[caption id="attachment_55010" align="alignright" width="284"] EO Products founders Susan Griffin-Black and Brad Black[/caption]
CORTE MADERA -- After 17 years of making environmentally and health- conscious personal care products in Marin County, EO Products seriously considered the better economics of taking the 40-person company to the East Bay, but the manufacturer is choosing to stay in Marin after an opportunity arose to convert a former Industrial Light & Magic sound stage to a much larger production plant plus local and regional economic boosters and a state legislator jumped in to help navigate permit processes.
EO Products (415-945-1900, eoproducts.com) in mid-May signed a 10-year lease for a 40,000-square-foot industrial building at 90 Windward Way in San Rafael. It's double the size of the existing plant in Corte Madera. Pending the go-ahead from the San Rafael Sanitation District and Marin Municipal Water District, EO Products plans to move this fall.
About a year ago, EO Products started scouting the Bay Area for a new location after it learned the lease for its headquarters and manufacturing plant at 15A Koch Rd. in Corte Madera would not be renewed when it expires in November. The company was leaning toward a move across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to tax incentive--backed enterprise zones in Richmond or Berkeley.
"It was compelling to drive over the bridge, because the cost of doing business there is cheaper," said Steve Fox, chief financial officer. "Doing business in Marin is very expensive."
Yet the company has deep ties to Marin and wanted to stay. Many of the workers live in the county. More than 5.5 million bottles of soap, lotion, shampoo and conditioner shipped around the world in the past three years with "made in Marin" on the label.
Founders Brad Black and Susan Griffin-Black secured certification for manufacturing with organic ingredients, became one of the county's first benefit corporations, incorporated expensive essential oils in amounts deemed of health-enhancing value, pushed for advances in recycled packaging -- a patent is pending on a blister-pack replacement -- and reductions in company net waste to zero, and fought financial pressures to outsource production as much as possible.
"It's very much a Marin ethos type of company," Mr. Fox said.
Company sales have been growing rapidly and are projected to continued on that path. From around $10 million in annual sales now, EO Products is forecasting 20 percent growth in the next five years. Sales got a boost in 2009 when its hand-sanitizing gel brought widespread attention to the EO brand amid concern over the H1N1 flu variant.
[caption id="attachment_55011" align="alignleft" width="203"] EO Products launched the lower-priced, larger-sized Everyone by EO line in January.[/caption]
Among several products launched in recent years, the larger-sized, lower-priced Everyone by EO brand extension -- $10 for 32-ounce containers -- started hitting the shelves of Whole Foods Market, Safeway and other chains in January.
But the founders' goals of taking their products to the masses met challenges in reducing cost per unit by producing in larger batches. Because facility lease terms didn't allow for significant capital investment, high-volume production of sanitizing wipes had to be outsourced to Southern California and of antiseptic gels and sprays to the East Bay, according to Mr. Fox. The expansion project would allow those processes to come back to Marin, he said.