Lowry, Adam and Ryan, Eric
Lowry, Adam and Ryan, EricCareer
Founders of Method Home Care
L owry: Born c. 1974. Ryan: Born c. 1972; married;children: one daughter. Education: Lowry: Graduated from Stanford University. Ryan: Graduated from the University of Rhode Island.
Addresses: Office—Method, 637 Commercial St., San Francisco, CA 94111.
L owry: Worked in product development for several companies; developed software, computer models, and interfaces for the Carnegie Institute of Washington. Ryan: Worked for such advertising agencies as Fallon, San Francisco; worked as marketing consultant for Saturn, the Gap, Old Navy, and Colgate. Together: Founded Method Home Care, 2000; sold first Method products, 2001; began selling Method at Target, 2002; Method reached 10,000 stores, 2003; Method named the seventh-fastest-growing private company in the United States by Inc., 2006.
A s the co-founders of Method Home Care, AdamLowry and Eric Ryan successfully launched a new line of trendy cleaning products. Method products have gentle aromatherapy scents, fewer harsh chemicals than cleaners commonly found in supermarkets, and are both non-toxic and environmen-tally friendly. Having introduced the first Method products in 2001, the pair found success within two years and by 2006, were recognized as a dynamic force in what had been static industry. As SF Weekly’s Matt Palmquist explained, “Ryan and Lowry see Method as more than just a breath of fresh air. They view their company as a means to redefine the very essence of cleaning, transforming ugly objects that hide under the sink into chic, must-have countertop accessories.”
Both Lowry and Ryan grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, where they were friends in high school before going off to different colleges. Lowry moved to California to study chemistry at Stanford, while Ryan went to the University of Rhode Island. After graduating from college, they both moved to San Francisco without knowing the other lived there.
Lowry’s work experience consisted of creating patented products for several companies as well as developing software, computer models, and interfaces for the Carnegie Institute of Washington. A business entrepreneur since middle school, Ryan had a career in advertising and marketing. He worked for ad agencies such as Fallon, and also used his well-honed marketing expertise, nose for consumer trends, and knowledge of corporate brand imaging as a marketing consultant. Among the firms he consulted for were Saturn, the Gap, and Old Navy. Ryan also helped launch a new toothpaste for Colgate.
Lowry and Ryan did not realize they were living in the same city until they returned to Michigan for Thanksgiving in 1997 and ran into each other on a plane. During that fateful meeting, they learned they lived only about a block apart. Shortly thereafter, a roommate of Lowry’s moved out and Ryan accepted Lowry’s invitation to move in. By this time, Lowry was unemployed and, like Ryan, longing to start his own business. After discussing their options in a 1999 ski trip in northern Michigan, they found themselves taking about cleaning products. Lowry and Ryan concluded that such products were more about killing germs and pests than caring for the home. They decided to create cleaning products that people who loved their home would want to buy.
Returning to San Francisco, Lowry and Ryan delved into research about the history of household cleaning products as well as the current marketplace. A few companies like Proctor & Gamble dominated the market, and there had been little innovation in the previous half century. Companies were afraid to change products which consumers had been buying for generations for fear of alienating their customer base.
After spending a year deciding if cleaning products were really what they wanted to do, Ryan quit his job and the pair rented an office. Using all their savings as well as investment funds from family and friends, the pair launched Method Home Care. Ryan focused on marketing and design, while Lowry did the product development and chemical processes.
Lowry developed Method’s chemical formulations with an environmental conscience. Instead of using bleaches, antibacterial agents, and other oxidizing ingredients, he favored active ingredients which were absorptive and attached themselves only to dirt. Many of Method’s active ingredients were derived from coconut and palm oils, making them safe to use around children and pets. They also worked well, a fact that initially surprised his partner, Ryan. For color, Lowry limited his choices to stable but environmentally friendly dyes. Method’s line of cleaning products employed essential oils and plant extracts to make them smell better and more organic than most everyday cleaners, which have harsh, artificial smells.
In 2001, Lowry and Ryan made their first sale to a retail store in suburban San Francisco: Mollie Stone’s Market. The store’s manager agreed to give them two shelves of retail space for their interesting bottle and oddly hued all-purpose spray cleaner. They returned a few days later to find that people had actually purchased their then-hand packaged product, a mind-blowing concept to the young entrepreneurs. Ryan told Palmquist in the SF Weekly interview, “It was surreal to think of people taking your product, putting it in a cart, and using it at home. Imagine that.”
After this first sale, Lowry and Ryan began placing their product in other groceries, primarily gourmet stores, in San Francisco. As their sales grew, they hired Alastair Dorward to be the company’s chief executive officer and guide Method into a well-managed national, if not international, company. Bigger grocery chains began noticing their success. Albertsons was the first national chain to stock Method in certain stores. Safeway followed soon after. One big breakthrough came in 2002 when giant retailer Target agreed to stock Method products.
Aiming at customers in their twenties and thirties, Lowry and Ryan did not just have a line of good-smelling, gentle-but-effective cleaners, but also packaged them in a hip, clean way similar to packaging found in personal care products. By the time Target became interested, the pair had approached well-known designer Karim Rashid to reinvent the packaging for their dish soap to make it look chic. Rashid came up with a curved bottle, shaped somewhat like a bowling pin, which dispensed product out of its base. Rashid became the company’s chief creative officer, and after a very successful six-month test run, Target began stocking Method products in all its stores.
By 2003, the Method line was available in at least 10,000 stores in the United States and posted about $10 million in annual sales. That year, Lowry and Ryan also expanded to Europe, with consumers in London the first to be able to buy Method products. By adding Target as a retail outlet, Lowry and Ryan were able to gain more investors, including the Simon Property Group and the Sumitomo Corporation of America.
Over the years, Method’s product line grew. One early product was Kitchen, an orange all-purpose kitchen cleaner which had an odor dubbed “bamboo” because of it smelled like the rain forest where bamboo was grown. Another product called Glass, the company’s glass cleaner, was blue and smelled like coral. Lowry and Ryan’s first dish soap was available in four scents: mandarin, cucumber, mint, and lavender. They later added other items to the Method family of products such as hand soap, shower spray, floor cleaner, room sprays, air fresh eners, soy candles, a laundry line, and cleaning wipes, each with a signature pleasant smell. For Ryan, however, packaging was what helped sell the product in stores as they kept their advertising for Method to a minimum. He told Donna Howell of Investor’s Business Daily, “We believe packaging is our biggest ad vehicle.”
Despite continued growth, Lowry and Ryan realized that their overall market share was small relative to Procter & Gamble, which had about $43 billion in annual sales in 2002. While they feared that such companies might create knock-offs of Method’s carefully crafted products, the cost of recreating and marketing such products would be a costly risk which might not pay off. Instead of worrying about what such large companies might do, Lowry and Ryan concentrated on growing their own niche in the industry and vowed to remain private. They continued to add more retailers, including nationwide chains Linens ’n Things and Wal-Mart, and their sales grew rapidly. By 2006, annual sales had grown to an estimated $44 million on 132 products. That year, it was named the seventh fastest growing private company in the United States by Inc.
Because of the elegant packaging and the quality of Method’s product, Ryan believed that he and Lowry’s company made people happy. Of the aesthetics of Method, Ryan told Rob Walker of the New York Times, “It just makes you get enjoyment out of an object that you never expected to get enjoyment from, because it makes you smile when you look at it, or it’s fun to touch. So it’s not that it looks beautiful, but when you actually interact with it, it makes a chore a little less of a chore. Who wouldn’t want that?”
Brand Packaging, June 2003.
Inc., February 2006, p. 102.
Investor’s Business Daily, January 5, 2004, p. A8.
National Post (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 8, 2002, p. B7.
New York Times, February 29, 2004, p. 42.
San Francisco Chronicle, October 8, 2006, p. C1.
SF Weekly, December 24, 2003.
Vanity Fair, May 2007, p. 254.
“Selling cool in a bottle,” CNNMoney.com, http://cnnmoney.com (August 3, 2007).