Discovering Green Alternatives with Green Apple Supply’s Stephanie Tobor
December 16, 2013
JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good. I’m John Shegerian, and today, we’re honored to have Stephanie Tobor on with us. Stephanie, welcome to Green is Good. STEPHANIE TOBOR: Hi, John. Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re so excited to have you. You’re the founder of Green Apple Supply, but before we get into how you founded this great company, Green Apple Supply, I want you to talk a little bit about Stephanie Tobor. Talk about your journey. How did you become interested in the environment and get to the point where you really wanted to make some great changes? STEPHANIE TOBOR: Absolutely. The environment really became a priority for me when my daughter, who was 3 at the time, McKenzie, became diagnose with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and we were able to almost 100% trace the origins of the disease back to a plume of contaminated groundwater that we were living on from the time she was three months to 2 years old. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and how long ago was that? STEPHANIE TOBOR: She’s 10 now, so this was seven years ago. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Seven years ago. You started getting interested in the environment back then? STEPHANIE TOBOR: That’s right. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, so then talk a little bit about being interested in the environment and then evolving into an environmental activist. STEPHANIE TOBOR: Absolutely. So, after her diagnosis, like any mom, I began a campaign to remove any toxic chemicals in anything that would make her sicker for her health and what I found was that these green products were very expensive and although my family was lucky enough to be able to pay this higher price, many of my friends weren’t, and that injustice of not being able to afford safe healthy products for your family struck me and I looked for ways to equal that playing field. Green Apple Supply is what I came up with. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, that is amazing. So, talk a little bit about Green Apply Supply — and for our listeners out there, I’m on Stephanie’s great website right now. It’s GreenAppleSupply.org. Talk a little bit about what Green Apple Supply does. STEPHANIE TOBOR: Okay. So, like I said, it’s my suggestion of one way to make eco-friendly supplies affordable for the average consumer. What I found is there are so many amazing nonprofits out there that can tell you how to become a more eco-friendly family and more environmentally aware. What we do is we offer that information but we offer the affordable purchasing option as well so you can learn on our site and then find the eco-friendly product and buy it right there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow. So, explain what this means. I’m on the site. First of all, kudos to you, Stephanie. It’s a beautiful site. The visuals are beautiful. It’s simple to work. I’m on it. I’m touching a lot of the buttons. Everything moves real quick, but it’s just gorgeous; but what kinds of products? If I want to clean my house with instead of our traditional products that we all grew up with, do you have home cleaning products or are these products for the body, for shower and for soap? What kinds of products are the core products of GreenAppleSupply.org? STEPHANIE TOBOR: Absolutely. You’ll find that we don’t have very many cleaning products and the reason is that it costs a lot of money, the warehouse shelf space for heavy large bulky cleaners. I have been in the marketplace looking for a cleaner that you can dilute once you get it at home and because I haven’t found one that I’ll use for my family, I won’t sell it to anyone else. Basically, we offer the dry goods, so the thing that don’t go bad but we do range from office supplies through some home décor, bath and body and gift items. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. So, I’m on here now and you have art supplies, home supplies, gifts, school and office supplies, and some toys and game and I’m looking at some gorgeous stuff. I’m even looking at bowls made out of bottle caps and facial tissues from Seventh Generation, so you have a whole range of products. STEPHANIE TOBOR: We do. We try to offer a really wide variety for any kind of practical living item. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How do you choose these products? Do suppliers come to you? Do you go try to find unique products yourself? Where does all the magic happen? STEPHANIE TOBOR: Well, yes to both of those. I do most of the product sourcing myself and I certainly will not sell anything on the site that I don’t own or haven’t tried, tested, and approved. We travel to international and national gift shows as well as using the internet and referrals from our customers to find unique useful green items. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Okay, so let’s go back Stephanie. So, when did you actually launch this great website? STEPHANIE TOBOR: We launched about a month before the school year started in 2010. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Now you’re about three years into it, and talk a little bit about the evolution as an entrepreneur and as an eco-entrepreneur. Who are your partners? Are you the sole proprietor and how is it going? What you envisioned back in 2010, how has it evolved based on your vision back there and what lessons have you learned along the way? STEPHANIE TOBOR: I’ve definitely learned some great lessons in shopping. There’s quite a few items that didn’t sell very well and I take those to heart and loved every lesson along the way, but the vision that I had back then versus what’s going on now, I couldn’t have even imagined. We’re so excited. The growth trajectory this year is tremendous. We’re looking to break even in the next year-and-a-half to two years, and we’ve just had so much customer support and loyalty. We have everything from international customers using us as a wholesale site for their stores to correctional facilities that buy from us on a monthly basis for biodegradable folders. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, you’re B-to-C and C-to-B, which is really great. So, Stephanie, did you have entrepreneurs in your family before or is this the first step into entrepreneurism that you family has ever done? STEPHANIE TOBOR: My family was originally entrepreneurial and we were in the real estate industry in Texas just buying ag land and developing it, but I was definitely the first environmentalist, the first philanthropist, and the first one to look at retail as an option. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, also the first to go into the dot-com world, it looks like. STEPHANIE TOBOR: That’s true, too. Thank you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome, so this must be such an exciting journey to share with your daughter. STEPHANIE TOBOR: Absolutely, and she kind of gets the stage here with her arthritis, but I have a son who’s 21 months older than she is. They love being a part of Green Apple Supply. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is awesome, so it’s a family affair. STEPHANIE TOBOR: Hundred percent. My husband, Robert, is our amazing Operations Director right now as well as doing all of our legal operations and IT. JOHN SHEGERIAN: This is great. So, you know, sometimes a business can even make a family closer when you all are sharing the mission together and it sounds like that’s what’s happening here. STEPHANIE TOBOR: I agree 100%, and the fact that my kids have bought in is hugely fulfilling. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk a little bit about, as you’ve said, the evolution from 2010 to now has been absolutely breathtaking with regards to sustainability and the Green Revolution, both here in the United States and around the world, Stephanie. Talk a little bit about though some of the new vernacular that is just really becoming part of our lexicon this year, compassionate capitalism, conscious capitalism, what do those terms mean to you and Green Apple Supply? STEPHANIE TOBOR: Compassionate capitalism is basically the big idea behind Green Apple Supply. When I thought about how are we going to save the world, how are we going to change the way people shop and the way people consume, to me, it comes down to economics. Sam Walton, when he created Walmart, basically had it right. If you make it inexpensive, people will buy it and if you can turn that economies of scale on to the green side, then our work is done. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right, right, and so now you’re about to cross over and go from a small business that is trying to find its way and gain traction to a profitable business and you’re a dot-org so is it actually a 501(c)3? STEPHANIE TOBOR: We sure are. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, it’s a dot-org, a 501(c)3 and again, for our listeners who just tuned in, we’ve got Stephanie Tobor on with us. She’s the founder and owner and the force behind GreenAppleSupply.org. It’s a wonderful website. Go on the website, see the products that she has, and support what’s going on, but now how do you go to the next step in terms of the world has also changed, not only in sustainability and green and the velocity it’s picked up but online there’s more opportunities for marketing, which also can become confusing. Stephanie, we’ve seen the rise of Twitter in the last couple of years and Pinterest and Instagram and Snapchat and all these things. How do you get the word out in this sephora of opportunities with regards to GreenAppleSupply.org? How do you get the word out and where are you focusing your marketing efforts? STEPHANIE TOBOR: Okay, well, first of all, getting the word out has been surprisingly easy because moms like to share information. When a mom finds us, we find that our customers travel in pods. We’ll see an order in Boston and an order in Chicago and then a few more orders in Boston in Chicago and we love tracking that information and we’re so grateful to the mothers and the mommy bloggers that have supported us but the other way we’ve been doing this is this compassionate capitalism business model has a very unique edge to it. The fact that we’re a nonprofit speaks to our transparency and our mission. People can trust us. They can get any information they need. We’re a completely transparent organization. The other opportunity that we’re experiencing right now is through the nonprofit world. I’m a businesswoman and I like to see any business operate sustainably in every sense of the word and that means that I don’t want Green Apple Supply to be a major source for online donations. I want us to be sustainable and so as we approach a break-even or little profitability, that means we weren’t on our own. The last portion of that is our outreach to other nonprofits and mission-based businesses. We’re offering an affiliate style partner e-corp program that will allow a new source of revenue and a new revenue stream for these mission-based businesses that would like to sell our product. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, you’re trying to find all sorts of other platforms and new sources of opportunity that are like minded with your vision and your mission of compassionate capitalism. STEPHANIE TOBOR: That’s exactly it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s awesome. That is just awesome. We’re down to the last three minutes or so, Stephanie. Now that you’ve got three years under your belt, what’s the next two or three years look like in terms of your vision? How big can this really be and how far can you take this? STEPHANIE TOBOR: I don’t even want to think about vision in terms of growth because I would hate to shoot myself in the foot and I’m so happy with where we are today and I’m going to let it grow organically and it’ll be as big as it gets. My hope though is that the movement will take on the economies of scale and there won’t even be a need for Green Apple Supply because it’ll already be there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. Do you have owners from around the world outside the United States? Can people order right now outside of the United States? STEPHANIE TOBOR: Absolutely. We’re international and within our first year-and-a-half, we had sold to every state in the nation except for one stubborn holdout. JOHN SHEGERIAN: The nice thing is that our show is heard on Sirius coast to coast, but then it gets uploaded on to the iTunes network and we’ve got great listeners who we hear from all the time, from China and Brazil and London and Australia, all around the world, so the nice thing is we’re going to get the opportunity to continue to spread the word about your wonderful brand. We’re down to the last minute or so. Share with our listeners some pearls of wisdom for the next generation behind you of young women who want to become entrepreneurs and are just thinking about taking the next step. STEPHANIE TOBOR: I feel like young women are taking the stage right now and I think the pearl is to support them and let them know that they can be absolutely amazing if they want to be. My family, one of our goals is to support our children, both boys and girls, in following their dream instead of following a specific business or professional endeavor and I think when you allow children or young individuals to follow their dreams, we’ll find that they move along and in sync with nature. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s true, and how’s your daughter doing now after being the person who gave you this? How is her health and how is she doing? STEPHANIE TOBOR: Thank you for asking. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is most probably going to be a lifelong struggle for her, but shortly after we moved to Colorado, and we live in a very green place, the air is very clean here, and she has been in remission since we moved, so everything has been really looking up for us. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s just great. Well, Stephanie Tobor, we thank you so much for coming on today and for our listeners out there, go to GreenAppleSupply.org and support Stephanie and her family’s great mission of compassionate capitalism and buy some of her great products. Stephanie Tobor, you’re a wonderful compassionate capitalist and evangelist and truly living proof that green is good. STEPHANIE TOBOR: Thank you, John.