Hawkesbury’s Green Beaver - A True Pioneer In Safe, Healthy, Sustainable Products
There were two major tipping points that led directly to the creation of this innovative and pioneering company, The Green Beaver Company. It makes sense that they were ‘major’ tipping points, because they would have to be to compel two eminently qualified and experienced scientists working for large corporations to give up their tenure and salaries to become essentially do-it-yourself entrepreneurs.
If not for these tipping points, the world may now not have the benefits of a growing company that is focused on providing natural skin care, cosmetics and personal care products, offering safe, sustainable solutions to individuals and families seeking to live healthier, more holistic lives, and in doing so, lowering their personal environmental footprint.
Begun in the late 1990s and hitting the market with their first products in 2002, Green Beaver is the ground-breaking brainchild of husband and wife team Karen Clark and Alain Menard of Hawkesbury, Ontario. Family proved to be at the core of the decision to set aside their careers and take up the mantle of creating healthy, natural products for all.
“The first tipping point was more Karen’s. When we started planning on having a family, that’s when Karen, who is a biochemist, started looking at the ingredients more closely for a lot of things, not only for personal care products, but cleaning agents and that kind of stuff. She was working for a pesticide company and decided it wasn’t for her anymore. She wanted to live a more natural way and she didn’t like some of the things that were in the products. So, she got her own lab equipment and put it in the kitchen and started formulating her own products,” said Menard.
“I wasn’t too crazy about it at the beginning. I mean, we’re trying to start a family and she quits her job. I thought ‘oh my God,’ but she was pretty passionate about it and I wasn’t going to squash that passion. She had been working on it for about a year and a half and that’s when I got a call from my sister. She was 32 at the time and all upset. She had a three year old son and her twin boys were a year and a half old and she had just been diagnosed with very advanced breast cancer – with three boys under age three, can you imagine? That was the second tipping point and that’s when I decided to quit my job. I was a microbiologist in the pharmaceutical industry, and when I quit, we started really going after this thing that we called Green Beaver.”
The company began selling just two products back in 2002: natural deodorants without aluminum and toothpaste. Today, Green Beaver sells 86 products. Menard said online represents 15 per cent of company sales, but that the numbers are growing rapidly as awareness grows. Of the remaining 85 per cent of their sales, ¾ of that is through health food stores, with the other ¼ split between grocery stores and pharmacies, with both of those markets also growing fast.
“We really want to be innovators. We were the first company in Canada to introduce certified organic sunscreen. We were the first to introduce the first and only natural toothpaste for sensitive teeth. And we recently were the first company ever to introduce an aluminum-free antiperspirant – not a deodorant, but an antiperspirant that helps you stop sweating without any aluminum,” said Menard.
Green Beaver has grown rapidly, but in a manageable way, and now has 25 employees operating out of 12,500 square feet of manufacturing and warehousing space, with another 1,500 square feet in office space for sales and marketing. In January of 2020, they will add another 4,000 square feet of space.
So how did two obviously intelligent and well-schooled people navigate through the often tough waters of business as first-time entrepreneurs? It turns out that Clark had a rather significant ace up her sleeve – besides being a scientist, she also earned an MBA and has an expert’s grasp of finance and business development.
“We just kept learning and more and more on the business side and eventually we hired a CPA full time. And then we hired sales and marketing people who know more than we do. We knew enough to run a small company, but you realize after a while that you don’t have the knowledge or the time when the company gets bigger and more complicated,” said Menard.
“As we grew, we had to make another important decision. We manufacture ¾ of our product right now, but the other ¼ of products are manufactured by a pharmaceutical sub-contractor in Montreal. When a product has a small volume its cheaper to make in house, but when the sales get to big, it’s cheaper to make it through a sub-contractor, because they already have the big machines you need to mass produce stuff.
“For us, it’s smarter to pour our money into sales and marketing to control and maintain our growth. At some point we will re-evaluate and maybe bring back some of our products in house and invest in the capital equipment we need to do that, once it’s viable. But now is not the time.”
The biggest challenge for Green Beaver early on was educating people, especially moms, of the importance of natural products and that it’s a wise, healthier and more sustainable investment, even of the products are a bit pricier than what you normally get off store shelves. Today, the so-called ‘millennial’ generation is very much attuned to what is good for people’s health and the health of the planet, which is why millennial moms and families are flocking to Green Earth’s varied product line.
In more recent years, the challenge was in generating the capital required to help keep up with the aforementioned sales growth, which is why Menard and Clark developed a business plan for the first time less than two years ago.
“We have always put everything back into the company, but it gets to the point where it’s not enough and we were missing out on some opportunities. When we did up the business plan it was because we needed to better plan for growth. So, for the first time, because of our business plan, we actually went out and got some funding. We’re working with the BDC [Business Development Bank of Canada] an they have been a very good partner to work with, providing funding to help us manage our growth,” said Menard who added that the affordability of living, working and running a thriving business in Hawkesbury makes it an ideal place for entrepreneurship in eastern Ontario.
“We provide a very beautiful country setting. We’re located in Prescott and Russell, right across the river from the lower Laurentians, so we’re an hour from Mont-Tremblant, and an hour from Montreal and an hour from Ottawa. For people who are getting ready to start a family or who already have a young family, the region is a very nice setting for them. There are no problems with shipping or anything like that. And the other advantage of being in Hawkesbury is that 90 per cent of people here are bilingual, which is great for hiring people for customer service, which we did recently.”
For more information on The Green Beaver Company, visit https://greenbeaver.com/en.