Airing Our Dirty Laundry
It’s time to clean up our act and head into the laundry room for some good clean fun with Robert French, CEO of Forever New.
Q) It was the mid-1980s. You were in debt and needed a summer job. How did you get passionate about laundry?
My mother owned lingerie boutiques and as tempting as it was to become a bra-fitter, I had big dreams. Mom had a gentle soap for hose, bras and panties called “Forever New.” It had untapped sales potential, so I hit the road.
Q) What did you learn on the fly?
The soap spoke for itself. I was a natural, got specialty stores to carry our product and busted my buns to expand into the U.S. But, the sales couldn’t grow just on my raw charm. Juggling production, logistics and accounting, and trying to make a profit, was an all-night, trial and error affair. Eventually the product line grew. In 1991, I was surprised to be named FBDB’s, “Entrepreneur of the Year.” Then I realized I wasn’t the only crazy guy out there trying to organically grow a business. I’d never really considered myself an entrepreneur before or known what that was.
Q) Why aren’t you a cheerleader for super-market suds? There are so many famous brands of nice smelling laundry powders, pods and products that we can choose to sprinkle, splash and spray.
Aside from the damage the gallons of synthetic chemicals do to our laundry machines by coating the drum, a lot of today’s laundry detergents are packed full of carcinogenic phosphates and artificial fragrances. They encourage us to do our laundry with things that aren’t good for plant and human health—particularly our skin.
Q) After the buzz settled and the company was up and running, the “bees” came calling. Tell us about your Burt’s Bees era and how that influenced who you are today?
Over time, I got bored, as entrepreneurs are prone to do, and went hunting for new opportunities. That’s when I met the founders of Burt’s Bees. They were in their start-up years and I worked my way into becoming a shareholder. The journey with Burt’s was basically my MBA and CPA rolled into one. I opened up Canada for them and parts of the Far East. It was an amazing, gruelling, and very successful journey with lots of magical and “trial by fire” moments. Eventually the company got sold and I happily hung up my wings and went on a sabbatical.
Q) Did your son really ask you if you’ll ever have a real job again?
He did. I’d done a two-year stint as a stay-at-home dad, run a half iron man by mistake and taken a few great holidays. I guess he figured it was time for me to get on with it again so I returned to my first love, “doing the laundry,” with a brand new plan.
Q) Before we go on… Could you explain how you came to run an iron man by mistake?
Well, I’d committed to competing in a triathlon and, oddly enough, it was cancelled at the last minute. There was an iron man going on in the same location, so I figured, why not? After all, if I could swim one kilometre, I could do two… I figured it would just take a little longer. In case you’re wondering, I did finish. We won’t talk about my time.
Q) Now you’ve got balls, too! Can you tell us about them?
Ah yes, Forever New’s “Tumblers.” They’re 100% pure New Zealand wool dryer balls. We actually make them here in Canada. Our tumblers are as soft as a baby’s bum and a gentle, affordable alternative to damaging dryer sheets and commercial fabric softeners that coat fibres and dull colours.
My balls lift and separate clothing, which increases the flow of air in and between items. You toss three into the dryer with your wet clothes and, believe it or not, they help your clothes last longer and using them saves dryer time by 20–30 per cent. Clothes are softer, less wrinkled and don’t attract as much dirt. You can even add a few drops of your favourite essential oil or perfume to each one.
Q) So what’s next on your laundry list?
We’ve rebranded and we’re working with Euro-Line’s appliance retailers, who are very keen to be more “green.” They understand the benefits not only of looking after your clothes and your laundry machine, but also of helping customers reduce health risks. I’m still passionate!
Doug Eglington is a South African who sells European appliances to Canadians.