Susan Griffin-Black: Co-Founder & Co-CEO of EO Products

Episode 403

Susan Griffin-Black, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of EO Products, is one fabulous entrepreneur! Both of EO Products brands, EO and Everyone For Every Body, are made beautifully with active botanicals and pure essential oils that are amazing. The company operates a zero-waste, certified green facility in California using non-GMO ingredients while never using parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, synthetic fragrances, aluminum or any of the other yucky stuff. I love everything about EO as well as its Co-Founder Susan, and you are going to love listening to this podcast! On this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be you just want to make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone. It’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I am so thrilled to have my next guest. Here we have Susan Griffin-Black who is the co founder and CO CEO of EO products. And if you have not seen or tried EO products you’ve been living under a rock. You may not know Susan, because she is a local person. And in the Bay Area, I’ve known her for a while and is as lovely as can be, and makes a terrific terrific tribe of products called the EO products. There’s a couple of different products underneath that umbrella that she’ll talk about, as well. But EO makes personal care products under the brand names, EO and everyone for everybody with active botanicals and pure essential oils. They operate a zero waste certified green facility in California using non GMO ingredients while never using parabens, sodium lauryl sulfate, which is my pet peeve and so many products. That’s why I love EO. And they also do not use synthetic fragrances, aluminum or any of the other yucky stuff, as I love to call it. So I love everything about this company, including this co founder, Susan, who I am so delighted to have with me here today. So everybody can hear a lot more about her story and about the company and all of that. So without further ado, welcome, Susan.

Susan Griffin-Black 2:19
Thank you so much, Kara. So glad to be be here with you and to just get a chance to talk about business and life and how great, thank you. Thank you for having me.

Kara Goldin 2:33
I am so honored that you’re here. And before we get into hearing about EO products as a company, I’d love to hear what it like did you ever think that you would be an entrepreneur and that soap or personal care space? Or however you’d look at it? Did you think that this is what you would be doing?

Susan Griffin-Black 2:55
Well, I didn’t know what, how, how I would be an entrepreneur. But I was sort of one of those kids with a lemonade stand at eight. And you know, that parlayed into babysitting camps during the holidays, and a lot of you know, creative ways because I really liked having my own money. And I realized that early on. And so and I’m the oldest of three girls, and my sisters live locally also. And we’re all entrepreneurs. And I say, you know, part of it’s because we’re unemployable and bossy. And part of it is because we were really taught to build our own power base. And so that we would have more options and more choice. And my, my father who’s still with us today is 89. And he was a very early feminist and really sort of preached that to us. And so that’s how it turned out. My both of my sisters are in the restaurant business. And this is our 28th year at eo

Kara Goldin 4:04
28 years. Amazing. That is that is wild. So what was the impetus for for starting EO products?

Susan Griffin-Black 4:14
Yeah, to be as short and succinct as possible. I was finishing up my last gig in the clothing business and had the honor and privilege of working with the late Doug Tompkins who, as we know is a great conservationist and, you know, has done so many wonderful things in Chile, with his wife, Chris McDivitt. And in terms of land preservation, and just national parks making that available and accessible and

Kara Goldin 4:47
he was a spree Correct. Yes. So remember that brands?

Susan Griffin-Black 4:53
Yes. So he and Suzie Tompkins were the original founders of a spree. She left for a bit and He hired me in 1990. And I worked there and was so fascinating to really understand, for the first time in my career in the garment business, you know, how things were really made, and what the cotton situation was in terms of just how unsustainable how toxic in terms of workers, how they were growing plants, and so forth. And just really gave me a different sense about interdependence, and how you have choices. And it opened a portal for me to want to understand how we can do better, and make things in a more sustainable way. And so, you know, just just people who I met during that time, I mean, you know, all David Brower and David Forman and Anita Roddick, and everyone came to any vancian art, you know, came through there to really talk about this in the early 90s. So really just expanded my knowledge and vision about what was important when manufacturing and how responsible manufacturing is possible. And much more complicated, because didn’t really have the infrastructure. And so while I was on a buying trend trip in London, I, you sort of came across this beautiful apothecary, in Covent Garden, and I smelled this lavender essential oil. And I looked around, and I just thought, that’s what I want to do. And so, you know, I could see that I had my eye on future projects. And then when Susie came back in and bought the company, you know, it was sort of time to go. And so I did sort of a startup in a startup and just kept going. And EO was launched in 1995, as a project for Bloomingdale’s for the Holiday Catalog, because I had those connections. And then, you know, sort of one store of time and one product at a time. And at that time, we were doing a lot of hand filling with a very simple, you know, filling machine and hand labeling and all of it. You went from the garage to a little sort of, you know, industrial space in the American Ken building, and then eventually moved to Marin and just kept going.

Kara Goldin 7:51
That’s, that is wild. We had Deborah Lippmann on here. She told this very funny story of when she was first starting and hand pouring her nail polishes and her first, as she says victim was Martha Stewart, who was a friend of hers, she sent her samples and Martha turned off the air conditioning in the house because she was traveling for a month. And then she came home to nail polishes that had blown up. Oh my god, I was just I was dying of the story. So it’s a I love all of the founder entrepreneur stories that people tell what was kind of the, the craziest story back in the early days.

Susan Griffin-Black 8:42
Right that? Well, one of them for sure is, you know, Whole Foods wouldn’t bring up our products in. And so and our kids were going to Greenwood school, and we had everybody in the whole school right on the community board to bring in EO so they finally finally had to you know, and at that time, because we really grew up with whole foods, the whole foods, maybe had 50 stores, and they had buyers for each store, and to had total control and stuff so and they became friends and then we just, you know, went to the next and the next and

Kara Goldin 9:18
here we are. That’s wild. So what makes EO products so unique today? I mean, obviously you mentioned you started inside of Bloomingdale’s. That was you know you loved the smell of lavender and you wanted to create products but this is a very competitive space and has gotten more competitive over the years. Obviously, you’ve expanded your SKU mix to but but you guys have really continued to grow significantly and and also just like get better. I mean your products are just beautiful. They They still smell wonderful. But the ingredients, you have really put stakes in the ground around, you know, quality, which I love. So how have, like, how is that happened? I mean, you built a brand that is solid? And like, how did you know how to do that?

Susan Griffin-Black 10:21
I think, because I didn’t know how to do it in some ways that really served us because we were very open and flexible to dealing with what was actually happening. And for us, you know, we actually became very nerdy makers, not really, marketers, because once we really got involved in green chemistry, and using essential oils as the basis for their therapeutic properties, and also their fragrant properties, then it sort of gave us a charter of what we would and wouldn’t do. From early on, you know, we didn’t make a foaming product until we could get sodium lauryl sulfate out, we, you know, so it was more about what we weren’t putting in, but I sort of liked the analogy of, you know, you can you can order a salad with a Vinod gret at sizzler or shaper nice. And they say put nice uses, you know, the five most beautiful ingredients and the most beautiful quality ingredients. And the other end of the continuum doesn’t, and they probably use more than five, because in order to flavor it with those less quality ingredients, they have to use sort of more processed ingredients. So that the spectrum for fragrance and for ingredients is really just runs the gamut. And it’s on that continuum. And so we have always been committed to using very high quality, safe, and plant based ingredients since our inception. And we haven’t veered from that at all. And we’ve been able to develop ways to work with essential oils, because we had to, and you know, necessity was the mother of invention. And we brought in all sorts of chemists and talk to our suppliers and you know, their technical departments to go sort of where other people hadn’t been before.

Kara Goldin 12:31
So you’re still private 28 years later, you have not been acquired have watched, you know, other companies in the space, I would imagine people have reached out to you over the years. Yeah, for years. But why have you made the decision to stay private,

Susan Griffin-Black 12:51
but we wanted control. I mean, it’s pretty simple, right. And the model of private equity is something I had personally never believed in. Because depending on where you get in, and how how, how much time you have, before the fund expires, you know, you’re just you’re sort of in the, in a really fast flow with one goal only, and that’s to increase the valuation and sell the company. And, you know, that didn’t really feel right, on any level, you know, but I mean, this was my second career and also Brad second career. And so we were in our I was 40. And I had my daughter at 41, actually, but when we started and so you know, that’s a very different place to start a company from, we had much loftier goals, like, you know, we want to start a company that we would want to work for, or, you know, we want to work from, you know, eight to four, everybody’s gone by 430 to spend time with their families. It’s a great place for parents, because we totally understand what’s involved. That’s why we manufacture in Marin, I never wanted to go to Richmond, because I didn’t want my kid to be sick on the other side of the bridge, you know, so all of these things. And we were able to slowly build a company with our values, which is still intact in that same way. You know, we can we, we could never pay the highest, but we were we’ve always been a great place to work. And so, you know, they and and we have just attracted people who have that same sensibility.

Kara Goldin 14:40
Yeah, no, definitely. And I think like the other thing that I feel like, is definitely present is you worked for an incredible founder prior. And I did, as well a few different founders and I think that no matter what happens along your, your journey, you pick up things along the way, and you pick up values. And hopefully you pick up values. You also see when people do the wrong thing along the way. But you clearly having worked for Doug, sounds like you had an incredible mentor along the way that sort of taught you to, you know, question, the status quo and, and even though other products in the category, we’re doing things one way, ask why and all of those things that I think you clearly have have done an excellent job of you have two lines of products to companies, I guess, is the way to talk about it. So EEO products, and every one for every body? Can you explain the difference for consumers?

Susan Griffin-Black 15:54
Yeah, so EEO was our initial brand, and, you know, very formulated with the highest quality essential oils, and also some very expensive essential oils, and supporting active botanicals. And that’s the one we launched in Bloomingdale’s and Whole Foods, and is really distributed nationally, and also online. And we, my son, and his band came home, in like, 2010 2011, and I was in the bathroom picking up towels, you know, there were like six guys who would just come through town stay with me, my little place and, and I was like, I looked around at all the products in there. And I was like, had to call them an immediate focus group. I was like, Have I taught you nothing? What is all this? What is this, you know, stuff. And yes, and they, and they’re like, Mama, you know, we can’t really afford the Oh, and the packaging too small. And, you know, so we went through a whole sort of process. And at the same time, Whole Foods, we had been doing all purpose soap for them, you know, cobranded. And we just sort of looked, Brad and I looked at each other, and we sort of just looked around and they thought, you know, we could do a less expensive, more accessible sort of multi use product for maybe a younger audience for families, without compromising any of the quality of E Oh, we just can’t put the sort of more expensive essential oils in, but we still can make something you know, of course, paraben free sodium lauryl sulfate free, and no synthetic fragrance available to families. And so we just started with three, three, and one soaps and three lotions in 20, end of 2012. And that just took off because I think the the appeal is was is, you know, women would buy EEO for themselves. And, and then their kids would use everyone. So the guest bathroom has everyone handsoap and, you know, the kitchen, maybe EEO. And so it just sort of expanded the selection for our current customers and then brought us new customers as well. And also just, you know, it was it’s a great value proposition. All of our products are we’ve always been very mindful about pricing and transparent about the way that we price products.

Kara Goldin 18:41
Speaking about the company EO products, is there a hero product within the company that you guys just cannot keep in stock, I mean, it just is above and beyond ahead of maybe some other skews in the line.

Susan Griffin-Black 18:58
I think you know, our lavenders very special, you know, a lavenders aren’t created equal and the way that we’ve developed relationships with growers and distillers and the quality of lavender that we get is just its own its own little, you know, its own thing and so our lavender products really outsell other scents and other products probably two to one.

Kara Goldin 19:28
Yeah, it’s they’re beautiful. I love love love the lavender hand soaps, they’re they’re amazing. So and also your deodorant is excellent, so I hadn’t tried it and you guys were so nice to send me some and it’s really nice. The lavender the spray is really, really, really lovely. So and then you had mentioned you have some new products going into Whole Foods.

Susan Griffin-Black 19:54
We do. Yes, we’re we’re launching everyone haircare as we speak in Whole Foods, yes, as an exclusive, and then we’re launching a line of bath and body care products with Whole Foods later this year.

Kara Goldin 20:10
Oh, that’s amazing. So and obviously you guys are available online as well is, when you look at the last couple of years, obviously, you had the sanitizing that you guys were just insanely busy, I’m sure. What was kind of the big lesson you learned from from COVID in terms of managing a company?

Susan Griffin-Black 20:38
Where do I begin, I was on my way to our trade show in 2020, and it got canceled, because COVID was just happening. And I ended up going to Palm Springs and then to Taos to visit a friend. And then I turned around and raced back because my sister called and said, like, this is real, you got to come on, you know. And I got back on a Friday night, and we had a little store in Mill Valley for a while. Saturday morning, when I woke up, there was a line around the block for hand sanitizer, and I was like, Oh, my God, I just people were upset, and so afraid. And so I just went into the store and and just started handing out hand sanitizer to everyone in line, you know, and we had to everything was on an allotment basis, we were in essential business. So manufacturing, to to fulfill just vocal orders and first responders. And, you know, we, of course, donated a lot of hand sanitizer to UCSF and Kaiser and all of those places. But just the responsibility of being being charged with doing the right thing, getting products to the right places, and then keeping people safe, while making them was a really tall order. And then also, you know, just trying to address the demand, because we knew that we weren’t going to be able to do that. So how could we do it in a way that gave as many people product. And one of the crazy things is when you’re, you know, we’re distributed by manufacturers, so, you know, a lot of things on pallets. And so I went to every every possible store that could have sanitizers and you know, from Walgreens to Mill Valley market to you know, and no one had any hand sanitizer on shelf. And so I thought like, but we’ve got to put it on a pallet to go over here to send it back over here. So we tried to just vocalize deliveries as much as possible. And that normally isn’t the case. You know, well ramping. And then, you know, we were interviewed quite a lot then and, you know, because of being in the sanitizer business, and I remember the Wall Street Journal reporter asking if we had raised our prices, and I was like, no, like, this is a public health crisis. It’s like, who are we Satan, like, this is not a this is an opportunity, but we weren’t really looking at it, like a business opportunity. This was a response to, you know, public health, public health crisis, you know, so we really learned about our values were tested, supply chain, very tested, we over indexed for sure. Because we didn’t really know when the slowdown would be, you know, so we were sort of caught with a lot of inventory and nowhere to sell it, that we had to, you know, sort of get rid of overtime and extra packaging and, you know, all sorts of issues and had to really take a hard look and right size the company. And I think as I said to you, you know, I always felt like I should have gone to, to business school, but I think I should have an honorary MBA now. Because, you know, just walking through the challenges two years after has been been a very much of a learning opportunity.

Kara Goldin 24:45
Definitely me too and I definitely I say 2008 2009 I thought was, you know, one of the toughest learning times to with the financial crisis, but this is a close tie different, but some similarities along the way. So well, best advice last question, best advice that you’ve ever received,

Susan Griffin-Black 25:11
treat people the way you want to be treated and know yourself.

Kara Goldin 25:17
I love that that is beautiful and so so true. I definitely on a lot of fronts love that so much. So Susan Griffin black, thank you so much for all of your wisdom and presence and products. And, and thank you again for coming on. I am agreeing to do this.

Susan Griffin-Black 25:40
Yes, thank you so much, Kara. I have just the utmost respect and admiration for you and everything you’ve created. Thanks so much for having me.

Kara Goldin 25:50
Thank you. Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book on daunted which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 and good bye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening