Lindsey McCoy spent 10 years running environmental education nonprofits in The Bahamas, islands that are full of single-use plastic.
After her return to the United States, she and her sister co-founded Plaine Products in February, 2017 in order to help minimize single-use plastic and reduce waste in bathrooms across the country.
Plaine Products offers premium personal care products in uniquely sustainable packaging: aluminum bottles that can be returned (for free), refilled and reused.
Based in Cincinnati, OH, all of the products are vegan, non-GMO, cruelty-free, biodegradable, color-safe and free of parabens, sulfates and toxins, good for the body and the planet.
Plaine Products is B Corp and a member of 1% for the Planet.
Lindsey McCoy has a master’s degree from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs from Indiana University.
She is currently on the Board of Plastic Ocean Project and a volunteer for Citizen’s Climate Lobby.
Get more tips about reducing the plastic in your life by following us on social media: @plaineproducts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- [00:00] Intro
- [01:04] Crash course to Plaine Products
- [02:54] How does refilling Plaine Products work?
- [04:06] The AHA moment for Plaine Products
- [05:26] From an idea to production
- [07:03] The educational part of a business journey
- [08:03] Get started and iterate as you go
- [09:12] Pursuing perfection can be a detriment
- [10:21] Plaine Products’ go-to-market strategy
- [12:05] Sponsor: Electric Eye electriceye.io
- [12:25] Sponsor: Mesa getmesa.com/honest
- [13:28] Sponsor: Rewind rewind.io/honest
- [14:03] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.grsm.io/honest
- [15:31] Sponsor: Klaviyo klaviyo.com/honest
- [16:40] Lindsey’s message to her past self
- [18:14] Sustaining growth requires a team
- [19:30] Deflate your ego, hire people
- [20:04] Lindsey on WooCommerce
- [21:34] Don’t get hung up on tools
- [22:14] Changing platforms isn’t easy
- [24:04] Sustaining repeat businesses
- [24:40] Working with the right influencers
- [25:44] The consistency of the marketing message
- [26:25] Vanity metrics vs marketing fit
- [28:27] Passion really helps your business
- [29:50] Where to find Plaine Products
- Refillable, environmentally friendly shampoo plaineproducts.com
- Connect with Lindsey linkedin.com/in/lindsey-d-mccoy
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries theleanstartup.com
- Scale your business with electriceye.io
- Level up your customer support gorgias.grsm.io/honest
- Get a free trial at klaviyo.com/honest
- Get a 14-day free trial at getmesa.com/honest
- Get 1 month of automated Shopify backups for free at rewind.io/honest
If you’re enjoying the show, we’d love it if you left Honest Ecommerce a review on Apple Podcasts. It makes a huge impact on the success of the podcast, and we love reading every one of your reviews!
You have to be willing to constantly evolve and work on things. And maybe there's a whole new system that comes into play or a new supply chain or a new packaging or you know, I mean, I think there it's always a work in progress.
Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, a podcast dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running a direct-to-consumer brand does not have to be complicated or a guessing game.
On this podcast, we interview founders and experts who are putting in the work and creating real results.
I also share my own insights from running our top Shopify consultancy, Electric Eye. We cut the fluff in favor of facts to help you grow your Ecommerce business.
Let's get on with the show.
Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I am your host Chase. Clymer.
And today, I'm welcoming back to the show for myself --but you guys haven't heard the original episode that we decided to redo-- Lindsey McCoy, welcome. How are you doing today?
Hey, Chase. Good. Thanks for having me. Again.
Absolutely. So Lindsey is joining me from my favorite state. She's also in Ohio. They're based out of Cincinnati, Ohio.
And Plaine Products, is on a mission to get rid of single-use plastics.
So for people that are unaware of the product offering, you want to give them a quick crash course and like what Plaine Products is bringing to market and the types of products that you sell?
Yeah, definitely. So we do personal care products, which is a fancy word for shampoo, conditioner, body wash, facewash, lotion, hand wash in aluminum containers. So you order your product, it shows up with a pump.
And then when you're running low, you order a refill or you can subscribe and we'll send it automatically. And so we send that bottle along with a return label.
So when you're out on your first switch the pump over and then you return the empty bottle to us for free.
And we wash, sterilize, refill, and reuse the bottles. So nothing has to go to the landfill or end up in the ocean.
And plastic is an amazing material, but it sticks around forever. So we are piling it up on the planet, which is not a great thing for any of us.
Absolutely. So if I subscribe... Is it a subscription service only or can I do a one-off thing? How does it work?
You can do it ala carte, you can subscribe. We try to make it as easy and convenient as possible. And so everybody's got a different way of doing things. I like to subscribe and then never worry about it again.
Never have to go back and just have it show up. My sister, who is my co-founder, loves to have a little bit more flexibility, try a different scent, switch things up.
So at any point, you can always email us and we can switch the time frame, we can switch the scent, we can switch the products... We try to make it as easy and convenient as possible.
That's awesome. That's awesome. And then now say I try the product and... Do I have to send... Do I have to pay to send the bottle back to you? How does that work?
Nooo. No. So again, we wanted to lower all the barriers. This is really a way... In a perfect world, once upon a time, we all made all of our stuff at home and there was no waste.
And then, we went through a time when people bought stuff without plastic, amazingly enough, in the 40s and 50s.
Plastics have only been around for 50 or 60 years. So we wanted to make it super convenient. So you get your product, and then when you're running low, we ship that refill right to you.
So there's no downtime, nothing like that. And then with the refill bottle comes a return label. So you just stick it in the mailbox with a return label and it comes right back to us for free.
You guys, obviously, have an awesome idea here. And I think a lot of the listeners, they're at the stage in their business where they're ideating on things.
So I always like to ask, where did this idea come from? Was there like an aha moment? Or was it just a gradual evolution of something a little bit deeper?
It was both. It, actually, was an "aha moment" in the shower. I was living in the Bahamas. My husband is actually from the Bahamas and there are 700 gorgeous islands off the coast of Florida.
And there's not the same infrastructure that we have here in the states to sort of make all of our trash disappear. So you see it. You visually see all of the things that you're throwing away every day piling up.
So we as a family started trying to use less plastic.The reusable cups and water bottles and the reusable shopping bags. And one place I couldn't find a solution was all of those little plastic bottles in the shower.
So I was in the shower one day --and this is gonna give away my age (laughs)-- but I was like... I don't know if you're around, but when Netflix originally started, they would ship you the DVD and then you'd use it and then you ship it back and they'd send you more.
And I was like "That'd be cool if you could do that with shampoo bottles. Why can't we... Why can't we just keep reusing stuff?" And so it was an aha moment. And then it was an evolution from there to almost 2 years later when we finally launched.
Oh yeah man. See, I never... I didn't make the connection between the Netflix style model of reusability and your brand. So I'm glad that we redid this one. I don't know if we actually touched on that last time.
Yeah. I don't think that came up.
Alright, so you have this aha moment and you're like, "Alright. Cool. We have this product. We have this idea of how we want to do this product."
How long did it take from that moment to where... I guess the first step is like, "Okay, we're gonna do this thing." And then until you have products in hand... What was that whole journey like?
So I think we had the idea in May 2015. We finally opened our virtual Ecommerce stores February 14, actually 2017. So not quite 2 years. I called my sister that May, and asked her if she wanted to do it with me.
And she has a totally different skill set than me. I had been in the nonprofits. I'm a problem solver, management, bootstrapping... All of that. Got it. She has a design background. So she was able to make things look good.
Pick the right products, pick some good scents. I smelled it and I'm like, "Smells great." She's like, "No, no. That smells terrible. We're not doing that." And would actually spend 2 hours picking out the right scent.
So between the 2 of us, it worked out really well. We spent over a year just calling people, emailing people, asking questions, trying to teach ourselves about this business trying to make up something that had never been done before.
So yeah. It was a lot of learning a lot of asking a question, realizing you hadn't asked the right question, calling back and asking again before we got around to launching.
Absolutely. Now how much of this kind of just educational part of the journey was specific to the product or the type of industry that you were looking to break into? And how much of it was just general "We don't even know how to run a business."
(laughs) It was both. It was definitely both. Luckily, I had run several nonprofits so I had a basic working understanding of running an organization.
But I read a lot of books, listen to a lot of podcasts, just trying to figure out the best way to do it for us. I actually, we became a B Corp, which is a certification that sort of says you are balancing profit, people, and planet.
And that was really helpful to me in setting up the infrastructure and thinking about all the things that I wanted to think about as we grew and sort of set some really good baselines for me.
So that was like a little mini-MBA right there figuring that out.
Now, you mentioned that you read a lot of books, you listen to some podcasts, is there any book or two that stands out to you that you would recommend to anyone that's looking to make this journey?
So it's [like] to put something out into the world, and then accept that you need to learn, and that it's going to change. You know what they say: No good plan withstands...
You can plan all you want, but until you have customers and until they're reacting to it, you're never really going to know how it's going to figure it out.
So, I think we're on our third or fourth iteration of the website, third or fourth label design, constantly evolving, how we talk about the products, how we explain the process, all from customer feedback.
So I do think if you have an idea, if it's possible... Quality. Put something out quality. Get it out there and let people experience it and give you feedback. It's really important.
Yeah. And I think that the the main takeaway there is people that are just waiting for the perfect time, "It's got to be perfect." I think perfection is a detriment to entrepreneurism. Because you can't...
It will never be perfect. You will always be optimizing, you'll always be working on it.
So I guess if you're gonna take anything away from this episode, I just want you to honestly know it'll never be perfect. You just gotta put it out there, get the feedback, and improve it.
And everything's changing, even if it's perfect at one moment, that doesn't mean it's gonna be perfect 6 months from now.
I think that you have to be willing to constantly evolve and work on things. And maybe there's a whole new system that comes into play or a new supply chain or a new packaging. I think it's always a work in progress.
And so exactly what you say, there's never going to be the perfect moment, the perfect product, the perfect everything. And even if there is that one shining thing, it's going to be different again.
So you've got to be willing to listen and get feedback and continue to evolve, I think, to be successful.
Absolutely. So let's go back to the launch of the business and I guess the launch of the website when you guys are... When you go perfect. Not perfect. When you go public, per se. Not in that sense.
But when you're like, "Alright, let's put this thing out into the world." How did the launch go? What was your go-to-market strategy? How are you trying to get eyes on the product? What can you share about that?
So because we had so much to learn, the beauty of that was that we made a lot of partnerships with green beauty, zero waste bloggers... It was really actually before influencers were such a thing, but I think they probably were proto-influencers.
And I was asking a lot of questions. "What do you think about these ingredients? What do you think about this language?" And so people were interested in what we were doing because it was super different.
And so our main strategy was just that sort of networking. Sending it out to people, having them, try it, having them talk about it. And that was completely what we were relying on in the early days, and then word of mouth.
And the nice thing about being the first one to use reusable packaging is it gave somebody... It gave us a differentiator, it gave people something to talk about, people were interested in checking it out, and that continues to be true.
And I think it's such a crowded marketplace. It's such a crowded internet. It's really hard to break through and get people's attention.
So having something that makes you stand out or makes people go "Oh yeah. Those metals... Who is that? Those metal bottles?" It just helps it stick a little bit more. So we very much used that in what's now called an influencer strategy.
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Now, you said that you listen to a bunch of podcasts also, when you're getting started.
And I'm not gonna ask you what those podcasts were, but I am going to ask you if you could go back in time and you could put this episode of the podcast on your player and you could listen to it, what would you want to tell yourself?
What would I want? I think that, probably, that perfection piece, just to remind myself that we're just gonna keep changing it. Persistence is so important.
And I think probably I would encourage myself to get help a little sooner than I did. We started to bring on people part-time contracts.
We actually took advantage of some really amazing women who were looking for flexible work and were able to hire above and beyond because we were doing remote work again before it was pre-COVID. Flexible time.
And so I should have... I should have done that sooner (laughs). It's easy to hold on to things and believe that you're the person that needs to do them.
But instead, having people with different ideas and different energy really makes a difference and really makes it more sustainable in the long term.
I think it's super easy to get burnout as a founder, especially when you try to hold on to everything. So I would just encourage myself to "Let it go a little sooner. Bring in some help. Don't be a martyr."
Yeah. I think that a single founder... A founder with a part-timer or 2 or maybe an assistant... You can grind, and grind, and grind, and probably get to a million dollars.
But there's no way you're getting any higher than that without having team members in place, either actual on-staff like on your team, or partnerships with other agencies, or contractors or freelancers or what have you.
There's just so much to do at that point. Once the volume hits that, you're at a glass ceiling. You can go no further until you start getting things off your plate, and you can focus on what actually matters.
Totally. I think, not only is there so much you can do. But you start to burn out and then customer service suffers, your energy on social media suffers, you start to get annoyed with your customers, which is not not what you want to do.
You want to be grateful and excited. And so it really is important. It's important to find people that you trust and you're on the same page with.
But it's got to be bigger than you, yourself, if you want it to be a real business and not a cult of personality.
It needs to be able to extend and other people need to be able to interact in that mission and ethos and do as good or better a job than you're doing in specific areas.
Yeah. I think that, again, it goes back to the perfectionism thing. You can hire people that will do a good enough job to where nobody in the world will notice the difference except for yourself, probably. And that's something you just need to get over.
Yeah, it is true. Is every social media post exactly [the same]? No, but that's okay. And other people might think it's better.
So, yeah, definitely. It comes back to that perfection piece. I think the ego piece a little bit, too. The control... "Control all of those [aspects mindset]." Play into that.
Absolutely. So nowadays, you guys are doing fantastic. You're currently on WooCommerce, which is something that not a lot of our listeners are. Well, not a lot of our guests are on that.
Obviously, I'm all about Shopify. Is there any reason why you're on that platform? What was it doing for you that the other ones could or could not do for you? I'm just curious about it. And I get... I know, some of the listeners would be as well.
Yeah. We got started... We started building the website in 2016. So I was actually familiar with WooCommerce from non-profit work. And the developer that we started working with --a friend of a friend-- also was familiar with that.
So it was an area that I was comfortable [with]. And because we were doing something a little bit different, this reuse piece, we don't send a pump every time. We send a return label when you need one.
Being on WooCommerce gave us a little bit more flexibility to experiment with how we wanted to set up the shop where we wanted to put those things. And I haven't used Shopify, but my understanding is that it's a great package in a box.
If you need to set up a website and sell stuff, it explodes out, you fill it in, and you're selling stuff, which is, which is great, especially if you're doing something standard.
But for us, because we're constantly sort of tweaking that standard and figuring out ways to do it a little bit differently, I think WooCommerce has given us some flexibility to do that, which has really worked for us thus far.
Absolutely. And not to sell you on anything, but I promise we could do whatever you're doing on Shopify, but this isn't a sales conversation. back when you got started though in 2016, that's probably when we started working with Shopify as well.
Some of the things that you're saying were a bigger challenge back then that have been solved for now. But, the one thing I want to highlight here is that Shopify, WooCommerce, Magento --even though I don't like Magento at all-- doesn't matter what tool you use.
It's more about having product-market fit. And that's what's going to help your business actually be successful. It doesn't matter what color your hammer is, it can drive home the nail, that's what it needs to do.
Yeah. Again, I think it's important... It needs to work. And if you can't make it work, you need to switch. But it's probably not super critical to get hung up on, as you're saying.
All of these little pieces can easily distract you or be a reason why you don't launch or you don't get something out there. And I think that is a mistake. I will say, once you get a little further down the line, it becomes harder to switch.
Certainly, I have been keeping my eye on Shopify. And there's some cool stuff going. The Shop Pay thing is pretty snazzy. But once you get down to a certain point, there are some things that make it a little bit harder to change horses.
Oh yeah. The switching cost. Not only just like the cost of the actual technology, but the lift that goes into migrating your whole tech stack over to another technology is not an easy business decision to make, especially the further along you get because it affects multiple roles, multiple people, multiple partnerships.
Quick example would be, you'd have to take a look at email, you'd have to take a look at fulfillment, you'd have to take a look at inventory management.
All those things are wildcards that could make it take a week to switch or 6 months.Because that's just a part of growing a business. All these systems start to play together. And then it gets... Sometimes you get stuck.
And you're trying to run a business. All of that comes in addition to [something]. So it is... I think it is, for sure, we're spending a lot of time --as you're getting started-- trying to think out as much as you can, where you're headed and what you want to do and making sure that you've got a good fit early on.
And if you don't, do something about it sooner than later for sure.
So nowadays, you guys are still crushing it on WooCommerce. What has changed now? Are you guys still doing this " influencer thing" or what is the biggest lever that you're pulling to drive new business or repeat business with what you're doing these days?
For sure. I'm super happy that we set up a subscription process. That has been a really big win for us as far as recurring revenue that doesn't cost that much to just keep going, that's just in the background. A nice line that's going up into the right.
We do continue to work with influencers, although I will say that there are a ton more out there. We've tried to be careful about making sure that they're the right fit for us. There are a lot of, let's say, beauty influencers.
And if we give them our product, they don't talk much about sustainability or not having chemicals in your product or whatever, you know, our product just... People are talking about what grey pants they're wearing. It just doesn't land. Whereas if...
If they're already having those conversations with their audience, then people are excited and we get a great return. So I think you just have to... The influencer piece can be great, but you just have to be really thoughtful about who you partner with.
Are they having conversations that relate to your brand or are they a receptive audience. So, I think we get hit up all the time from people looking for stuff.
And so we're just trying to do a better job of doing our homework and making sure that we're working with the right people.
Absolutely. You have to make sure that the messaging and the product, it all fits what you're trying to get across there. I see that a lot.
This might be a little bit of a different take on it. But oftentimes, people will have a really good Facebook ad, and then they'll send them to a landing page that speaks nothing to the offer in the ad.
And if the marketing... If the message is off between those 1 things, it just feels like it was broken. And then I just bounced as a potential customer, because it doesn't make any sense to me.
So if you could take that too, instead of being an ad but being an influencer, and the message of that campaign is completely different than the offer of the product, if there's a mismatch there, it's not gonna be a successful campaign.
Yeah. I think that's a great point. And I would also just say that it's easy to get starstruck by somebody who has 30 million followers. But it doesn't matter if your message doesn't land.
You'll do much better with somebody who's got 20,000 followers, but is a good fit, then even if somebody has 30 million followers. So keeping those numbers in mind, it's much more about the fit and the engagement and the reception.
Yeah, that you can even double down on that so much. Even with an email list, I think, how many email subscribers you have is such a vanity metric.
At times, it's like, "Well, are people actually opening your emails and people clicking through on your emails?" That's way more important than the other stuff. And it's like... You start talking about the B2B world...
I know people with smaller podcasts or smaller email lists, but they're charging larger numbers for advertisements, because everyone on that list is exactly the demographic that service providers are looking to get in front of.
So again, it just goes back to making sure that the audience that you're trying to put this offer in front of, is the right audience.
Yeah. And I would encourage people, and hurt your email list. Send out the email occasionally that says, "Hey, if you don't respond to this. We're happy to let you go."
Because there's no sense in paying the company that's sending your emails to send it to 10,000 people that are never going to open it. I was like, "[If] we're gonna lose..." I was like, "Let's lose 10,000. That's okay. They weren't opening it anyway. I don't need to pay for them."
So I think to your point of it being a vanity metric. Certainly, it is better to have a smaller number of engaged people than a huge number that you can [be] "Yay! look at us!" But nobody's opening it.
Oh yeah. Absolutely. Lindsey, I can't thank you enough for coming back on here. For a nice little redo (laughs).
But is there anything I forgot to ask you today that we talked about last time or just anything that you'd like to leave with the audience today?
Um, no. I think the only thing, I guess, I would say is, if you're starting a business, having some sort of passion around some piece of it really helps. There are going to be bad days, hard days, tough times, frustrating days.
And so for me, feeling like I'm hopefully reducing a little bit of waste on the planet, putting something goods, and education, and awareness out there makes a huge difference. So it doesn't have to be that.
But I would just really encourage people to make sure that they have some sort of connection to whatever it is.
Because you are going to be spending a lot of time doing it and talking about it and thinking about it. And so it just helps if it's not just a random whatever.
Yeah. It's not a job at that point. It's more of a passion. And it's something...
Because there are going to be a lot. Yeah, there's gonna be a lot of good days, but there's gonna be also the same amount of bad days.
So making sure you're passionate about it will make you want to go to work, I guess. (laughs)
Yeah. That's the thing. It's your company, so you don't go to work. It's like, "Are you gonna get up and work on it or not?"
And it helps if you want to (laughs). Because, yeah, you're the one driving it and you're the one driving all the people that you bring on.
And so, if you're not sending the emails and making the calls, they're not happening.
Absolutely. Now, if people are curious about the product, where should they go to check it out?
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on.
Thanks, Chase. It was fun.
Alright. I can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their knowledge and journey with us.
We've got a lot to think about and potentially add into our own business. You can find all the links in the show notes.
And obviously if you're thinking about growing your business, check out our agency at electriceye.io. Until next time.