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Life Arts    H3'ed 6/2/11

Young Chicago Entrepreneur Brings Green Cleaning Products to Market

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My guest today is Darren Brown, entrepreneur and president of Eco Life Corp. Welcome to OpEdNews, Darren. Can you please tell our readers a little about your new business? 

At the Green Festival. From left to right: Sonya my wife, Dorian my sister in-law, Marcene Brown my mother, and finally me, Darren Brown.  This excellent picture was taken by  Paul LeVan paullevan.com

Sure, as you mentioned, my business is called Eco Life and I sell non-toxic and non-hazardous  green cleaning products to homes and businesses. I have always hated to see people litter and throw garbage on the streets. After seeing a documentary about the Pacific garbage patch, I realized that trash is a much larger problem than many people realize. I then developed the most unique part of my business called Eco Fill.   

With Eco Fill, we refill customers empty bottle(s) for half price. I'm proud to say this keeps our plastic bottles out of landfills and oceans. It's also cheaper for the customer to refill because they don't have to pay for a new spray bottle over and over again.   

I've  never heard of a refill option; good idea! What's in your line and how does it compare with store-bought products?

We carry green cleaning products for just about every single cleaning application you might come into contact with (laundry detergent, hand soap, carpet cleaner, oven cleaner, etc.). I have used a number of green cleaning products and I must admit I have found a few that worked very well, but many people feel like green cleaning products are weak and ineffective in general. When we refill our customers' empty bottles, we give them the option to double or triple the strength of their product while still keeping the plastic bottles out of the trash. The store-bought, one size fits all approach is too general, wasteful and expensive compared to our products and product options.   

 I love this thinking outside the box. Can you tell us our readers a little about your background, please?

My mother, a nurse of 26 years, helped care for my grandfather who was diagnosed with cancer when she was young. It's her care for him that always led her to check labels on food packaging and everyday products for carcinogenic ingredients. She always encouraged my brother and me to stay away from aspartame, MSG and other ingredients like these at a young age. We thought she was just a crazy and paranoid lady until we got older and realized the health implications. In 2006, after high school, I started attending flight school with the goal of becoming a commercial airline pilot. After the "great recession" took its effect on the airline industry, I decided to switch gears and go in a different direction. I wanted to be my own boss and wanted my business to have a positive impact on people and the environment. It was this turn of events combined with my upbringing which really led me to start a green business.

If you don't mind my asking, how old are you now?

I just made 23 a few months ago .

So, why wasn't a young person such as yourself intimidated and nervous about starting his own business, especially given the challenging economic climate these days?

Honestly, I feel very confident about going into this business. People have to clean no matter how bad the economy gets. There is an amazing power that comes with a great idea in business. It's just one of those things that can't be stopped. I guess to answer your question, I have always felt like my success in business would be largely based on how good my idea is, no matter what the climate. It was this thinking, combined with some risk taking and confidence, that led me to still start my business. Any business can fail in any climate as far as I'm concerned.  

That's true. What does your family think about your new business?

My family has been very supportive of my new business. My mother owned and operated a very successful business for many years. She always gives me tips and reminders that are right on time. She is proud to see me running my own company and she still cheers when I tell her about my monthly sales. My dad just keeps telling me that I'm going to be a millionaire all the time, which is pretty funny. I also get a lot of support from my sister Micah, and my brother David. Both of them inspire me a great deal.  

Aren't moms the best?

Yes, my mom and wife are by far my largest supporters.  

I didn't realize that you're married already. You're doubly blessed to be surrounded by strong and supportive women. How's Eco Life going so far?

Business is really taking off! As I learn more about the green cleaning industry, the more I realize just how unique and ground-breaking our Eco Fill - program is. I'm really looking forward to expanding through the city, which could keep thousands of plastic bottles out of land fills.

I love the idea behind Eco Fill. But, are people put off by having to pay for shipping to send their bottles back for a refill, even if they get a break on the price?

Not at all. Shipping for most of our refills is about $1.25 in cost. Our refills run between $2.50 and $3.50 depending on which product is being refilled. Sometimes people choose not to make a difference because they don't want to pay more. This program has made it possible for people to make a huge difference without paying more but instead paying less!  

I like the way you think, Darren! How do you drum up business?

I really try to make all of my customers feel like a million dollars each time I speak with them. I have learned when you treat customers good, they keep coming back.    

You've already learned a lot. That's a biggie. Did you have any background in business?

I grew up with a mom who is the definition of a business woman. She taught my brother and I how to use a credit card, write checks and such around 12 years old. She always made us set up lemonade stands and sell candy. Once I got to high school, I took every business class possible. My teacher Hope Henderson taught me to give 100% effort in everything I do and it will always pay off. She is the best business teacher I have ever had.

Your mother did you and your brother a tremendous service, giving you an early understanding of money and how it works. I wish all parents did the same. Anything you'd like to add before we wrap this up?

This business is so much more than simply selling cleaning products.  I have already built many relationships with outstanding people that have supported me greatly. I look forward to the many future rewards Eco Life will bring. It's much easier to make a dollar than a difference.

Thanks so much for talking with me, Darren. It's been a pleasure. Good luck with Eco Life.

Thank you for having me.

Eco Life website: ecolifecleaning.org 
Also in the Green Festival-inspired series:

Is This Megadairy A Threat to Health and Livelihood of NW Illinois Residents?  Sunday, May 22, 2011 

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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