The date was Thursday, April 16, 2020, at 9:15 p.m. when Jim Waterman received a phone call from a close friend. That phone call has since proven to change the trajectory of his life. Much of the nation was 30 days into a stay-in-place order, and supplies like hand sanitizer and toilet paper were nearly impossible to find. Jim, a scientist in the fuel ethanol industry with a background in automation engineering, was already going stir crazy and looking for a project to occupy his newfound downtime.
On that phone call, an opportunity to act as a distributor for bulk-sized hand sanitizer to the Fox Cities presented itself. The only problem was figuring out how to convert 365-gallon totes into packaging that made sense for the general consumer. With a “shaky” understanding of FDA regulations, knowledge in the science of alcohol-based sanitizer and a background in automation engineering, Jim dove head first into the opportunity.
Over the next two weeks, Jim found a warehouse located in Appleton, started a new company called Green Stem LLC, obtained FDA registration for the facility, and received his first of many 1,000-gallon shipments of hand sanitizer from a USP-spec alcohol producer. Packaging was difficult to procure, but luckily Appleton is in the center of many plastic manufacturers. Jim built and launched a website and Facebook page and began work on automated bottle filling. He also reached out to his mentor at Fox Valley Technical College to see if there were any students who could assist in building the bottling line. While the student assisted with the automation, sales of 2-ounce to 1-gallon bottles began.
By July, Green Stem was registered as its own brand of sanitizer. Around this time, major suppliers had caught up with demand and the company needed to find a niche market. In late July, a close friend had purchased hand sanitizer with a “wedding label,” but the quality was poor at best. The ink from the paper labels started running when exposed to the sanitizer, and they were desperate. After discussing the options, Jim tried printing a similar label using clear labels and a different printing technique. The result was beautiful. A niche market had presented itself in an industry that had been put on hold for the better part of a year: weddings. With 2.1 million weddings occurring nationally in a non-pandemic year, 2021 is projected
to have 4 million weddings.
Jim began a campaign to mobilize a sales force by reaching out to wedding professionals throughout the country by forming strategic partnerships. Now that Green Stem found its target market, it started to expand its customized product offerings to include business branded “swag.” In March 2021, Green Stem launched a line of scented candles and metal bottle openers, all fully customizable for any occasion. In addition to offering new products, a tree is now planted with every sale.
Jim looks forward to watching how Green Stem continues to grow in the Fox Cities.
Company: Green Stem
Innovation: Personalized hand sanitizer
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