Father’s Day (Extreme Green)
By Mike Southon
While some may dismiss the recent Father’s Day celebrations as another cynical exercise to support the greeting card industry, it is still a great excuse to spend the day enjoying fun and interesting father and child adventures.
Perhaps the most challenging father and child adventure would be to start a business together. In the nineteenth century, the words ‘and son’ applied to a business, was a token of security and longevity amongst the new wave of middle class industrialists and traders. But as companies began to grow and hire more experienced management, many firms dropped the family epithet in order to appear more substantial, especially in international markets.
I am often asked if I think that family firms are a good idea, and I always reply that, on balance, the binds that hold a family together are generally very effective in encouraging the teamwork required for a successful enterprise. But I sometimes find myself mentoring young entrepreneurs who have been sent to this country for a good education, specifically to bring this expertise back home to the family business. They have now developed new entrepreneurial ambitions away from their roots, and feel torn between the two options.
Occasionally a father and child may decide to work together in later life, as happened with eco-friendly company Extreme Green. The senior member of the team, Bob Sands, had a very successful twenty-five year career on the front line of chemical cleaner product development, but always working for other people. His son, Tom chose a different career, working for various marketing agencies to develop their consumer and business brands.
A chance conversation lead them to the conclusion that there was an excellent new market for ecologically friendly chemicals which not only did as good a job as the traditional products, but were also attractive to the major retail chains and to consumers. Extreme Green now has a wide range of environmentally friendly products, including ten household cleaning products and a range of garden care range that includes patio cleaners and rodent repellents.
As well as being totally biodegradable, all of their products have a high level of integrity, being free of any manufacturing shortcuts, such as harmful additives, that might make the products potentially hazardous to use. Extreme Green uses only the lowest toxicity ingredients to ensure the products are kind to people and to the planet. Nothing is tested on animals, and even their rat repellent product ‘Ratty’ makes the rats disappear with no environmental damage or dead bodies to pick up by the tail
Major retail chains, including Homebase and Home Hardware, have enthusiastically taken up Extreme Green’s products. For B&Q they provide a range of exclusive products, such as a decking cleaner, and they are often asked to design bespoke chemicals, including a biodegradable rail de-icer for the train operators.
Their view on being a family business is that they are definitely having fun, although there can be occasional robust discussions where the other family members think about quietly hiding the sharp objects in the kitchen.
Both men are essentially happier as ‘back-room’ boys, Sands Senior designing ever better products and Sands Junior creating even more attractive packaging for their own and their clients’ products. They realised they needed complimentary skills and resources to grow the business, so appointed Craig Huth, one of their angel investors, as Managing Director, Kevin Vyse as head of marketing and James Nicholson-Smith from the FD Centre as part-time finance director. Growth funding has been arranged with the Royal Bank of Scotland who advanced them £150,000 via the Government’s Enterprise Finance Guarantee.
In the pre-internet days their challenge would be how best to raise and spend the large sums necessary for marketing their products to make them household names. Nowadays the Innocent Drinks phenomenon shows that it is entirely possible to build a powerful consumer brand by word of mouth only, so long as you have a good premise and a funky brand, which is well thought out and effectively taps into the collective zeitgeist of the buying public.
The traditional route would be to pay a celebrity to endorse your products, but this can be seen nowadays as commercial and manipulative. Next generation celebrities prefer to enhance their own and other people’s brands by extolling the virtues of a wonderful new product they have cleverly discovered themselves, on Twitter and Facebook.
Everyone today realises they need to be greener. The Sands’ message, for celebrities and consumers alike, is that everyone should be Extreme Green.
Extreme Green can be found at www.extremegreen.co.uk
This article Copyright CMike Southon 2009 All Rights Reserved
Not to be reproduced without permission in writing
Originally published in The Financial Times
Mike Southon can be contacted at [email protected], www.beermat.biz