Can Bogobrush’s Sustainable Toothbrush Be A Sustainable Business?
Heather McDougall says that her interest in designing an oral health product “began when we were kids.” Raised in Fargo, she and her brother, John, followed separate career paths—she in law, he in design. It was in school that Heather says they both became “passionate about sustainability” and began to discuss how they might combine their skill sets to cultivate social and environmental awareness.
Given a family history in dentistry, Heather and John looked into oral health and found that 80 million Americans lack access to dental care. It culminated in the idea for a biodegradable toothbrush that had a “buy one, give one” concept (popularized by Toms shoes, among others)—for every toothbrush purchased, a second would be given to a person in need.
The siblings launched St. Paul-based Do. LLC, and the Bogobrush in February 2012. They settled on nylon bristles and bamboo—a fast-growing, relatively pesticide-free, biodegradable plant—for the toothbrush’s handle. Marketing to date has been through a media PR campaign and word-of-mouth.
The Bogobrush is sold only through its website (for $10, while a $40 subscription ensures a new brush will be sent to the customer and someone in need every three months for one year). The product run was financed through an online campaign where buyers paid when they placed their orders—4,000 came in an initial burst in late 2012, but they did not reach a threshold high enough to create a production run until late 2013, when 10,000 toothbrush handles were produced at their Chinese supplier (bristles are added in Wisconsin). Technically the company remains in pre-order mode, two years after Bogobrush’s debut.
The plan is to partner with clinics, dentists, and other oral health care organizations to distribute Bogobrush. Heather says one such partner is Coon Rapids-based Apple Tree Clinic, which provides care for low-income patients at brick-and-mortar clinics and via trucks that travel throughout the state.
The McDougalls say they have personally incurred nearly $50,000 of a total of $120,000 in startup costs, but ongoing investment is minimal. The siblings have considered seeking outside capital, but sales have slipped to a couple hundred brushes a month due to unavailability of product, so the timing hasn’t been right. While the concept percolates, John is working as a designer with General Motors in Michigan, while Heather devotes her time to the business.