Ecopreneur Interview Series: Sustainable Life Solutions
Part 15 in a series where Krates Ng (co-founder of Mokugift the ecard service) interviews fellow ecopreneurs. Today, Krates interviews Dianne Martz, co-founder of Sustainable Life Solutions. Sustainable Life Solutions partners with electricity providers, and also market directly to consumers, to provide smart ideas and products to help people consume less energy and save money doing so.
1) Why did you start your company?
I began my own personal journey toward living more sustainably a few years ago; learning how, and adopting changes, to reduce my family’s impact on the planet. I was working in corporate America, and increasingly felt that I needed to do something that felt meaningful to me. I became passionate about sharing sustainable living information with others, showing them the many benefits both to the environment and to themselves, and helping them to take action. I met a woman who had undergone a very similar journey and we decided to join forces and start this company.
2) Is there a story behind the name of your company?
We wanted a name that captured the essence of what we offer, and at the same time would continue to serve us as our business grows. Sustainable Life Solutions fits us perfectly – we offer solutions (education, tips, and products) to help people live a sustainable life.
3) What was the toughest challenge in getting your company through the most recent growth stage and how you got overcame the challenge?
As a small and growing company, it’s often difficult to remain focused on strategic longer-term goals, while working to keep up with the day-to-day tasks. Our sales grew exponentially in Q4 2010, and we had to quickly outsource order fulfillment and bring on additional staff to provide customer support. At the same time, I was handling all of our marketing and my partner was focused on the sales pipeline. We recently re-launched our website with a new design and all new content, but we had to postpone doing so until the busy holiday season was over and we could focus our attention on the website.
However, the toughest challenge has been cash flow. Given the nature of our partnerships with utility companies, we have to pay upfront for advertising, inventory, and any incentives being offered to end customers; and then bill the utilities for reimbursement. This causes a 30 – 60 day “float” situation, which is difficult for a small shop to absorb.
To overcome this challenge, we adjusted our purchasing and worked with our vendors to get more flexible payment terms. We’ve established a line of credit to give us more breathing room. We’re in the process of revising our pricing and payment terms for future utility clients to provide us with cash early on to help cover upfront costs.
4) Can you describe the moment when you knew that your company hit full stride as a business?
In Q4 2010, a number of things occurred that made us realize we had a winning model. We launched an advertising campaign that led to a sales increase of 400% over the previous year. Customers were regularly thanking us for introducing our products to them, and for providing outstanding customer service. When we contacted potential utility clients, many told us they had already heard great things about our company. Perhaps most gratifying was that we started receiving unsolicited calls from utilities seeking information about our services.
5) If you had to pick one product in your lineup, which one would you showcase and why?
The advanced power strip. It’s a surge protector that automatically shuts off power to your peripheral devices when you turn off your TV or computer. Peripherals such as monitors, printers, keyboards, speakers, DVD players, VCRs, game consoles all use energy even when they are turned off – this is called “phantom energy drain”. An advanced power strip will save, on average, over $39 each year in electricity costs. We offer two brands (BITS™ Smart Strip and TrickleStar™ Tricklestrip) and several sizes.
Through our company, our utility partners offer an instant $10 discount per advanced power strip to their customers. The utilities are always looking for ways to help their customers improve energy efficiency, and the advanced power strip is a terrific way to do so at a low cost.
6) How is your company going to grow in 2011? And how can other ecopreneurs help?
We recently launched our new and improved website, and we publish a seasonal email newsletter with energy saving tips and news. We will be launching a blog, Facebook account, and Twitter in Q2 2011 to attract new customers to become followers and convert them to repeat customers.
We are currently working with 5 major utilities and 8 small ones in Massachusetts; a consortium of the largest utilities in NY state; and we have deals in the works in Iowa, Alaska, and Pennsylvania. We are actively marketing our services to utilities and energy efficiency organizations across the country, and are forecasting 2011 sales growth of 300% over 2010.
In addition, we have begun introducing advanced power strips to universities, as it is an ideal tool to combat schools’ increasing electricity consumption due to students’ ever-expanding array of plug-in devices. We anticipate landing two to four university clients in 2011.
We have an affiliate program in which other ecopreneurs can earn commissions on any products we sell as a result of a link to our store from the affiliate’s website. We hope to expand this program, and invite any ecopreneur to join.