Leading the Green Retail Revolution with The Ultimate Green Store’s Laura Meyer

September 26, 2011

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored and excited today to have on the phone with us Laura Meyer, the founder and CEO of the Ultimate Green Store. Welcome to Green is Good, Laura Meyer. LAURA MEYER: Thank you so much for having me on your show, John. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Laura, you more than deserve it. Your story is amazing. I want to start there. I want to start a little bit with your journey. You’re now the founder and CEO of one of the fastest growing green websites online, The Ultimate Green Store, an amazing website. I have it up in front of me on my iPad. Mike has it on his laptop here. But you have a great story and journey that I want you to share first with our listeners on how you came to found the site and why. LAURA MEYER: Well, John, as you know, professionally I had practiced law and written a home improvement book before I launched this business. I actually never thought I would be in the retail business, but my inspiration for the store and the business was really my children and what I learned from their health condition. I have three sons. All were born very healthy. They are now 14, and then I have twins who are 11. When my twins were born, as I said, they were very healthy, but at 5 or 6 months of age, they both started having terrible respiratory problems, bad to the point where one of them was being treated at home, but the other was landing in the hospital for about one week of every month for a while. We were being sent to all kinds of doctors to try to uncover what was wrong with them, from pulmonologists to cardiologists. We have three dogs, and the doctors were concerned about possible pet allergies. They suggested that we get rid of our dogs. We actually paid a fortune to have them kenneled for six months to see if that made a difference. It did not. I was desperate to try to find something that would improve their health. As a writer, also, always doing research, I started reading articles about the toxic chemicals in cleaning agents, and how bad they were for our health. Mind you, this dates back 11 years ago, when going green was not on people’s radar the way it is now. There just wasn’t the publicity about these kinds of things or education provided to consumers. So this is something that I uncovered in doing some research, and a light went off for me because I realized that I was completely cleaning obsessed. When my twins were born, having an older son that was going to preschool and bringing home viruses, I really kind of went out of control with the cleaning and using all the wrong things, not just the cleaning products that were in my house store bought, but also constantly bringing in the carpet cleaners and upholstery cleaners. Their cribs, their windows, their bathrooms being wiped down every single day, their toys, with such toxic agents. I decided to just go downstairs to my kitchen and look in that cabinet. I threw everything out. I started researching more natural ways to clean my home, and the results were really dramatic. Within three or four months, their health problems were so much better. Within six months, they pretty much never had a wheeze again. I was so impacted by the difference that this made in their lives and wanting to be a champion for green living, I also became very passionate about other things that I could do to improve their health, from organic eating and all kinds of things. When it was time for me to start thinking about doing something professionally again, when I was able to get them through to the preschool stage and I had some time on my hands, I really wanted to devote my professional efforts to championing this cause. I started writing articles about green living and did some public speaking engagements. All these women, especially, were so onboard by this time about going green, but they wanted to know what were the good products and where do I shop? There really wasn’t a lot out there. And then light number two went off for me in this regard, and I just launched all my efforts into this business. And here I am with theultimategreenstore.com being one of the leading green retailers online. MIKE BRADY: You know, John, doesn’t this sound like a familiar story? I mean, a mother first focusing what mothers do, focusing on the health and wellbeing of their children, and then that light going off, and it all started really with a journey right into your cleaning products. It’s amazing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Laura, you’re doing such an amazing thing here. You’re helping to get these products into the hands of other people who are facing the same issues or faced the same issues you did 11 years ago. We’ve had on the show Jeffrey Hollender. We’ve had him on twice and we’ve learned so much about that, but having you on who can now deliver the products through your great website. For our listeners out there, Laura’s website, and I have it up here and Mike has it up in front of him right now, is ultimategreenstore.com. It is a beautiful website. They’ve got so many amazing products for your home, office, baby, kids, teens, and dorm, your pets. This is the website to go to and to use. Laura, now that you’ve been doing this for some time and you see the green revolution’s on fire here in America and around the world, and your site is getting more and more traction every day, every week, every month, what’s the journey’s been as an eco-preneur now, as a mom and an eco-preneur? Speak a little bit about your journey when starting the site and where you are today. LAURA MEYER: Well, what’s so amazing about it is the impact that I feel I can make, not only in bringing the products, but as a writer also, one of my favorite parts about this is the educational aspect of it, and whether it’s really our focus on what we put in our product descriptions or the content that we deliver in our newsletters, I’m always on Twitter and Facebook, also delivering the message. For moms, I have a special group on Facebook called the Ultimate Green Mom, and then we have the Ultimate Green Store, through which we do a lot. It’s just been such a rewarding experience. My kids know that they were the inspiration for the business, and I do spend a lot of time working. I’m a very hands-on mom, and as a working mother, what’s so amazing about what I do is that they’re really able to appreciate why I’m doing what I do, and why that takes some time away from them. They have a really strong sense and feeling about things like recycling and conserving energy and water, and a very strong bond to what this business is about. I will say food for them is another thing, though. That’s a little bit more of a challenge. My husband sometimes brings home every once in a while, believe it or not, the husband of theultimategreenstore.com brings home Lucky Charms every once in a while. Occasionally they should have it, and we are all about balance. I’m not about preaching, and I think that any difference that people can make, whether it’s products that are oriented towards health and wellness, which is my biggest passion, to recycled products and preventing waste, are great. Everyone can make a difference, whether they have money to buy the types of products we sell or not. There are just so many ways to live responsibly and sustainably, and it’s just very, very exciting to be at the forefront of that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk a little bit about that because that’s why Mike and I love doing this show together and having amazing people like you on the show, because we’re so solution-oriented. We want to share with our listeners solutions, and theultimategreenstore.com is a solution. I’m on the site right now. Talk a little bit about some of the solutions, what you think, after all this work and effort and great journey you’ve already been on, the most important things people can do right now to green their homes. LAURA MEYER: Right. Well, obviously, given what I said, I feel that cleaning green is a huge step in having a healthy home. I want to throw something out there that is an EPA statistic. What the EPA says is that indoor air quality can be 10 times more dirty than the outdoor air we breathe. When you think about that, that’s pretty scary, and it all boils down to the chemicals we bring into our homes. One pet peeve of mine is dusting with a wet rag, not dry, because all of these volatile organic compounds, you’ve heard the term “VOCs,” they actually get into the dust that we have in our home, and most of our homes are very dusty, and if you’re cleaning that dust with a dry rag, you’re just spreading it around, so cleaning with a wet rag. I try to avoid dry cleaning wherever possible. I’m very concerned about the chemicals in dry cleaning and also conventional carpet cleaners and upholstery cleaners use pretty toxic chemicals. Even simple steps like taking our shoes off when you walk into a home because there are chemicals that get onto your shoes from just walking around outside that you don’t want to infiltrate your home. I’m a big proponent of organic eating and avoiding processed foods wherever possible. I think that that’s a huge step in the health and wellness of our families. And then the other thing is we spend so much time in our beds, and there are toxic chemicals that are emitted from things like our mattresses. Conventional cotton is made with a huge amount of pesticides. Cotton actually accounts for 25% of all pesticide use in the world, so the whole marketing tagline of cotton being this all-natural substance, when it’s produced conventionally, there are so many chemicals that go into the processing of it, the growth of it, so I love the whole notion of creating a green sleep environment and using organic mattresses and mattress pad covers and organic bedding. Our organic bedding is one of our bestselling products, and it’s so incredibly soft and comfortable, but I love how pure it is. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk a little bit about that, the services that you offer. As I said, I have your great website, theultimategreenstore.com, up right now. On your toolbar at the top, Home Office, Baby, Kids, Teen, Dorm, Pets, Bath & Beauty, Clothing and Bags, Solar, and Gifts. Talk a little bit about the services that you have and what are the most popular ones right now? LAURA MEYER: Well, we have so many consumers who are young women, young moms who are concerned about the environment and the health of their families, and looking for so many different types of products. Our wedding and baby shower registry is very big. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the business. We also do have a service through which we offer customized corporate promotional products. For moms who have websites, there are so many bloggers out there and so many women who are stay at home moms, but want to be active in spreading the word about things they’re passionate about. We do have an affiliate program through which they can participate and get 10% on any sales that they can generate, also helping to spread the word about green products and the benefits of those products. We also are inviting schools to participate in our affiliate program through our Save the Planet Sustain a School program. So many schools are online now, and the world is changing so fast. Three years ago, when I was working on the launch of the business, that wasn’t the case. In the last couple of years, so many schools are online and we sell so many eco-friendly school supplies. Schools can actually post some information about the Ultimate Green Store and fundraise through the sale of those products. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. You talked a lot about moms and a lot of great products that you have. Is your typical shopper a mom, or can dad also shop on theultimategreenstore.com? LAURA MEYER: Well, you know what? I’m glad you mentioned that because I’ve mentioned moms and women, and of course have so many incredible products that are good for anybody. No, we have many men consumers. We sell everything from organic bedding for anyone to incredible gifts just for men. We sell solar backpacks, which is another bestselling product. It’s a conversation piece, but also charging your devices off the grid is really an amazing thing and great for hikers and people who love to be outdoors. Men and women, our site is for everybody. MIKE BRADY: Laura, it’s amazing because just as you mentioned that, I was looking at the solar backpack, and this is really just an amazing idea. What really blew me away was just how much interior space it has too, and the fact that you can take off that solar panel and you can use it on other applications as well. You can charge anything that you’ve got practically. LAURA MEYER: It’s a really great product. I should say you cannot charge a laptop on that, and we do have a bag that is more expensive that is meant to charge laptops and, of course, other smaller devices. What an incredible product. The bag itself, by the way, the material is made from recycled water bottles. It’s very roomy. It’s incredibly durable. I happen to be a tennis player and I live in L.A. and spend a lot of time on the beach, and my cell phone runs out of power very easily it seems. Wherever I go, I know that I can charge my cell phone or a camera. It also has a USB cancel, so even if you’re not in the sun, you can actually charge it using your computer and use it as a portable power pack. It’s definitely a bestselling product and it’s a wonderful product. JOHN SHEGERIAN: The site is so amazing. As Mike was just saying, he was looking at the backpacks. My children are older now. They’re 24 and 18, and I’m just looking at your children’s section, and man, I wish my kids were young again because they would just love all the stuff that you have here and that’s available to the kids. Then I was also on your organic bedding section, and you have everything there for people to outfit their sleeping area with all organic, wonderful materials, to stay pesticide-free and healthy. Talk a little about your kids. The twins are 11 and your oldest son is 14. You have to be the cool mom. You’re leading the sustainability revolution. You’ve got an amazing website. For our listeners who just joined us, if you have your laptop or your iPad open, we’ve got Laura Meyer on. She’s the founder and CEO of the Ultimate Green Store. Go look at her website right now, theultimategreenstore.com. It is just amazing. Talk a little bit about your kids. Are you like the real cool mom at school? LAURA MEYER: Well, you know what? I think that I am to their friends. I don’t know about to them. As I said, they do feel very connected to the green movement. One of the most fun things that I ever did was go into my twins’ classroom when they were in second grade, and I brought in a number of products that we carry that I thought would be really cool for their friends to see. I brought in the TerraCycle upcycled backpacks that were made from Capri Sun wrappers, pencils that are made from recycled newspaper, and all kinds of school supplies and devices that I thought they would find very cool. It was really amazing how engaged these kids were in second grade, the questions that they were asking. I even had one kid that was suggesting ways for me to market the company. I mean, it’s a second grader. I am really adamant about some things at home, and I think that like any mother or parent experiences, their kids think in some ways they’re a pain in the you know what. My kids are very fair, and I’m always trying to get them to use sunscreen and a certain type of chemical-free sunscreen, and having them take their sunscreen to their friend’s home because I don’t want them to use this or that. With the eating, I think they also think, “Oh my God, mom, leave me alone.” And that’s just part of being a parent, but I’m really hoping that as they get older, especially with the eating, that it will sink in and that they’ll be grateful that I gave them this education on how to live a healthy, sustainable life. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I don’t have a crystal ball, but it’s becoming more obvious that somehow, some way your kids are going to become the next green leaders in the sustainability revolution. Somehow they’re going to figure it out because of the great foundation you’re giving to them. About your husband, I know we had a little laugh earlier about the Lucky Charms. Balance is so important. Is he into this as much as you are? Is he digging the whole Ultimate Green Store ride and the journey? LAURA MEYER: He is. He’s very passionate about energy conservation, water conservation. He really helps me in that effort. We’re looking into whether it should be a Prius or a Chevy Volt for the next car. He really is, and I think the only area in which we sometimes have our friendly and loving issues are about food. I sometimes just have to let it go because you sometimes have to do that. He’s definitely onboard with the whole green movement. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is great. We’re down to the last three or four minutes or so, Laura. I want you to talk a little bit about your wonderful green deal of the day program because that’s so important to how you message and you’re able to stay connected with all the people and your constituency that follow theultimategreenstore.com. LAURA MEYER: This is actually a newly launched program. There are so many coupon sites out there, but given the scope of products we have and what we’re doing, is each day we offer a 30-50% discount on one of our products. It is known that green products are sometimes a little more expensive than their conventional counterparts. It’s true, in a way, and I could argue the other side of it, but we want to give our customers an opportunity to have a deep discount on products every day. We send that information through our Facebook and Twitter account, and if people want to sign up for that green deal of the day, they can sign up for our newsletter and just select green deal of the day because we are going to be soon launching a daily e-mail program, so that that deal lands in their mailbox and eventually creating an app for that so that they get the information every day, if it’s something that they’re interested in. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk a little bit about what the future holds. You’ve now built this amazing website, and you have lots of clients. It is so robust with so many great products and services, theultimategreenstore.com. When you dream about the future of this great website that you’ve created, where does your dream go? LAURA MEYER: My dream goes to eventually being a Pottery Barn-like business, where we not only have the online component to our store, but where we’re brick and mortar, and people can actually come in and see and feel and touch the products and participate in the education person to person. A lot of people would say that given where the economy is, that brick and mortar is not where it’s at. It remains my dream because I do believe that it’s a different shopping experience when you do have the opportunity in that way, so I hold onto that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Perfect. As one of the great leaders in the green retail industry, what do you feel so far has been your most important contribution? LAURA MEYER: I would say it’s twofold. One is the education side of things, and that’s with respect to the consumer, but also the other part of my business that I love is that we are supporting so many green manufacturers. They need that support. The economy is not great, and it is difficult for new manufacturers or manufacturers that are trying to get different types of products out there. It’s difficult for them to sustain themselves, so the fact that we are lending support to so many different manufacturers of green products and that we’re contributing towards their growth, they do their own education, is something that I find enormously rewarding. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is so great. Laura, we’re unfortunately out of time today, but we’re going to have you back. You are welcome here whenever you want to come on back and talk more about theultimategreenstore.com and share with our listeners the growth and the journey that you’re on. For our listeners out there again, it’s theultimategreenstore.com. Go to that website. Use it. Buy products. Help support Laura Meyer’s great amazing website that is only going to continue to fuel the sustainability revolution. Laura Meyer, you are a sustainability leader and an inspirational eco-preneur, and truly living proof that green is good.