Ricky Greer knew the odds were stacked against him when he came up with the idea for Earthworm all-natural drain cleaner three years ago.
Locally based entrepreneurs pedaling one product are a longshot at best to ever make it big-time. But Greer said to heck with conventional wisdom and plowed ahead anyway, giving away his product for free to anyone who would take it — just to get his name out there in hopes that someone would notice.
Well, the right people have noticed. Today, Greer is well on his way to becoming a multimillionaire, and that one initial product is now an entire line of bathroom, mold, mildew, carpet and floor cleaners that are sold in stores all over the nation.
"Conventional drain cleaners are not exactly environmentally friendly," said Greer, who along with two other people does all of the work out of the office of his other business, Positive Attitude industrial cleaners, on Main Street in Marlboro. "I knew green was going to come to fruition, and I thought this would be applicable to everybody because everyone has drains."
He chose Earthworm for the name of his brand because "what earthworms do is bore their way through the dirt to allow roots to grow. What this product does is bore its way through the drain to let water flow."
Greer launched his product in March 2007 as a freebie at Pauline's Health Food Store in Manalapan. That led to a trial run in the Whole Foods stores in Middletown, Red Bank, West Orange and New York City, as well as stocking by UNFI, the biggest natural foods distributor in the nation.
A few advertisements in retail publications eventually got Greer noticed by Bed Bath and Beyond buyer Danielle Zaharek, who according to Greer asked him, "Every time I take a shower and I'm done, I'm standing in water. Will this work?"
After five days — it takes several days to fully work, Greer said, Zaharek called back and told him that it worked and that he would get 40 Bed Bath and Beyonds on a trial basis.
Today, Greer's line is in every Bed Bath and Beyond nationally, as well as in Harmon Drugstores, Whole Foods, Wegmans, Stop 'N' Shop and even a trial at 200 Wal-Marts nationwide.
"I was told so many times "We can't take you on because you are one guy with one product. What if you cannot deliver? We cannot have a void on the shelves,' " said Greer, who also has been featured in the Summer 2008 edition of the National Geographic Green Guide, a publication in China, NBC's "Today Show" and CBS' "Early Show." "But I've proven I can do it."
Greer, who is on pace to sell about 20,000 cases of his product this year after a total of 13,000 in 2009, was recently ranked No. 12 on the top-20 list of drain cleaners in the U.S. market — ahead of standard names such as Mr. Plumber.
"Now I'm just growing the product, doing natural trade shows and expos, and going to stores and doing presentations," he said. "Who knows where this is going to go next."
Jeff Weber: jweber@MyCentralJersey.com.