tom and Kate developed the first natural shampoo for babies. Other safe products - natural deodorant, mouthwash and natural shaving cream - followed.
Success breeds success, they say, and that's exactly what happened to these two friends of the environment. Eight years after they introduced their natural toothpaste, Tom's of Maine - the name they chose for their company - generated almost $2 million in sales, and was well-entrenched in the health food business.
To ensure continuing growth of their business, however, Tom needed an effective distribution system for their products. He inked a deal that would enable his company to sell through supermarket and pharmacy chains.
Progressive Distributors and CVS were the first outlets that agreed to put Tom's of Maine products on their shelves; they were displayed along with the big manufacturing names. Soon, other supermarkets and drug stores followed, impressed by the commitment and dedication of Tom and Kate Chappell.
Firm Belief in Health Food Heritage
Unspoiled by their success in the mass market, the Chappells held dearly to their values about healthy natural food. In fact it was this belief that served as the fuel for introducing and aligning several natural brands; they maintain close relationships with their health food partners. They have to - their success means success also for Tom and Kate.
To demonstrate their commitment to health food, Tom and Kate's approach consists of:
- consistent selection of top quality natural ingredients
- monitoring of safety and effectiveness standards for all of their products
- avoidance of animal-testing methods
- 100% reliance on herbs and other plants as main ingredients for products
- the use of the following: hops (for deodorants); pure flavor oils (for oral care products); rosemary and Vitamin C (for bar soaps, with no EDTA added)
- total avoidance of everything artificial: colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, chemicals
Note: EDTA is a chemical compound often used in the manufacture of food, dairy products, oil, soft drinks with ascorbic acid and others.
To say that the company has grown is an understatement. Sales have exploded, forcing the Chappells in 2006 to partner up with a multinational - Colgate Palmolive - to keep up with growth.
The small family business that started in Kennebunk, Maine is now an independent division of Colgate Palmolive where Tom and Kate are CEO and Vice President respectively.
So as not to waiver in their commitment, the couple stands behind their simple and direct approach: listen to customers' likes and dislikes and then offer them excellent natural-based products.
Tom's and Kate's Vision
The vision of promoting animal-free products took on definite meaning for Tom and Kate in the start-up phase of their venture. This vision remains the primary force that holds the company together to this day. Since the company's birth in 1970, they have not deviated from this vision. Their efforts have paid off handsomely. They are now # 1 in the natural care product industry. And it's easy to see why.
The company has:
- almost 200 employees
- a product line of 90 different products
- a distribution network that moves Toms of Maine products to 40,000 retail outlets in the US and overseas
Tom and Kate's vision is far from an empty or half-baked vision. Unlike most start-up and established companies who have problems defining their vision accurately, Tom's of Maine starts on a core of beliefs and values.
Those beliefs and values guide the company and its employees in choosing methods and processes to make and sell their products. But more than these methods and processes is something more meaningful: building solid relationships with employees, customers, partners and suppliers.
This vision can therefore be summarized in this simple equation:
VALUES + RELATIONSHIP BUILDING + SAFE AND NATURAL PRODUCTS
Three simple components that equal success; this success in turn translates into profits - profits that are earned with social responsibility as the guiding theme. The saying, do unto the environment what you want it to do to you, is relevant.
Tom's of Maine has been in the business for more than 35 years, and signs are it is good for at least another 35 profitable years. They believe in providing families everywhere in the world with safe and effective products. A simple but powerful idea sustains this phenomenal growth: do what's right for people and the environment.
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