Method Founders Make Cleaning Cool

Before Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan came along, cleaning products smelled toxic and were hidden under the kitchen sink. Lowry and Ryan changed this when they started Method, an eco-friendly cleaning supply company with aesthetic appeal, which sells its products in mainstream  retail stores across the country.

Their journey to such incredible success was a combination of hard work and a well-matched pair of entrepreneurs.

Missed opportunities

"I always wanted to be an entrepreneur," said Ryan, co-founder of Method.  "I always liked the idea of taking a mature, well-understood category and finding out what cultural shift it had missed. So I started looking at the household cleaning category in 1999 and it was so big, but yet everything seemed so similar and it was just a sea of sameness."

Ryan, however, saw something different.

"When I dug in, I realized they had missed two cultural shifts; life-styling of the home or making attractive products, and the health and wellness, sustainability movement," said Ryan, who along with Lowry and author Lucas Conley recently released "The Method Method: Seven Obsessions That Helped Our Scrappy Start-Up Turn an Industry Upside-Down" (Portfolio Hardcover, 2011).

It was these market opportunities that Ryan and Lowry thought they could capitalize on. The two childhood friends formed the perfect team, with Ryan using his past knowledge in advertising to brand the products, and Lowry using his chemical engineering degree to make non-toxic cleaning products. Their creations soon became a small success when 90 local grocery stores began to carry them. After gaining more investments totaling $1 million in 2001, the two set their sights on a larger operation.  Ryan and Lowry soon got their wish in a phone call from retail superstore Target.

"There were three people working out of our one-room office and getting Target to nationally authorize your product is like winning the Super Bowl of capitalism," Ryan said. "They didn't [carry] us nationally until 2003 after running a test in Chicago and Northern California in 2002. We ultimately failed that test in terms of the metrics that they wanted us to pass, but they realized that we were driving a lot of growth to the category and that is ultimately what got us a national authorization."

Target was just the first of several major stores to carry Method products. The company now sells products ranging from cleaning supplies and shampoos to laundry detergents and hand sanitizers in stores in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, France, Japan and Canada.

Small steps to success

The success behind Method is simple, Ryan said.

"If you are trying to start a new business, it is only going to be a success if no one has done it before," Ryan said. "Which means you need to figure out what works and what doesn't work. So if you are going down a predictable path and making no mistakes, chances are what you are doing is not very different or remarkable. You need to be able to put something out there, learn from it, react from it and move to the next step."

Learning from mistakes and successes is the key to growing your business, but more important, one must read the signs along the way.

"I never really thought there was one place where I was like, 'This could work,'" Ryan said. "There were lots of little clues along the way. The clues start early when you share your concept with people and they offer to invest or help out. Another one was when we tried to get someone to make the product for us and we got someone to agree. Then we got a store manager to agree to carry it. Then consumers bought products in those first stores and we got a major chain to carry it.  Finally, a national chain carried it."

Despite taking years for that scenario to play out, Ryan believes the signs along the way are the best indicators of future success.

"There were tons of little milestones along the way that ultimately build up to your confidence of saying this is a success," Ryan said. "It took years for me to say this is viable."

"Viable" may be an understatement. Ten years after its founding, the company has 100 employees working in its San Francisco office and more than $100 million in annual sales.

Timing is everything

Taking advantage of opportunities is the key to the success of Method, but, according to Ryan, it must come at the right time.

"The biggest lesson I learned is that business is really about timing and how to pace yourself," Ryan said. "Going too fast can kill you and going too slow can kill you. It is really important to know the right speed to grow your company. It’s a bit of a clichée, but it is really about riding the wave."

For those who are afraid to get into the water, though, Ryan believes living in regret is much more frightening than the risk of business failure .

"There are so many people who want to take the leap and start a business," Ryan said.  "It scares a lot of people to take the risk, but I always remind them , what's the worst that could happen and what would you do if it does happen? If you can answer those two questions it takes a lot of the fear out of moving forward."