In Episode 78 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on September 29, 2012, on 960 KNEW AM radio), show moderator Dick Lyons, co-founder of Wendel Rosen’s sustainable business practice group, welcomes Scott Potter, managing partner of San Francisco Equity Partners, a private equity firm that specializes in consumer products growth companies.
Scott Potter, San Francisco Equity Partners, in The Wendel Forum studio
Potter’s firm partners with companies that have demonstrated a proven demand for their products. So while there’s no consumer adoption risk, the companies are usually facing operational and scale challenges to reach the next level. Typically, they are $5-10 million companies poised to scale their businesses, often to north of $100 million.
Identifying these optimal risk-reward companies is more science than art. San Francisco Equity Partners is particularly focused on its companies’ channel strategy. That is, a given beauty product can’t successfully be sold at both Sephora and Wal-Mart. Channels include food (Safeway), drug (Walgreens), mass (Wal-Mart), club (Costco), prestige (specialty retailers and department stores) and direct-to-consumer (online and direct-response TV). Determining the right channel for products is often a company’s key to success.
A growing channel is the so-called natural channel, as epitomized by Whole Foods, which is separate from the traditional grocery channel. But Potter’s firm specializes in natural products that are targeted for the mass channel. Companies targeting this channel should not ask consumers to pay more for an inferior product “just to save the fish,” Potter says. Rather, the product’s value proposition has to work in and of itself outside of sustainability and natural missions. The prime example is Method products.
When San Francisco Equity Partners first invested in Method, it was producing just hand and cleaning products. It has evolved to include bathroom and specialty products and even successfully launched into the competitive laundry space. Early on, Method knew it would never have the marketing budget of Proctor & Gamble. So it chose to overinvest in packaging, focusing on the point of sale: when product is on the shelf. Method’s in-house design team devised a distinctive look, including the bottle molds, and focused on the aesthetic and the user-experience (such as the one-hand laundry detergent dispensing system). With the “design baked into the products,” Method aspired to be like Apple.
At what kind of store are you most likely to purchase natural products?