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The Seven Obsessions Behind Method

Words by Leon Kaye

Fewer industries are more difficult to break into than the cleaning supplies business.  Long entrenched brands like Procter & Gamble (PG), Unilever, and SC Johnson have long ruled the space.  Even tougher is convincing consumers that safer and “greener” alternatives are just as effective as products like Windex and Tilex.

Nevertheless, Method has emerged as a strong competitor to the established giants in 10 years.  From scrappy startup to a US$100 million brand, Method has earned a devoted following and is showcased in large retail chains including Target and Lowe’s.  Eric Ryan, Method’s co-founder, explained the seven obsessions that built Method at last week’s PSFK San Francisco conference--and that is also the theme of a book he co-wrote with Adam Lowry, the other brain behind Method.

So what are the seven pillars, or obsessions, of Method’s success?

  1. Create a culture club.  Method has turned its corporate culture into a competitive advantage.  Like many new companies, Method has adopted a horizontal approach to its internal operations.  The company has transformed traditional functions within an organization:  for example, Ryan told the audience that “your HR director is really your marketing director.”  You won't find Receptionists in Method’s headquarters--everyone helps with that role.  Method vets its candidates seriously and looks for unorthodox approaches towards solving problems.  Bringing fun into an organization hardly disappeared with the circa 1998 dot-com startups, as Method demonstrates: irreverence within one’s organization goes hand-in-hand with trust, transparency, and a creative culture that has helped making housecleaning fun, not frustrating.

  2. Inspire advocates.  Speaking of housecleaning, Method has changed the way we look at cleaning supplies.  Instead of packaging spray cleaners into drab bottles that are banished to confinement under bathroom and kitchen sinks, the company has made surface cleaners part of the home.  To that end, in Ryan’s words, “every brand has a social mission,” and consumers are encouraged to offer advice about their products.  Method’s customers have also been quick to help--as when Clorox sent a nasty-gram to the company’s office demanding that the firm stop using a daisy as a logo.

  3. Be a green giant.  “Progress, not perfection,” is the mantra behind Method’s growth.  Most of the company’s products are shipped by trucks running on biofuels.  The company has started making bottles out of plastic harvested from the Pacific Ocean.  Yet not everything about Method’s operations is perfect in the eyes of the sustainability maven.  For example, the company is now working with vendors so that its soap refill packages can be made from a more eco-friendly material, which for now is not the case.  But, while Method parters with vendors to find a solution, the company also trains and inspires everyone within the company to be a sustainability expert.

  4. Kick ass fast.  “If you are not the biggest, be the fastest,” urged Ryan.  Method’s open office environment lends itself to speed becoming as a function of the company’s culture.  Ideas are openly displayed all over the headquarters’ walls, and employees push each other to think of products that they would use themselves.  The San Francisco office thrives as an open laboratory:  its employees prototype products like mad.

  5. Relationship retail.  At a time when the web had a role in commoditizing everything, Method takes relationship selling serious.  Most consumer packaged goods companies rely on a transactional approach paired with massive data crunching, but not Method.  “We don’t sell,” boasted Ryan, “we consult.”  Successful selling, in Ryan’s eyes, is the transformation of emotion.

  6. Win on the consumer’s product experience.  Here is where Method thrives.  One of the most eco-friendly products on the market emphasizes design and performance, not “green.”  Yet the company does a fine job educating its customers on sustainability.  One case study is the evolution of its triple-concentrated laundry detergent, which pushed other companies to sell similar products.  After all, that thin line on the inside of detergent bottle caps was hard to see and yet great for companies because wasted product boosted the bottom line--but also meant these products were bad for the environment, bad for clothing, bad for washing machines, and bad for the skin.  Method’s leadership in rethinking how laundry detergent is packaged was also impressive considering that the company has three scientists, not hundreds, on staff.  In short, out-innovate your competitors.

  7. Design-driven leadership.  Build design leadership into your company’s DNA.  The results speak for themselves when you see Method’s products at such stores as Target.


Learn more about Eric Ryan’s and Adam Lowry’s journey here.

Leon Kaye is a consultant, writer, and editor of GreenGoPost.com and also contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business; you can follow him on Twitter.  He lives in Silicon Valley.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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