Melanie and Malcolm Rands

13 November 2012 — ecostore’s Malcolm Rands says when he, and wife Melanie, started offering eco-friendly products 19 years ago, most people thought they were “nuts”.

“And I was a nut but I was a driven nut,” the ecostore founder said.

Back then the New Zealand company was in the minority and using limited mail order – today its products are mainstream and on supermarket shelves. That’s distribution through more than 1000 stores and supermarkets in New Zealand and two thousand spread across Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the US. And there’s another 400 Duane Reade chain stores on Manhattan Island.

Not surprisingly, business is nearing turnover of $30 million a year and has enjoyed annual growth at the 60 per cent mark.  And it’s still growing at 30 per cent in Australia despite the company, which is owned by two families, being here for more than seven years.

Products include laundry, home, dish, body, skin, hair and baby care products with the promise they are plant and mineral based, contain “no nasty chemicals”, independently tested, super concentrated, not tested on animals, GE free, made in an ISO 14001 Environmark Diamond accredited, carbon zero certified factory, packaged in recyclable bottle and boxes, labelled with a full list of ingredients and developed using the latest in eco science.

Rands says while the company, which employs 80 staff in New Zealand and Australia, is keen to be mainstream it also recognises it has unique clients.

The first, or early adapters, are women who have just found out they are pregnant for the first time, he says.

“They go into an amazing research mode. Maybe they’ve been a party girl until they’re 30 or 40 but now they are looking after someone else.

“That’s our number one customer.”

The second category is “mums with families”.

“Health is so vital with kids – they are just developing and their skin is not as thick as adults so they can absorb chemicals very easily.”

The third group are the LOHAS. An acronym for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, LOHAS is a market segment focusing on health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living, and social justice.

Rand says 30 per cent of any community is made up of people in this group.

“When they buy something they are making a value decision. And the other 70 per cent buy on just price but once the price is working well they think about other things like fair trade, eco-friendly, being kind to animals…

“Then they make a decision.”

But Rands says eco-friendly products don’t have to be more expensive – and he doesn’t think they should be, nor that most people are truly willing to pay a premium.

“There is that perception [that people are prepared to pay more], and they will definitely say that in a survey but when they get to the checkout, they don’t want to pay more.

“We made a decision in ’93 when we started on our mission. We knew people wouldn’t pay more so we wanted to make it easy and pleasurable for people to make a difference.”

Rand says eco-friendly products could sometimes look expensive because of their “pretty” branding but mainly because they were often smaller than their competitors.

That was because they didn’t use fillers and were more concentrated, he said.

He says the company’s best marketing tool remains testimonials, especially in skin care. “Rashes, eczema, asthma – it all gets better with our products. And some people might stay on the products for six months then they go back to their old product because it’s on special – but they find the rash is back.”

Rands says there is a huge amount of “greenwashing” in the industry which was a problem because with cleaning products there is no legal requirement for testing or listing ingredients.

The “eco and natural fields” were also full of competitors with “everyone seeing this as the next big thing”, he says.

“There are probably 12 competitors in eco cleaners and over 40 in natural body care.”

But Rands said ecostore was “completely open” and listed every single ingredient used, “all in order, with the correct name”.

“We also have a ‘no nasty chemicals’ campaign happening which helps consumers do their own research. In America and Europe there is a huge campaign in this area but it hasn’t happened here yet. It will in time.”

Rands will be a speaker at the moral Fairground at Melbourne’s Federation Square on December 4 at 2.30pm. He will talk about sustainable work. Other events will include Leeyong Soo’s VIP Ethical Fashion Show at the BMW edge on Friday night and Eco Innovators with an “interactive and educational Fair Living space – a walk-through static display of an eco-friendly house”.