Tuesday, June 28, 2022

How Failure Became the Secret to Success for Eco Lips

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Since its founding in 2003, Eco Lips has managed to become an Iowa essential business and has doubled sales year after year while introducing innovative ideas into the natural products community. There is much more than meets the eye when it comes to Eco Lips and their Founder and CEO Steve Shriver. Steve Shriver is not afraid to credit a lot of Eco Lips’ current success to past failures that he and the team had to navigate through, making the lows steppingstones for change, innovation, and strength. Any entrepreneur today could take those lessons as well and learn something from them. Before there even was an Eco Lips, Shriver’s wife Andrea was making the original formula on their stovetop for family and friends. With an entrepreneurial spirit, Shriver knew that the unique, effective formula was something missing in the current market. And so, he slowly began the journey to Eco Lips through Raining Rose, a private label company named after Steve and Andrea’s daughters, Hadley Rose and Lindsay Rain. At 30-years-old, the Shrivers sold Raining Rose to focus 100% on the launch of Eco Lips and partnered with Jim and Jolene King, who had developed a mother & son natural products marketing company in the late 1990s. “It was the evolution of two families coming together,” explains Jim King. “At the time, there wasn’t much out there in the natural products industry like there is today. We wanted to create a gateway product to educate people on natural alternatives out there.” A mission that to this day is at the core of Eco Lips. “At the time, no one was using the word ‘eco’ in anything.” Begins Steve Shriver. “We decided that it was important to us to offer a low risk, organic product to people in hopes of inspiring them to look further into the natural products and eco-friendly world. We wanted to change the world with lip balm. A potent formula that was natural and made with the highest quality ingredients without a ridiculous price tag.” After initially launching, Eco Lips went straight to the mass market…and failed. “We spent way too much money on distribution and frankly, didn’t really know what we were doing,” Shriver admits. “We wanted to be a mass-market product so bad and tried to quickly jump our way into the arena. When we realized our mistake and had already run out of money, we knew that we needed to back up and start small. We messed up, but we were committed to fixing it.” Through personal relationships and knocking on every door, King and Shriver managed to salvage Eco Lips. They started by targeting one retailer at a time, making their way into natural food stores, grocery stores with natural sections, consignment shops, and building a foundation with smaller local shops — eventually making it their way to major retailers like Whole Foods, Sprouts and Walmart. However, that was only the start of chaos for Eco Lips. In 2006, just a few years after launching, Eco Lips had run out of money. “We were losing $30,000 a month at one point,” recalls Shriver. Making changes in the brand was essential for its own livelihood. Then, while things were seemingly getting better, the 2008 flood of Cedar Rapids, Iowa happened which wiped out the city, including the Eco Lips headquarters. After working to relocate and rebuild, the recession hit Eco Lips. Eventually, they were able to keep sales flat for a while, but it wasn’t enough to keep Eco Lips up, running, and innovating. Shriver didn’t want to imagine dismantling the brand, and instead stepped down as CEO, leaned out of the company’s payroll, and took a job with Frontier Natural Products Co-op, running its aromatherapy division. At the time, VP of Sales, Mark Patterson, took over Steve Shriver’s role of CEO. While things seemed to be picking up, the Eco Lips family faced a tragedy in 2012 when Patterson suddenly passed from a sudden aortic aneurysm. “I needed to come home to my family,” says Shriver. “Having to step down was not easy, but it also allowed me the opportunity to work in the industry I wanted to penetrate, and actually gain experience. I learned a lot from my time at the Frontier, and I was able to bring that back to Eco Lips.” In 2015, Shriver’s success was clear, and Eco Lips had become profitable again. Eager to create an innovative new product, Eco Lips developed the first refillable lip balm, but things didn’t go well. Consumers weren’t ready, and the brand lost $1 million on their unique new product. “After everything we had been through, it was the first time in our history that I actually had to lay people off,” Steve Shriver remembers. “It was a very hard learning experience.” Thankfully, Shriver pivoted, making Eco Lips the natural products industry leader that we see it as today. Despite the current health pandemic, Shriver seems hopeful. “We are very lucky. We haven’t had to let go of anyone during this difficult time and are seeing steady sales. I do think this crisis will make us better. I’ve seen people become better; we are giving more, respecting more, and working together. Our goal has always been to create affordable, sustainable products while also taking care of people and the environment.” Success is not an overnight game or even something that is steadily achieved over a certain amount of years. Businesses are unpredictable, but what Eco Lips and their leadership shows us is that great businesses also include great people. Failure can be a stepping stone to much more rather than a time to throw in the towel. All the failures behind Eco Lips have set the brand up for success.
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