Monday Sep 25, 2023

Wilmington cleaning product company acquired, new owners have national plans

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – It started out with a local mom posting videos about how to make safer home cleaning products. Lots of people loved the idea of her all-natural cleaners, but wanted to buy them rather than make them themselves. That’s how SQUEAK was born in 2018. Little did Jayna Crittenden know her homemade, essential-oil-based cleaning products would soon be getting rave reviews in national publications.

“I get a text from Jayna that said, ‘Check your email.’ And I opened it up to find an Inc. 500 article that lists SQUEAK as the top three direct to consumer brand to watch in the US,” said former SQUEAK consultant Parker Wilson. “There was zero PR budget, there was nothing spent on hiring an agent to distribute samples, things that I’ve done in the past with other clients — that never happened. SQUEAK was organically discovered by people who loved it.”

Two years later, SQUEAK has been purchased by people wanting to turn Crittenden’s idea into big business. While SQUEAK’s initial success was exciting, the grind of making, bottling, marketing and distributing SQUEAK products became all-consuming. Crittenden knew she either needed additional resources to grow the business, or simply shut down. When she announced her choice to close the business in June 2021, Wilson asked Crittenden if she would consider selling it instead. Crittenden said yes. The sale closed this fall to Wilson and two other investors who have plans to get SQUEAK on shelves across the nation.

We spoke to Wilson about what made her love the company enough to buy it.

“We want safety to be accessible for all,“ Wilson said of their effort to put affordable, non-toxic cleaning products on the shelf. While a full size bottle of SQUEAK will cost more than traditional cleaning products, they sell refill bottles that you mix with water in the empty SQUEAK container. Those refills are competitive in price to traditional household cleaners. While the competitive pricing, safer ingredients, and attractive packaging are a draw, it’s the smell of SQUEAK products that has many customers coming back for more.

“I think the large majority of our business, especially the comments we get over social media, are certainly reflective of just how wonderful it is to walk into a home that’s been cleaned with something made with essential oils. You certainly can smell the difference,” Wilson said. Eucalyptus, cedarwood, lavender and rosemary are a few of the essential oils SQUEAK pairs with other natural ingredients like witch hazel and vinegar to make household cleaners.

Testers from Parents magazine took notice when they tried SQUEAK. The magazine listed SQUEAK’s floor cleaner in their list of Best Green Cleaning Products of 2021. In addition to doing the best job of any of its competitors getting a wood floor clean, the article noted that “the product filled the room with an amazing earthy scent.”

Target liked the product so much it wanted SQUEAK on its shelves, and a cut of the business, too. Target chose SQUEAK as one of five emerging brands in the Household Essentials category for their 2020 Target Accelerator program. It’s a five-week program designed to help startup businesses learn all about mass retail. Small businesses selected for the program are mentored by Target leaders, industry experts and alumni.

While Crittenden has stepped away from the business side of SQUEAK, she will remain connected to the company as its founder. Wilson, on the other hand, has retail and merchandising in her blood. Her grandfather started a manufacturing and retail catalog sales business that’s been in business 70 years. Wilson got her Master of Business Administration degree from UNC Chapel Hill, and went on from there to the corporate offices, Lululemon, where she worked in operations management.

Wilson teamed up with two other SQUEAK investors who have considerable experience in the Consumer Packaged Goods industry.

“One partner is in New York and one partner is in Ohio and they have invested in countless CPG brands. So they certainly have built what I would like to continue doing, which is seeing brands that need just a little extra to get there and we’ll see where that goes,” Wilson explained.

SQUEAK is currently on the shelves at Lovey’s and Tidal Creek Co-Op grocery stores in Wilmington. It was being sold at all Earth Fare locations before the company filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection, but many stores have since reopened and Wilson hopes to get back on those shelves soon. In addition, they’d like to partner with Wegmans, Harris Teeter, and Publix to make SQUEAK products available to a broader market. Crittenden did not move to finalize product placement at Target, but Wilson said the company left the door open to a future partnership.

“We are hoping to pick that program back up and be in connection with Target to see what’s possible,” Wilson said. “Target is certainly a big goal for us and of course since the brand is already recognized by the company we are hopeful that the sky is the limit with them.”

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