INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Entrepreneurs – Surround Yourself with the Right People!
Chris Myers, President/CEO, Senior Scientist & Lead Inventor of Safe Home Test Kits speaks to us about the exclusive brand of drinking water test kits.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Chris Myers: Our family is doing well during the challenges of COVID-19. We don’t hide in our homes, but we are smart when we go out (social distance, wear our masks and disinfect our hands, etc.). Thus far, all our family members have avoided C-19. Two of our employees contracted C-19 but have fully recovered. We practice all CDC guidelines with our employees at our three laboratory locations and our warehouse.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Safe Home Test Kits?
Chris Myers: Right out of college, I went to work for American Electric Power as a scientist (I was making $12,000/year in 1977). To make some extra money, I started consulting (on the side) after work hours of my job with AEP. We took a second mortgage on our home and purchased a small laboratory, and moved it to our hometown, Madison, IN. We incorporated our parent company – Environmental Laboratories, Inc. (ELI), in 1982. I started out with just myself doing the testing, reporting, and invoicing. We now have about 40 employees and three EPA-certified testing laboratories in Indiana (Madison, Indianapolis, and Lafayette).
How does Safe Home Test Kits innovate?
Chris Myers: ELI has provided regulated testing for municipalities and industries for nearly four decades. Regulated testing means the testing is required by a governing body (Federal, State, County, City, etc.) However, the regulated testing platform has become very crowded over the course of time. In 2014, we established a new Division (EnviroTestKits®), which designs and distributes water quality test kits for use by the general public under the brand name Safe Home® (this is considered un-regulated testing). Necessity is the mother of invention! We now have over 20 different water test kits being sold in 12-different countries, with 20 new test kits coming by the end of 2021. As an entrepreneur, you must not be averse to risk. You must be willing to take “educated risks,” and with risk comes the inevitable roller-coaster ride (ups and downs). You must learn how to plan for the future when you are on top and dig in when you’re in the valleys.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Chris Myers: Many government officials at the state, county, and city levels cut back on the frequency of regulated testing for many of our regulated customers (to soften their financial burdens during C-19). By these governing bodies making these decisions to cut back on testing, laboratories like ours lost a big chunk of revenue, especially during the first year of C-19. However, something amazing happened on the un-regulated testing side of our business (EnviroTestKits). As people were either laid-off or started working from home, they started examining their family’s overall health – the food they were eating, the air they were breathing, and the water they were drinking…enter Safe Home Water Quality Test Kits. Our sales of Safe Home Test Kits have more than doubled in one year since C-19, with projections for sales to triple over the coming year.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Chris Myers: The Federal Payroll Protection Plan saved us from laying off any employees (the PPP was a blessing for us). About six months into the C-19 challenge, we took a big chunk of money from our personal retirement to expand the EnviroTestKits Division, hoping over the long haul, it would pay off for our family, our employees, and our customers. Right now, money is tight, but we are in a good place (reducing our debt-load and expanding our sales platforms). If we are able to gain the additional capital needed to evolve our new products presently sitting in our invention queue, our company will not only recover but will thrive greater than ever before. We are in negotiations with some big prospects right now. Gaining one of these big box store giants (Home Depot, Lowe’s, CVS, or Walgreens) would get us over the top and allow us to move countless new products into retail. We have even considered investors from the private sector, but that’s a whole other consideration. Investors or a new partner can be tricky…we already passed on one seven-figure offer because that partner would not have been the right fit for us. However, we try to keep an open mind each time someone approaches us. Our biggest lesson learned through being an entrepreneur (especially during C-19) is to work hard, work smart, keep looking/planning ahead, and surround yourself with smart people. Make decisions with your mind and your heart in harmony, and you will make better decisions.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Chris Myers: We learned a long time ago, we will never have all the answers. We have surrounded ourselves with some of the most talented people inside (scientists, sales, distribution, management) and outside (legal, accounting, retail bridging, marketing, advertising) of our industry. We are in the middle of some of the most aggressive advertising and marketing in our company’s history. Print ads with Hearst Media/Good Housekeeping, social media ads (Facebook, Google, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest), Direct email campaigns, ROS ads, web ads, and more. Gaining product recognition and building brand loyalty takes time and financial resources. So far, it’s paying off in a big way for us. We have also stepped into a handful of big-box stores (Menards, Bed Bath & Beyond), and we sell a lot of test kits on Amazon.com and our own website, SafeHomeTestKits.com. By paying attention to our surroundings, we have made some important decisions to help us navigate through some pretty rough waters and are now ready to hit our full stride. Exciting times are ahead!
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Chris Myers: We will always have competitors on the regulated side of testing (ELI), and more competitors than ever before are showing up on the non-regulated testing side (EnviroTestKits). We never worry about competition…it’s a fact of life that we embrace as a challenge. By paying attention to the 5 w’s (who, what, why, when, where) of our competition while focusing on our internal goals, we expect to continue to grow. If the right opportunities come to fruition, our future will be amazing. It is not our intention to just “stay in the game” but to eventually be the leader in the game.
Your final thoughts?
Chris Myers: No matter the challenges during C-19 or any other challenges that come our way, we put God first, family second, and business third. We will continue to keep our heads-up, focused on the future and learning from our past. We have been blessed by surrounding ourselves with the right people, allowing us to take educated risks in business.
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