Land of 10,000…Cleaning Products?

Land of 10,000…Cleaning Products?

What's behind Minnesota's track record of successful cleaning product businesses?

Minnesota likes to keep it clean. Literally.

From hygiene giant Ecolab to revered household goods brands such as Thymes, Illume Candles, Mrs. Meyer’s, and Caldrea, Minnesota is a virtual mecca for businesses that create cleaning products.

Hot on the market most recently is Minneapolis-based Branch Basics, a plant- and mineral-based multipurpose cleaning concentrate designed for everything from floors to laundry.

Branch has grown from virtually zero revenue in 2017 to over $4 million by the end of 2019, with expectations of doubling that figure in 2020, says CEO Tim Murphy. A subscription program launched by the company just last year already has over 6,000 subscribers.

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Murphy thinks he knows why companies like his have sprung up in Minnesota.

“We have a little bit of a soap ecosystem here, with Mrs. Meyer’s [and] all the big players like Target, General Mills, and Hormel,” Murphy says. “Not only do these companies train people well, but then those people leave the big companies and start other things, so it makes for a sort of dynamic ecosystem.”

Murphy is proof: He spent four years at General Mills before before relaunching Branch Basics in Minneapolis two and a half years ago with Greg Bastian, former senior vice president of finance for Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP. The brand’s niche market allured them; it was founded in Austin, Texas, in 2015 by Marilee Nelson, Allison Evans, and Kelly Love, but the trio had closed down the business for personal reasons. While the founders are still involved from a public relations standpoint, Murphy, Bastian, and three other partners now run the day-to-day operations.

Murphy and Bastian saw the potential to build a national brand for a new generation of eco-conscious consumers. Target is focusing on the same market with Everspring, a line of “clean” cleaning products that launched last year touting natural and recycled ingredients and materials.

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Local retailer Patric Richardson—better known as “The Laundry Evangelist”—can attest to the growing opportunity. He’s been marketing his nontoxic laundry goods line from his apparel and home goods store Mona Williams since 2014. Today, he even offers Laundry Camps, which are exactly what they sound like—classes to teach you how to do your laundry better. Today, his store’s cleaning division has overtaken clothing as the top seller, amounting to roughly 50 percent of revenue.

“There are other parts of the country where people are not so willing to embrace a better way of living or being environmentally friendly.Minnesotans are very willing to embrace both,” Richardson says. “People here want a beautiful life. They’re very interested in taking care of the planet. I think that’s been a huge part of my success.”

Likewise, Pam Helms, who helped launch Mrs. Meyer’s with founder Monica Nassif in 1999 and is now executive director of research and development at S.C. Johnson, says she turned to friends and neighbors as ideal sources to weigh in on the company’s early products.

“There’s a personality type in Minnesota—a kind of outdoorsy, active lifestyle, and that’s definitely the consumer of Mrs. Meyer’s,” Helms says. Plus, Helms, Richardson, and Murphy also note that consumer interest in healthy goods has simply risen in general, both in Minnesota and across the country.

“There’s a macro trend of [caring more about what’s] in, on, and around your body. So, this idea of clean cleaning products—it’s bigger than you might think, and it’s growing quickly,” Murphy says. “We’re definitely riding a wave. And it’s a great wave because everyone’s going to be healthier as a result.”

—Amanda Ostuni