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Business Observer Friday, Jun. 18, 2010 10 years ago

Clean Sailing

Many would-be entrepreneurs dream about quitting their jobs to start their own company. Dustin Stroth actually did it.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Dustin Stroth spends a lot of his non-work time on a boat, which he loves.

But just like the countless other boaters out there, both on the Gulf Coast and nationwide, there is something Stroth doesn't love nearly as much: The stench of oil and sludge from a boat's holding tank and bilge pump that overtakes an otherwise pleasant day in the water.

Stroth's solution to the problem was somewhat counterintitutive considering the economy. He quit his sales and management job with an established Sarasota company to start his own company. His mission was to develop a business that would bring a product to market that could eliminate the smell.

A little more than a year later, Stroth is living his dream. His Sarasota-based company, PID Enterprises, has one product: VanishOdor. It's a combination of live bacteria and water that can break down the sludge found in bilge pumps, which in turn eliminates the smell.

VanishOdor, which comes with an official U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seal, can be used in RVs in addition to boats.

And now, after a few early sales successes, Stroth is on the cusp of his first major milestone. He has been in negotiations with a global distributor on a deal that would put VanishOdor in some of the boating industry's biggest retailers, including Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops. That contract, says Stroth, could be completed within three months.

One container of VanishOdor retails for about $15. It's sold in a few Sarasota-area boating shops and marinas and Stroth has sold several cases on an individual container basis over the Internet. He has also talked with wholesale coAmpanies in Washington, California and New York about stocking it.

The patented formula in VanishOdor has been used for other purposes in the past. “But no one has ever tried to use it for this solution,” says Stroth. (The formula is made by a Sarasota-based chemical and wastewater treatment company that Stroth declines to name.)

Stroth, a Sarasota native, had been working for LexJet, a $40 million digital printing and software firm company in his hometown. But he saw firsthand in late 2008 and early 2009 how the recession could strike even the most successful companies, when LexJet began to have its own problems.

While Stroth didn't know for sure if he was going to be laid off, he didn't want to wait around to find out. So in the spring of 2009 he quit LexJet in order to launch VanishOdor. “It was opportunistic of me,” says Stroth. “I didn't know what the future had in store.”

The entrepreneurial nature of LexJet was a big boost behind Stroth's dream. “I learned a lot about how to run a business at LexJet,” says Stroth. “It paved the way for me to go out and do this.”

Still, before he took the solo route Stroth spent a few months in research mode, talking with recreational boaters, professional boat captains and others in the industry about the smell issue. “Almost invariably,” says Stroth, “every person I talked to said it was a problem.”

Stroth, who studied environmental science and business management at the University of Florida, came across the VanishOdor solution through an industry contact.

In addition to working on deals with distributors and wholesalers, Stroth spends a majority of his time at industry trade shows. He gives out a lot of samples while he builds up a potential client database.

The boating industry might be hurting, says Stroth, but retailers still seek low-cost products to stock shelves.

“Anytime someone tries it they always call me back because it works so well,” says Stroth. “It's one of those products that speaks for itself once you use it.”

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