THE ENTREPRENEURS: Joanne Johnson, 34; Marcel Sbrollini, 42; and Rod Sprules, 33; founders of Robustion Products Inc. in St. Laurent, Quebec
THE PRODUCT: The Java-Log is a fireplace log made primarily from recycled coffee grounds. Sprules, a mechanical engineer, first learned of the high heat capacity of coffee grounds while working on a heated cold weather suit for his former employer. When coffee-houses became popular, he thought of converting used coffee grounds into the Java-Log. Today, the product, which retails for about $2.50 per log and bums hotter than traditional firewood, is sold through Home Hardware, a major Canadian hardware chain; Home Depot In Canada; grocery stores; and a variety of smaller stores in Canada and the United States. Product sales via the company's Web site (www. robustion.ca) are also growing.
SALES: More than $1 million in 2003
THE CHALLENGE: Turning an unknown niche product into a national and international bestseller
ROD SPRULES' JAVA-LOG DIFferentiates itself from traditional firewood in a number of ways: It burns with brighter flames, emits less carbon dioxide and is made from a waste product. And although this engineer-turned-entrepreneur developed the environmentally friendly product on his own, he needed help when it came to generating interest among retailers and customers. Despite the challenges, Sprules was able to turn his product into a million-dollar success story.
Steps to Success
1. MAKE SOME PROGRESS ON YOUR OWN. In 1997, Sprules developed the idea, and experimental logs were tested in his garage. "The procedure to make a log includes separating the grounds, drying [and] mixing them, then extruding the finished product," says Sprules. "It took 10 minutes to make a log. By 1999, I had the equipment improved to the point where I could make a log in 25 seconds. I started selling them at the local farmers' market and to family and friends."
2. CHOOSE A PARTNER WHO COMPLEMENTS YOUR EXPERIENCE. Though Sprules and his wife, Joanne Johnson, had done well on their own, they jumped at the chance to take on a partner with marketing experience. "In 2000, we tried licensing the product. We had some offers, but they were not adequate," says Sprules. "Through a friend of a friend, we met Marcel, who has years of consumer marketing experience at Procter & Gamble and then at PepsiCo. Marcel was the perfect complement to our skills."