It was supposed to be simple: Create a product, and persuade retail stores to clear some shelf space for it.
What David Shahan found out, however, is that months of research and development can be time-consuming and expensive. But distribution is where the real challenge begins.
Shahan owns SunState Laboratories in Tarpon Springs, a virtual one-man operation that created a household cleaner product line requiring no more than an empty spray bottle and a little warm water.
Dazz, as Shahan brands it, are small effervescent tablets that combine with water to create solutions that can clean glass as well as kitchen and bathroom surfaces. A starter pack includes a spray bottle and some tablets, while single-tablet refills create what Shahan says is a 75% savings for consumers compared with traditional spray cleaning products.
“Cleaning products are historically bought at the store — not really online or anywhere else — so I reached out to a lot of different retailers,” Shahan says. “All I got was a lot of rejection. I've already been told no by Publix a couple of times, and getting into Wal-Mart at the corporate level is very difficult for a startup.”
Shahan developed the idea for Dazz after spending nearly 20 years managing commercial cleaning crews. Unlike typical consumers, professional cleaners don't buy their supplies by the bottle. Instead, they use refillable bottles they can fill with water and some industrial refill products.
When Shahan would visit a retail store, he could not understand why such a green practice hadn't shifted to the consumer side. The transportation costs alone to ship a 2-pound bottle of cleaning solution should be enough to concern manufacturers, he says, never mind the environmental impact of millions of empty bottles thrown in the trash each year.
But then Shahan came to a startling conclusion: Companies like S.C. Johnson & Son Inc., which produces Windex and other products aren't in the cleaning solution business — they're simply bottle manufacturers.
“It's a big industry that has grown and evolved around the idea of using a bottle once and throwing it away,” Shahan says. “That is a very profitable cycle for stores, distributors and manufacturers because they rely on that repeat business. My product would disrupt the status quo.”
So Shahan went online.
Taking his product online, however, created its own challenges, Shahan says. First, the price point would mean shipping and handling would cost more than the product itself. Also, many consumers don't go online to buy cleaning products -- they go to a local retail store.
Shahan has pushed the product locally where distribution is more inexpensive, targeting social media groups, and even marketing to specific demographics, such as the
environmentally friendly Sierra Club. Shahan didn't disclose revenues, but he has invested a little more than $100,000 in the startup so far.
The one area Shahan has mostly avoided involves “dollar” stores, primarily because of the stigma attached to it by the rest of the retail industry.
“Unless you're a big hitter and you carry a lot of weight and clout, it's a place you don't want to go,” Shahan says. “When you apply to a lot of the larger retailers like Publix and Target, they specifically ask you if you distribute in any of those stores.”
All that aside, there has been a small ray of light when it comes to distribution for Shahan. Wal-Mart offers a local supplier program that gives upstart companies like SunState a chance to introduce itself to local markets.
Shahan has received a “provisional yes” from a local supplier program, and hopes to be on the shelves of 10 stores in the greater Tampa Bay area later this year. In the meantime, he'll continue to seek out a broader distribution model.
“It's all these little steps you need just to make something happen,” Shahan says. “I'm taking one step at a time, hoping that each step takes me forward.”