This is the second in a series of interviews featuring the 2020 Household Essentials cohort, conducted by the Target Takeoff (TT) Household Essentials program managers.
TT: When meeting someone new, how do you explain what PlantPaper does?
Scott: We make tree-free, toxin-free toilet paper that protects your most precious environments. Conventional toilet paper—we call it tree paper—is typically made with virgin tree pulp and up to a gallon of chemicals like bleach and formaldehyde per roll. Our mission is to give people a cleaner, smarter alternative that is just as strong and soft as the most popular tree paper brands—and packaged entirely without plastic. More broadly, we aim to give people the opportunity to make better, more informed choices about what kinds of products they use on their bodies and their bathrooms. Ecology, as we like to say, is intimate.
TT: What makes you most excited about working with Target Accelerators?
Rachel: We’ve never been interested in just making a niche product. We’re excited about our product and our brand because we believe they have the potential to help change the way Americans think about toilet paper—to help fundamentally shift the paradigm away from a destructive hygienic practice to a more sustainable one. For us, that’s always meant going into mass retail, and there’s no more exciting mass retail platform than Target. We’re thrilled to have the chance to learn from and work directly with experienced leaders at Target who believe in the promise of emerging brands like ours. Beyond our hope to be on-shelf at Target, we also hope to inspire decision-makers at Target to think ever more deeply about the impacts of the products and the brands they’re selling.
TT: As a business owner/founder, how are you functioning today that is different than how you were functioning 6 months ago?
Lee: Six months ago, we were just launching our D2C business. We were thrilled just to have what was essentially a beta version of the website and our subscription platform up and running. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done—kind of. Since then, our monthly sales have increased more than tenfold, and as a result, we’ve had to significantly upgrade our online store and our backend. We’ve also spent a lot of time really nailing down operational processes related to our supply chain—to ensure consistent quality at scale, not to mention avoiding stockouts. Speaking of which: prior to February or March of this year, I don’t think we could ever have imagined a scenario in which toilet paper would be an “it” product. Suddenly, COVID-19 made us the most popular kid on the block. We’ve been fortunate to have a lot more people paying attention to toilet paper than they ever did before, which has given us an opportunity to reach far beyond the eco-warriors and design fans who made up our core audience prior to the pandemic.
As business has grown, we’ve definitely had to professionalize. Six months ago, we made almost every decision by committee. Fun (mostly!), but not always efficient. Since then, we’ve had to define our roles more clearly and develop more routinized work flows—all the corporate stuff we never thought we’d have to do this quickly!
TT: What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are navigating this current environment?
Deeva: Because everyone is working remotely, it’s essential to implement good systems to keep everyone on track and up to speed. It’s so easy for things to fall through the cracks when you’re not all in the same room together every day.
Secondly…though no one can see the future, it’s clear that some of the changes brought on by COVID-19 are going to persist well beyond the end of the pandemic. Whatever product or business model you’re working on needs to be aligned to these changing realities—most of all, perhaps, people spending lots more time at home. If your idea or business is well-positioned in that regard, the current environment presents an enormous opportunity!