It’s a bright idea. Can this Triad entrepreneur keep making it in the US?
“There’s certainly something novel in a toilet-topping basin that immediately recycles water from hand-washing directly into the commode tank. Indeed, the invention, the SinkPositive, is getting some good press and national attention, much to the delight of the young Triad entrepreneur who is trying to make it a common household item. But now Deven Griffin is tackling a challenge that befuddles conglomerates 1,000 times her company’s size: How can she manufacture it affordably at home rather than abroad?
Griffin, who just graduated from Wake Forest University in May with her bachelor’s degree in political science, set up her company, Grey2Green. last year when she got a look at the invention and wondered why it wasn’t being used everywhere.
While she was still in school (and minoring in entrepreneurship), she raised some money from investors including Anka Sustainable Ventures Fund and borrowed some from her parents, bought the rights and got to work spreading the word.
She’s made a lot of progress, she says. Besides the positive PR, she’s working with SinkPositive’s inventor, Carl Brown of Murfreesboro, Tenn., on improvements and new models. She’s just opened her new office in the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship business incubator in Greensboro, and added new distributors that have helped increase sales, too.
“When I started, a good week was selling five to 10 of them,” she says. “Now the good weeks are more like 20 to 30.”
Her biggest customers are firms have a strong Web presence or a physical retail store that is popular with green plumbers and architects in its area.
But those sales numbers are going to need to be higher for the SinkPositive to have the kind of impact on conserving the world’s water supplies that she wants. And with some experience under her belt now, she recognizes that the domestic manufacturing issue is probably the most challenging she faces.
The fastest way to mass sales would be to get the SinkPositive into big box stores. It’d be a natural fit at a Lowe’s Cos. or The Home Depot Inc. and Griffin says she’s had some discussions toward that goal, but no deal yet.
She knows the reason why, and it’s not a problem with the product or concept but rather the price. The SinkPositive retails for either $139 or $149 depending on features, and the mega-retailers want it cheaper.
“We’re making these in Tennessee, but to be competitive in the big boxes we’d need to make it somewhere else to keep any margins,” she says. “We haven’t jumped that hurdle yet, but I know there’s a way to keep our manufacturing in the states and also keep our margins.”
That’s been a high hurdle for others too. Some companies have gotten over it (or hope to) with more efficient operating procedures or higher technology that allows for a leaner work force. Others remain stymied by labor costs and the aging of the manufacturing work force.
Griffin says she’s still strategizing. Being in an incubator environment like the Nussbaum Center may help, since there are a lot of fellow entrepreneurs there who may have suggestions.
Maybe she’ll figure it out, but maybe she won’t. Draw your own conclusion about whether this is the kind of idealism that will change the world or the kind of naivete that will end in failure: Griffin says she’s not sending her company’s production overseas — and buying into the cheap labor, high carbon footprint mentality — no matter what.
“It’s one of those things that I can’t compromise on because it’s something I feel so strongly about,” she says. “If some bigger stores don’t want to carry our product, then we’ll keep growing by going after smaller stores that do share our vision.”