'Starbucks and the Martha Stewart and Innocent brands are very inspirational'
Inside Track Q&A:Titta Jones, managing director, Lilly's Eco Clean
What is the most unusual thing about your business?
The name of our brand indicates that our products are eco-friendly, but they’re more than that – they are human- and animal-friendly also. Our range of home cleaning products and laundry detergents is made from natural plant- and mineral- based ingredients. Our products are safe, easy to use and very effective against bacteria.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
I think the biggest mistake you can make is constantly fearing that you will make one. If you are an innovative company developing new products, mistakes will happen from time to time and you have to learn from them.
An example for us was the original size of our bottles. They were quite tall and we discovered they wouldn’t fit on all shop shelves. As a result our products often ended up on the top or bottom shelf, so we had to change the bottle size. Our bottles are made from 50 per cent recyclable plastic which is more expensive than virgin plastic. This has to be reflected in the price and in the current climate we are asking ourselves is continuing with this strategy a mistake?
What has been your major success to date?
Growing from a niche product into a mainstream brand. We started out selling our products mainly through health food stores, but our ultimate goal was to offer them to the volume market through the large supermarket chains. We are not 100 per cent there yet, but seeing our products appear on supermarket shelves around Ireland encourages us that major success is just over the horizon.
Who do you admire most in business and why?
Business people with a passion for what they do. They obviously care about the bottom line, but also give back by creating a sustainable ethos within their company. I have found success stories such as Howard Schultz’s Starbucks and the Martha Stewart and Innocent brands very inspirational. These companies started from small beginnings and went through tough, challenging times before hitting the big time. Their stories spur me on during this recession.
What piece of advice would you give to the Government to stimulate the economy?
Fight to retain the current level of corporation tax and give very strong backing to companies in the sustainable energy sector because it has the potential to reduce energy costs at home and to generate export income. Also offer support to people in their 30s and 40s who seem to fall into a gap between social welfare and Nama, and are trying to start businesses against a background of negative equity in their homes and little borrowing capacity.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge?
The current economic climate and its accompanying credit crunch. It has created cash-flow challenges for us as we try to break into the mainstream market and compete against the bigger, more established players within our industry.
What are the short-term goals of your business?
Creating brand awareness and educating more consumers to the fact that Lilly’s Eco Clean offers a healthier, eco-friendly alternative to traditional cleaning products at a competitive price point. Expanding into new markets and at the moment negotiations are under way with distributors in four countries in Europe. One of our goals is to turn these negotiations into orders. New product development. We have some great new product ideas under way that will complement our current family of products.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
We believe that Lilly’s Eco Clean has great business potential and a healthy future but we have no plans to sell out. We are, however, investigating funding and investment, so we can grow as a company and expand our offering within new markets.
Do you think the banks are open for business to SMEs at the moment?
Speaking from personal experience I feel there is little or no support from the banks at the moment.
In conversation with Olive Keogh