EO Products’ proud “Made in Marin” line on the labels of its line of personal care products almost had to be rewritten as the company considered whether growing locally still made economic sense for a consumer products maker.
But now the September target is looming for an expansion move to a higher-capacity plant twice as large in San Rafael, thanks to active help from a commercial property owner, city and regional economic developers and public officials.
EO Products this spring signed a 10-year lease for a 40,000-square-foot industrial building at 90 Windward Way in San Rafael. [See "EO Products still 'made in Marin,'" May 28.] It was a sound stage for filmmaker George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic left vacant up until operations moved to San Francisco several years ago, then ILM protege Kerner Optical used the building similarly before it shut down last year.
“We’re making forward progress, and we’re trying to be as aggressive with the project schedule as we can,” said Steve Fox, chief financial officer of EO.
Completing the expansion quickly has become even more critical as the release earlier this year of the lower-cost, larger-sized EO for Everyone brand initially through Whole Foods Market has beat expectations. Recent releases of natural ingredients deodorant and breath spray also are selling well, he said.
“We’re scrambling for capacity,” Mr. Fox said. “Our goal is to bring natural and good-scented products to everyone and not just those who can afford it.”
Toward that goal, the company in June hired Fran Strachan, founder of Zia Natural Skincare that was purchased by Hain Celestial Group, as vice president of sales to get EO for Everyone into more mass-market stores.
The owner of the San Rafael building, Universal Portolio Ltd. of San Rafael, agreed to cut the rent if EO covered the tenant improvement costs. That could get pricey, as the project team has uncovered unexpected issues. First, the planned inventory racking won’t work as envisioned because of the existing fire sprinkler configuration. Also, a number of large electrical panels used to supply ample power for each scene during movie-making are impractical for EO’s workflow and will have to be removed.
Manufacturing process and energy-efficiency consultant W.E.M. Associates of San Rafael still is compiling estimates for a chiller unit that will allow city water circulated through cooling jackets around the batch kettles during the emulsification phase of production to be recirculated through the jackets rather than being directed to the sewer, cutting water use by up to 80 percent. That’s part of EO’s five-year goal to be a zero net waste producer.
The company is working with Marin Municipal Water District on the water-reduction plan.
And there’s potential that equipment washdown water, which in EO’s case would be shampoo, soaps and lotions like a giant shower, could be recycled as greywater for later use in irrigation at a planned nearby community garden. EO officials met with the Canal Alliance organization on that possibility and other ways the company can help lower-income residents have access to products with essential oils and other ingredients deemed holistic.
“That fits with EO’s organization as a benefit corporation,” Mr. Fox said. EO was one of the first such corporations in Marin.
In addition to wholesale pricing for local charities Homeward Bound of Marin and Delancy Street, EO plans to open a small store — EO Exchange — at 84 Throckmorton Ave. in Mill Valley in October with potential for more outreach to lower-income consumers.
The project team includes Bob Wright of Wright Architecture Studio of San Rafael, industrial designer Jim Ford of Cotati-based The Fifth Resource and general contractor McDevitt & McDevitt Construction of Petaluma.
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