Growth continues for reusable product makers
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — Marley’s Monsters tripled sales in 2018 as consumers replaced single-use items with environment- and budget-friendly alternatives.
Despite the name, there is nothing scary about Marley’s Monsters, except perhaps the rate of growth for the Eugene-based company that manufacturers a variety of reusable, waste-reducing consumer products.
“This last year was really crazy,” marvels founder Sarah Dooley on a recent day at the company’s downtown Eugene facility which serves as headquarters, manufacturing plant, shipping center and storefront. After a year in which the five-year-old business more than tripled its revenue — from about $250,000 in 2017 sales to $850,000 in 2018 — in November it moved to this 4,500-square-foot space at 234 W. Sixth Ave.
Up until a year ago, Marley’s Monsters shared a much smaller Whiteaker-area building with a boutique apparel manufacturer.
“Then she left in January and we took over the whole space,” Dooley says. “So, we went from 800 square feet to 1,600 square feet in January, and just a few months later we were already out of space and asking ourselves, ‘What are we going to do?’ We pushed it to the very end ... it was crammed and crowded.”
Compounding the space consumption was rapid growth of the staff, from four employees in January to 20 now.
“It was definitely a shocker growing so fast — it was like a whirlwind,” Dooley allows. “Like, how did we get from four employees and 800 square feet to 20 employees and 4,500 square feet in less than a year?”
A great idea: UNpaper
In short, Marley’s Monsters arrived on the market at the right time, with the right products, as interest peaked in sustainable, reusuable items that are good both for the planet’s environmental health and potentially for a family’s financial well-being, too.
The company also capitalized on the massive marketing potential of social-media platforms, most notably Instagram, to boost brand recognition and attract new customers.
Bestselling Marley’s Monsters products include “UNpaper Towels,” 12-by-10-inch lightweight, washable and reusable cotton flannel towels that can replace the need for disposable single-use paper towels. The fabric towels even can cling to each other to form a roll when wrapped around a standard paper-towel cardboard tube or the custom wood stand crafted by Chad Dooley in the Marley’s Monsters woodshop, where he also makes other wood holders and dispensers to complement the company’s reusable products.
“Depending on the mess, you could go rinse it off, go clean up some more mess with it, then at some point throw it in the wash, wash it and dry it, and roll it back up on there again,” Chad says of the fabric towel, adding that he and Sarah still are using their first batch at home from five years ago. “Some people fold them, put them in stacks on the table” like napkins, he says, or in a drawer or wherever else is most convenient.
Regular retail prices — $16 for 6 towels, $30 for 12, $54 for 24 — might seem high to consumers accustomed to the lower initial cost of single-use paper. But enduring items such as these reflect the growing awareness that often it makes good sense to spend more upfront to save in the long term.
“You do actually get your money’s worth in the long run,” says Chad, who last year joined his wife in working full-time for Marley’s Monsters to help keep up with the growth spurt. “Even though you can go out to Costco and buy a pack of paper towels, you buy this and five years later you haven’t actually had to purchase a roll of paper towels anymore. The minimal cost is the amount of energy and water that is used in the wash.”
Functional, fun fabrics and firm financial footing
Marley’s Monsters offers other fabric products such as reusable facial rounds that can eliminate the need for cotton balls and single-use rounds, widely used in makeup removal and skin-care applications. These and other sewn-edged fabric items are available from Marley’s Monsters in more than 100 solid colors and prints. A customer can fully customize each order, or choose from randomized or color-coordinated variety packs.
“We have 98 print options and 30 solids to choose from; someone could literally choose 12 different prints (in a 12-pack), which is fun,” Sarah says. “I really like products that are useful and fun, something that makes you happy but it’s useful, it’s functional.”
Employees cut full bolts of fabric on a 28-foot-long table upstairs in the new facility, which allows for maximum efficiency and minimal waste when laying out the templates needed for the array of products. Cut fabric then is sorted into plastic bins and carried downstairs to the production area, where a team of sewers apply finishing touches and other employees assemble and ship orders — at the rate of 250 orders over 10 recent days just from the marleysmonsters.com e-commerce store, for example.
The company also sells to individuals via an Etsy.com storefront and keeps some 200 wholesale business clients around the globe stocked with their handmade reusables.
As the business has expanded, the Dooleys have reinvested their profits into a sustainable, organic growth model. “We’ve managed that well,” Chad says. “The business itself is debt-free.”
“We started this business with nothing,” Sarah notes. “Buy a yard of fabric, make something, sell it, and all the profit goes back to buy the next yard of fabric.”
“Then it was three yards of fabric, then it was 10 yards of fabric, and I don’t know how many yards are up there now,” Chad adds. “But I did the math not too long ago and it actually ended up being about five miles. We go through a lot of fabric!”
Cloth diapers, the gateway reusable
Sarah, whose college education and professional background are in interior architecture, initially started selling her handmade, reuse-oriented items via Etsy.com after the birth of daughter Marley. (“Monsters” is a playful reference to the homemade plush toys Sarah started sewing while she and Chad awaited the arrival of their first child, who is now 5 years old like the business.) “It was just my desire to make things,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to make things.
“It really started when Marley was born, and it mostly started as a cloth diapering thing. We were cloth diapering and I was like, ‘We need more wipes, we need all this stuff for cloth diapering.’ Cloth diapering is like the gateway drug,” Sarah says with a laugh about the genesis of the business. “You start cloth diapering and you realize, ‘Wow, it comes out so clean! Why can’t I just wash everything?’”
As the company has grown into a resource for just those kinds of washable, reusable items — which also extend to bento bags, cinchable food-bowl covers, reusable straw and utensil pouches, tote bags and the like — the Dooleys also have started selling other reusable products from third-party providers. These include stainless-steel and bamboo straws; an organic alternative to plastic wrap made from beeswax; dish and bottle brushes; natural hygiene products from Portland-based Urban Oreganics; and other home and personal-care items selected for their similarly sustainable nature.
“We make the fabric and wood items, but we did start stocking more of other people’s products this year just to kind of complement our products,” Sarah says. “We found that a lot of people were coming to us for their sustainable solutions, and we wanted to show that we don’t create all of the sustainable solutions; there are so many things out there. Things like stainless steel that are so durable, you can just use over and over and over again.”
Sarah says that some big players in retail, such as Crate and Barrel, Anthropolgie and Nordstrom, have inquired about carrying Marley’s Monsters manufactured products. So far, she says, they have avoided any such potentially game-changing deals because they want to continue growing sensibly and sustainably — and they already have more than tripled their business from year to year while juggling all the issues and expenses related to increasing inventory, personnel and all aspects of overhead.
Plus, she says, “we’re hoping that we can do some more product development this year. We didn’t really do a whole lot this year because we were just so busy. We’re also hoping that we don’t grow out of this space too quickly because we really like it.”