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Truman’s is cleaning up cleaning

SustainabilityPublished on June 23, 2020

The spray cleaner market in the US currently accounts for $10 billion — a segment where consumers report close to zero brand preference. One dirty little fact about the industry is that traditional spray cleaners are actually 98 percent water inside single-use plastic bottles. The products need to be shipped from the manufacturer to the store and then transported from the store to your home — a system rife with inefficiency and waste. 

Answering the call to clean up cleaning is Jon Bostock, Founder and CEO of Truman’s, who is the latest guest in our video series The Business of Carbon Emissions. Truman’s offers innovative products with cleaning concentrates shipped direct to the consumer for use in refillable bottles, thereby reducing transport fees, packaging, and waste.

Jon provides a crystal-clear view into the spray cleaner market and explains how Truman’s has developed a more streamlined supply chain by answering these questions: 

  • How is Truman’s business model different from “Big Cleaning” with traditional brands?
  • Why are cleaning products on shelves composed of 98% water? What’s the problem that needs to be solved so consumers aren’t paying for mostly water and the overhead associated with that? 
  • How has Truman’s developed a more sustainable supply chain?
  • One semi-truck of Truman’s concentrate is the equivalent of 30 trucks of traditional cleaners — can you tell us about the associated reduction in carbon emissions?
  • How are you able to lower shipping fees as a result of streamlining your supply chain?
  • Sustainability is a journey for every company, what is Truman’s next milestone to reduce waste and inefficiency?

You’ll gain some important insights as Jon takes a deeper dive into the business of spray cleaners — particularly during the current heightened awareness around cleanliness and sanitation — and see how one company is out to revolutionize an industry by reducing materials, sourcing the highest quality ingredients available, creating shorter supply chains, and improving inefficiency overall.

Watch the video here or read the transcription below.

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Jennifer Wong: Hi everyone. My name is Jennifer. I lead sustainability at Convoy and today we’re going to be learning about cleaning up the cleaning industry with Jon Bostock, founder and CEO of Truman’s. Truman’s is a company that not only offers great products but it’s also much better for the environment than maybe just the typical store-bought cleaning products that you might already have in your cabinets today. They actually provide people with refillable bottles. I actually have one here right here. And then also they ship you some concentrate so that it actually helps lower shipping fees, packaging, and waste. It’s a huge opportunity to capture the share of the ten billion dollar spray cleaning market in the US where there’s very little brand preference. So welcome Jon to our session today. 

Jon Bostock: Yeah, thanks so much. I’m super excited to be talking with you today. You know, today, it’s a big day for us. We launched a new product, as you saw and we’re super proud of the product we launched last March, which is in front of you. 

I think we’re really working hard to reimagine the category. We say online that we’re the coolest cleaning company on the internet, probably, and I think that we are certainly working hard to be the coolest period. But we’re also trying to solve big issues, as you alluded to. 

Jennifer: Can you tell me about how the Truman business model is different than some of the big cleaning traditional brands today because there is a lot of inefficiency and waste that exists in product lines. Especially if you’re looking at huge packaging like this. 

Jon: Yeah, I think, frankly, supply chains overall will see radical innovation over the next 5 to 10 years. I think you look at the situation we’re in right now with most people being stuck at home in isolation due to the pandemic. The reality is that we rely [2:00] on shipment of products and we rely on the goods to move from point A, a manufacturing facility, all the way through to point Z, someone’s home in the most efficient way possible. And frankly, these categories are old. They have not been improved in many years because of low margin and a host of other issues and here we are in a situation where we depend on these products as part of our daily routine but they’re not really made to be efficiently traveled from point A to Z as I described. So, you know, you look at the category today and it’s riddled with products that are 98 percent water and when you take a step back and you think about how that impacts the whole process, it actually impacts every single step of the supply chain. You think about the amount of material that’s used. You think about the carbon emissions thrown in from A to Z as I described. You think about the amount of distribution centers that are needed. The amount of warehouses, the amount of retail shelves, it is insane to think about the overall impacts of cleaning products that are effectively made as ready to use products and they don’t have to be. You know, what you showed was a reusable bottle with concentrate, a fraction the size of everyday products and we think that that can extend to a lot of different product categories. You know, what you have in front of you is spray cleaning. What we launched today is laundry, dish, and toilet products that have the same philosophy. 

Jennifer: When you talk about reinventing the supply chain, can you talk about how yours is different than a traditional model that exists today. 

Jon: Yeah, absolutely. You know, the contrast is pretty significant. If you think about the traditional retailer and the traditional brand name relationship, the whole goal is to get a ready to use product on the shelf in mass quantities. And so, you have brands like Windex. Create a huge factory and that factory facilitates the mixing of water and chemical [4:00] into bottles that are ready to use. They put it up on huge pallets, load it on a bunch of trucks. Those trucks then go to the distribution center, warehouses, sit on the retail shelf, no idea as to how the impact is negatively impacting the environment and frankly, the inventory situation gets all out of whack because you’re trying to predict all of these upstream and downstream variables. We’re a direct company. So not only do we look at the world and say, “Let’s shrink the supply chain from point A to point Z, in this case. Let’s actually shrink the product at which we’re moving.” So not only are we skipping a lot of those steps and skipping the cumbersome process of premixing and filling, but we’re only shipping what the consumer needs and we’re allowing for the input, in this case water, to be added at the point of use in the home and that significantly reduces the volume of the product. So, you think about a spray cleaner, the one in front of you, that’s a 27-ounce bottle. To make a cleaning product you need .33 fluid ounces of cleaner. 

Jennifer: Just this one? 

Jon: That’s right. That’s right in front of you. So those are two. That creates two 27-ounce bottles. So, you think about just the pure insanity of the difference between our supply chain and other supply chains. Even the point of retail, I think is broken in many ways because you think about the need to fill products and have them sit on a retail shelf and in reality, we can have those products delivered right to our home when we need it. Even if it’s through a traditional retailer, the supply chain doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And the drain on our economy of having these warehouses and distributions set up doesn’t make sense either. So, we’re really shrinking the entire thing. We don’t need as many distribution centers, we don’t need the warehouses, don’t need the shelf space, we don’t need as many [6:00] trucks. You know, you go down the list and you don’t need as many materials. You know, when you think about the resin used in the bottle in creating ready to use bottles versus concentrates, it’s a significant difference. So, everything about the way we operate is more efficient, less of an impact, and smarter. 

Jennifer: Right, and I think I read that, somewhere online, where a semi-truck of all of your concentrates is actually equivalent to 30 trucks of traditional cleaners. I think that’s just incredible. 

Jon: Yeah, and it’s only going to get better. We’re going to continue to shrink the product. You know, I think our first version is what’s in front of you. You know, what we launched today is smaller and more compact. 

Jon: Absolutely right. When you think about what we talked about with these big manufacturers mixing products with water and then shipping it through, they do require 30 times the amount of trucks and so it’s a much more effective and efficient way to ship products when they’re small and when they’re more compact. It makes obvious sense but for some reason the trends in the marketplace shifted towards ready to use product and it was considered to be a luxury to buy this product as ready to use when it actually, in the end, the consumer loses. They’re getting a product that isn’t as high quality, a product that cost more because they’re paying to get the product shipped. And so, really, this new way of thinking, I think is going to be the trend that you’re going to see really transform product development, transform supply chains, and of course, traditionally have been low margin with no innovation and flipped them on their head. 

Jennifer: It’s exactly the same way that we think about sustainability at Convoy as well. [8:00] Where if you’re able to reduce a lot of the inefficiencies and waste that happens in transportation or the supply chain today, everyone actually gets to benefit where businesses typically have to pay less for their shipping costs, yet they get higher quality levels. Truck drivers can actually make more money because there’s less of that empty mile in between and ultimately, for the planet, there’s actually less carbon emissions that are emitted when transportation actually needs to happen. Goods are always going to need to be moved from one place to another. 

Jon: Yeah, look, the thing about sustainability is that we sometimes get confused about what sustainability means. People think that sustainability is some sort of propaganda. The reality is sustainability means you can be profitably in business over the long term. Now, we’d actually believed that using less materials, being less harmful for the environment is ultimately what’s going to drive us forward, but if I’m in your shoes, I’m absolutely looking at how do we be more efficient to move products from A to Z and companies that rely on archaic systems of distribution is retail shelves where the products sits collect dusts and it has to be discounted because they got the inventory numbers wrong. That’s not sustainable for anyone. If you’re filling your trucks with products that are irrelevant, overpriced, and not quality, then overtime the consumers are going to walk away from those products and not buy them. So, it’s not going to be very important to be shipping those products and overtime, that business is going to. So, when you think about sustainability it has to be what do consumers want, what is the right way to drive innovation, and how do you play a part of it. We really, at Truman’s, we think of this idea as multidimensional sustainability and by no means is that we don’t use plastic because we do, we just choose to reduce it significantly. We have an impact; we just choose to reduce our supply chain by more than 70 percent [10:00]. You know, so we actually lean into the realities of doing business. I applaud you and what you do with your company because sustainability is about efficiency and its about longevity and it’s about knowing that you’re setting yourself up to be profitable over the long term and constantly deliver on the products to your customers. 

Jennifer: It sounds like we’re completely aligned, and I agree. I also believe that sustainability is a journey for every company. I think some companies, like yours, are starting very sustainable first over some companies are making progress over time. I also believe that all progress is good progress. As we kind of close up, could you maybe share a little bit more around, what is your next milestone and reducing waste, reducing inefficiency as you think about sustainability, profitability, kind of your next set of products. 

Jon: Yeah, we want to revolutionize the industry and I know that’s somewhat of a cliché for people to say at times, but we really want the industry to behave in a different way. Clearly the first step is to remove an input to the product that you don’t need and, in this case, that’s water. We would love for all major cleaning categories to be shipped as the concentrate only. We think that ease of use is super important but as we look across the category, whether its laundry which we just entered, dish which we just entered, or toilet products which we entered, what we want to see is a reduction of the materials and shorter supply chains. What we also want to do is make the consumer get the products to interact with our brand and understand how to use them. I think we’re living in a time where we’re all looking at each other saying cleanliness and hygiene is more important now than it ever was before and I think that’s only going to improve or increase, and improve our quality of life. And so, what’s absolutely important for us in being Truman’s and having a brand promise is that we can deliver great products [12:00] to your home in the most efficient way possible, using the highest quality materials, because we can actually invest in that. We’re not shipping water; we’re not having these long windy supply chains that are costing a lot of money and using a lot of materials. So ultimately, five years from now we hope the industry looks a lot different and we hope that we’ve led the charge to move in that directly. 

Jennifer: Thank you for sharing your perspective again. I’m excited to look out for more of your products, add them to my collection once I run out of my current ones. 

Jon: Thank you, thanks so much. 


Jennifer Wong

Jennifer is the Head of Sustainability at Convoy, helping transportation leaders make progress against their environmental and social impact goals.
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