Squeaky bike chain spurs man to pro­duce eco-friendly lu­bri­cant

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM -


PITTS­BURGH — In 2015, Sa­muel Hop­kins had a squeak in his bike chain that wouldn’t go away.

De­ter­mined to fix it, the avid biker and out­doors­man bought sev­eral chain lu­bri­cants and greased up his bike — only to re­al­ize rainwater would eas­ily wash off the petroleum-based prod­ucts.

“There’s 186 mil­lion bikes in the U.S., and it takes 6 mil­lion gal­lons of petroleum oil ev­ery year [to lu­bri­cate them],” Hop­kins, a Pitts­burgh-area res­i­dent, said. “It’s one of the big­gest oil spills in Amer­ica, ev­ery year.”

A long­time in­ven­tor with over 40 patents to his name, Hop­kins hap­pened to have lano­lin — oil se­creted from sheep’s wool, of­ten used in cos­met­ics — in his work­shop for an­other project, and found it stopped the squeak­ing. He quickly got to work de­vel­op­ing EcoSheep, a line of ecofriendly bi­cy­cle lu­bri­cants that he pro­duced at home and sold on Ama­zon.

In spring 2016, Hop­kins pitched his line of EcoSheep bike lu­bri­cants — in­clud­ing Moun­tain Sheep, Every­day Sheep, Sheep on the Road and Sheep on the Go — to a Wal­Mart buyer at the re­tailer’s an­nual open call event at its head­quar­ters in Ben­tonville. He walked away with a deal to sell EcoSheep at 500 stores across the coun­try, and within three months that num­ber soared to 900.

Soon enough, emails started pour­ing in from peo­ple who were us­ing his bi­cy­cle lu­bri­cant in their homes, on squeaky doors and other items.

So Hop­kins went back to the draw­ing board and cre­ated a line of mul­ti­pur­pose EcoSheep prod­ucts. And at this year’s open call event in June, he se­cured a deal with Wal-Mart to sell his new line at 200 stores.

Un­like many com­pet­ing prod­ucts — petroleum lu­bri­cants with glar­ing warn­ing la­bels and num­bers to call if in­gested — EcoSheep is biodegrad­able and non­toxic, and is des­ig­nated a USDA BioPre­ferred and EPA Safer Choice prod­uct.

Hop­kins can’t dis­close sales of the bi­cy­cle lu­bri­cant line since it started sell­ing at Wal-Mart, but said he is sell­ing tens of thou­sands of cans this year. He sur­passed one year of pro­jected sales in his first month in the dis­count re­tailer’s stores.

He also pitched com­ple­men­tary prod­ucts such as an eco-friendly ver­sion of chain cleaner to re­move the lu­bri­cant, af­ter finding that 10 per­cent of peo­ple use gaso­line to clean chains, even if they do use green lu­bri­cants. He also cre­ated a bi­cy­cle lu­bri­cant that can be washed off with a hose.

His prod­ucts are now col­lec­tively be­ing sold at 1,100 Wal-Mart stores na­tion­wide.

He usu­ally wakes up at 5 a.m. and can be up un­til as late as 2 a.m. work­ing on EcoSheep. Un­til re­cently, most of the time was spent man­u­fac­tur­ing the prod­uct in his home.

“It was get­ting out of con­trol,” Hop­kins said. “We were hav­ing drums of oil show up, tens of thou­sands of cans show up, freight trucks were show­ing up. … Wal-Mart or­ders and Ama­zon or­ders were re­ally tak­ing off, so I was forced to get a ware­house.”

Since May, the com­pany has been op­er­at­ing out of a ware­house. Hop­kins also works out of a co-work­ing space. He re­cently out­sourced pro­duc­tion to a com­pany in Ohio, which he says now runs three shifts to meet de­mand. His most re­cent or­der was for 90,000 cans.

Hop­kins is look­ing to hire three peo­ple to work at his ware­house — his first em­ploy­ees. Un­til now, he was do­ing the fill­ing, la­bel­ing and pack­ag­ing him­self. Call­ing it “def­i­nitely a fam­ily busi­ness,” Hop­kins added that his wife’s spe­cial task was tag­ging each can with a plas­tic tab so it could be hung from Wal-Mart dis­play cases.

Now that an­other com­pany han­dles the pro­duc­tion, Hop­kins can spend more time get­ting busi­ness, talk­ing to dis­trib­u­tors and re­fin­ing his prod­uct.

Con­sis­tent with Wal-Mart’s ini­tia­tive to pur­chase more Amer­i­can- made prod­ucts, EcoSheep’s cans are made in Con­necti­cut, lids are made in Penn­syl­va­nia and the lano­lin comes from an agri­cul­tural com­pany in Con­necti­cut.

This year was Wal-Mart’s fourth open call event, which was cre­ated to fa­cil­i­tate the re­tailer’s ef­forts to in­vest $250 bil­lion in Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ing

over the course of a decade. The ini­tia­tive, which is pre­dicted to cre­ate 1 mil­lion new U.S. jobs, was an­nounced in 2013 in re­sponse to crit­i­cisms that the re­tailer was not sourc­ing enough in­side the coun­try.

Wal-Mart spokesman Scott Markley said this year more than 500 en­trepreneurs from 46 states pitched more than 750 prod­ucts. Nearly 100 com­pa­nies landed deals for Wal-Mart store shelves, while ev­ery shelf sta­ble item was of­fered an op­por­tu­nity to sell through Wal­mart.com.

Markley added that peo­ple can pitch their prod­ucts to Wal-Mart all year, even be­yond the open call event, us­ing an on­line ap­pli­ca­tion process.

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