Steve Shriver named Entrepreneur of the Year!
06.04.2014Steve Shriver named Entrepreneur of the Year
By Dave DeWitte
CEDAR RAPIDS – After founding two lip balm manufacturing businesses in Cedar Rapids, Steve Shriver has “learned how to deal with the affliction of being an entrepreneur.”
It’s a statement reflecting the duality in the outlook of Mr. Shriver, the president of Eco Lips Inc. He keeps the mood fun and loose but the focus on business tight at the company’s headquarters in Cedar Rapids’ New Bohemia district.
Last year, Eco Lips achieved 54 percent sales growth, one of the best performances in the company’s 11-year history. In that same year, Mr. Shriver led an expedition to Chile to climb a 22,000-foot mountain.
“It’s just drive – never being satisfied where we’re currently at and continuing to drive forward,” Mr. Shriver said.
Drive is also one of the words Mr. Shriver uses to describe what keeps him going hard. Even on an expedition, he said, “I can get in the zone of day after day after day, continuing to drive toward the summit.”
“It’s that drive that really makes things happen,” he said.
Mr. Shriver landed in the personal care products business by meeting the right woman. He was working at an outdoor sports equipment store and guiding rock climbing trips when one of the store’s “regulars,” rock climber Andrea Danielson, brought in some of the lip balm she had made in her own kitchen using natural ingredients such as virgin olive oil.
Within a six-month period, the two fell in love and started a business once Mr. Shriver convinced Ms. Danielson to invest her $5,000 life savings into packaging for the lip balm. The company was called Virgin Body Care, for the virgin olive oil.
In the first year operating from home, Virgin Body Care sold $29,000 worth of product. Sales jumped past $100,000 the second year. Over the next five years, the company moved out of the house into a converted factory loft at The Cherry Building in Cedar Rapids. It continued to grow, specializing in “private label” lip balms that customers ranging from ski resorts to breweries could sell under their own branding and labeling.
Growth also brought more awareness and pressure from a big corporation, Virgin Enterprises, to back off using the similar name. Virgin Body Care became Raining Rose, selected from the middle names of the couple’s daughters.
After breaking the $1 million sales mark in about five years, the pace of growth was putting a squeeze on the company’s resources. The timing seemed right to sell, and Raining Rose was acquired by of two veteran Corridor businessmen, Art Christoffersen and Chuck Hammond, who had the means to fund and manage the growth opportunity.
A life of physical culture has been the backdrop to Mr. Shriver’s business pursuits. A longtime vegetarian, he has run ultramarathons, led mountaineering expeditions and played in a rock band. Many of Mr. Shriver’s pursuits are so gruesomely rigorous that just finishing would be a victory to most participants.
“It makes going to my job at the office seem easy,” Mr. Shriver explained.
After a five-year noncompete agreement with the new owners of Raining Rose had run its course, Mr. Shriver was ready to make another run at new lip balm business. He returned to New Bohemia and opened a company called Eco Lips in the Cherry Building where Raining Rose had gotten its start.
The approach of the new business differed from Raining Rose by developing its own house brand and establishing it firmly as a high-quality organic brand using trusted free-trade ingredients. Eco Lips lip balms can be found in a large number of health food stores, natural and organic groceries and outdoor-oriented retailers across the nation.
After 11 years, Eco Lips has continued to register growth, reaching $2.5 million in sales and a staff of 18 full-time employees.
Despite the reputation of its products, Mr. Shriver says Eco Lips is almost a boutique brand in the lip balm industry. The market leader, Burt’s Bees, registers annual sales of more than $1 billion.
Mr. Shriver has gained a broader perspective on his company’s achievements by stepping outside the business to oversee the Aura Cacia natural products division of Frontier Natural Products Co-op in Norway, Iowa, from 2008-2012.
Having a talented and trusted protégé ready to take over Eco Lips’ leadership made it possible for Mr. Shriver to take on the new challenge of leading a $15 million operation.
Mark Patterson, the new Eco Lips CEO, was making strong gains with Eco Lips when he died suddenly of a heart ailment at the age of 34. The loss prompted Mr. Shriver’s return to the business in 2012.
From his earliest years, Mr. Shriver has tended to shun established wisdom.
“I learn by experience,” Mr. Shriver said. “I have trouble learning from a textbook or an instructor, but put me in a situation where I can learn that information on my own, and I’ve got it.”
In fact, Mr. Shriver says, he rarely relies solely on the opinions of others.
“If someone tells me the new restaurant down the street is terrible, I would not repeat that and I won’t believe it until I’ve tried it out myself,” he said.
Although his past two businesses have made personal care products, Mr. Shriver said he’s constantly open to new possibilities and has frequently been infected with business ideas he could not ignore throughout his adult life.
“I love the energy I get when I’m in business,” he said, calling it one of life’s most fulfilling experiences, “something it would be impossible to comprehend to someone who hasn’t done it.”
Although he’s torn on question of whether entrepreneurs are born or made, Mr. Shriver said there’s no question when it comes to his own experiences.
“I have no idea what it’s like not to have an idea, or to try to turn that idea into a business,” Mr. Shriver said.
Accepting the award on May 20 in Cedar Rapids, Mr. Shriver demonstrated his flair for marketing and his convivial style.
Appearing with his 10-year-old daughter Chloe, Mr. Shriver delivered a description of entrepreneurs in the style of comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck if…” routines, substituting the word “entrepreneur” for “redneck.”
On a more serious note, Mr. Shriver praised the collaborative entrepreneurship in the Corridor and the family, friends and associates who’ve supported his dreams.
“We’re becoming change agents and we are the ones literally driving not only the community in front of us, but the entire region,” Mr. Shriver said, adding that the influence is felt worldwide through the products, services and technologies being developed here.
Mr. Shriver also announced the planned purchase of another business, Brewed Café, located near Eco Lips at 1101 Third St. SE, on May 31. He said the name of the business will be changed to Brewhemia and it will feature more artwork and an emphasis on wines, beers and cocktails during the evening hours.
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