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Company Hopes to Clean Up With Simple Green : Huntington Beach Firm Finds That Launching Product Can Take a Heavy Toll

July 21, 1986|MICHAEL FEIBUS | Times Staff Writer

Bruce FaBrizio believes that the best way to get people to try something is to show them how it works.

That's why his marketing strategy centers on free samples and personal demonstrations of Simple Green, an all-purpose cleaner that had been a well-kept secret until sales began booming after a recent spate of major product endorsements.

And that's why the president and co-founder of Sunshine Makers Inc. does what others shouldn't and takes a swig of the bright green solution to make the claim that the cleaner is as safe as it is effective.

Sunshine Makers distributes a demonstration tape featuring former professional football player FaBrizio cleaning a grimy airplane wing with Simple Green--a product he and his father created. After he's finished, he sprays a shot in his mouth and announces that he "would drink the whole bottle of it for you, but it has to be the last demonstration of the day. It takes it from here to there in about 30 minutes," he said, pointing to the extremes of his digestive tract.

"It doesn't taste too good," conceded Jerry (Guido) Smith, Sunshine Maker's executive vice president for marketing. "But you have to prove a point sometimes."

The company has been proving its point since FaBrizio and his father first concocted the cleaner 13 years ago in their South El Monte garage.

And now, after surviving personal tragedy and near-bankruptcy, after distributing millions of free samples, performing thousands of demonstrations, attending hundreds of trade shows and discovering scores of new uses for Simple Green, FaBrizio and his Huntington Beach-based company are beginning to clean up.

In the past year, Simple Green has picked up endorsements from such disparate sources as:

- An editor for Northeast Riding magazine, a motorcycle periodical, who recommended that his readers use the cleaner to remove "grease and goop" from their bikes--without "slimy, smelly, tarry mess to stain your driveway."

- Mary Ellen, consumer products columnist for Family Circle, who put Simple Green on her list of the top 10 cleaning products because it's "safe enough for delicate fabrics but strong enough for floors and walls."

- A New Jersey marble company that is considering using Simple Green to clean a New York skyscraper. In tests, the company owner said, Simple Green removed stains as well as the industry's traditional abrasive cleaners, but was the only one that didn't scratch the marble.

Sunshine Makers' sales increased from $61,000 in 1981 to $5 million last year, and Smith expects them to hit $10 million this year. By mid-June, he said, the company's revenue already had surpassed last year's total. The company didn't record its first profit until last year, when it netted $164,000, but Smith figures that profits this year should be up more than 100%.

With the prospect of growth overshadowing its early hardships, insiders point to Sunshine Makers as an example of how a good idea, when blended with a healthy dose of "blood, sweat and tears," as FaBrizio says, can turn a homespun operation into a multimillion-dollar business.

FaBrizio remembers the company's infant years as particularly rough ones, both for the company and for himself.

In 1979, his father, Joe FaBrizio, died of a massive heart attack. He was 47.

FaBrizio blames his father's death on the intense pressures and long hours that came with trying to inject life into what then was a foundering family business.

"I was faced with a really difficult situation," FaBrizio said. "But I made the decision not to go bankrupt, not to sell the business."

Instead, he moved into a tiny office in Sunset Beach--just big enough for a file cabinet, two phones, two desks and FaBrizio and his secretary.

And he began twisting his creditors' arms, persuading all 37 of them to agree to waive interest payments in return for his agreement to pay them back 120% of the principal.

Many of the original creditors have bought into the privately held company, he said, and collectively own about 8% of it, either in stock or convertible loans. Smith and six other key Sunshine Makers executives hold an additional 12%. The rest of the company is in FaBrizio's hands, although he said he is considering a public offering next year.

Sets Sales Goal

FaBrizio said he has no plans to throttle back on the growth spurt. His immediate goal, he said, is to capture 1% of the $5.75-billion cleaning and degreasing compounds industry by 1990.

Simple Green--originally mixed in a washtub in the FaBrizios' garage, now is bottled at a plant in Garden Grove. Sunshine Makers also has a distribution center in Hawaii and has contracted to have Simple Green bottled and shipped at two plants now under construction in Atlanta and Ontario, Canada.

The company plans to round out its product line with a patented sponge that releases job-sized portions of Simple Green when it comes in contact with water. The sponge is due out by the end of this year, he said.

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