In 2005 Ian Smits purchased Rubbedin. Ian’s vision to produce safe, sustainable cleaning solutions that protect people and planet has grown into four niche brands: Magic, Firewise®, Pura Choice and the most recent addition InvisiGarde.
In 1979, Rubbedin was founded by Dr Don Lakeland. He launched with the cast iron stove hotplate restorer – now known as Magic Hotplate Restorer™, at the time it was an innovation as it was Australia’s first cast iron hotplate restorer.
These days the Magic brand is comprised of specialty cleaning products, such as BBQ cleaner & degreaser, washing machine cleaner and among others a brilliant multi-use descaler. The well-known Magic range contain no harmful chemicals, is non-toxic, biodegradable and grey water/septic tank compliant.
The Firewise® range are designed to maintain and repair cast iron potbelly stoves and combustion heaters. The brand leader is Soot-Loose, and is Australia’s #1 selling chimney and flue cleaner.
In 2017 PuraChoice was launched for the almost 10 million Australians who suffer from allergies and asthma. They are hypo-allergenic, contain dermalogically tested ingredients, are truly non-toxic, plant-derived and contained no d-limonene, chlorine, bleach, phosphates, sodium and synthetic fragrances.
InvisiGarde is the Next Generation in sanitising and protecting surfaces against germs. Made up of three products, a Hospital Grade Disinfectant Spray & Surface Shield which kills 99.99% of germs including the SARS-COV-2 (Coronavirus), and gives up to 28 days surface protection against bacteria on low contact surfaces, then an Anti-bacterialCleaner & Surface Shield that provides 7 days protection against bacteria and when used with the InvisiGarde Hospital Grade Disinfectant Spray will maintain the surface protection on high contact surfaces. Plus an alcohol free Foaming Hand Sanitiser that protects against bacteria for up to 24 hours. Launching very soon.
Over the past 9 years I have been fortunate enough to work on the Firewise brand and packaging, the original Pura Choice and the more recent redesign of the Pura Choice brand and packaging relaunching in May. So I thought I would ask Ian how he has managed to grow his business and navigate the peaks and troughs of the Australian manufacturing scene.
Me: Why did you purchase Rubbedin, an existing company?
Ian: My background was in fresh produce supplying supermarkets in the UK. I was attracted to the idea of having my own brand but I wanted something which had a long shelf life. I arrived in Aust from the UK in April 2005 and purchased Rubbedin in June 2005.
A lot of initial product development had been done, but every product looked different. I could see the opportunity of refreshing the brand image and bringing the products together under two brands Magic and Firewise.
At that time Rubbedin had two products in Coles and two in Woolworths. By 2006, after my rebrand to we had ten products in Coles and seven in Woolworths
Me: What has been the best business decision after that initial range expansion you’ve made?
Ian: I don’t have just one best decision, but I’d say I’ve grabbed multiple opportunities as they presented. For example, Rubbedin was first to range a washing machine cleaner into the major supermarkets in 2010, at the time it was revolutionary product to the retail market.
I have a nimble approach when it comes to customers. After a discussion with a customer we moved quickly to launch a new line, Magic Stainless Steel Wipes, with the finished product on the shelves in less than 4 months. In 2018, a customer was unhappy with current brands ineffectiveness of their stain removers. Fortunately they loved our new Magic Stain Remover and our new Stain Remover Pen, so we have given that customer exclusivity.
Me: To date, what’s impacted growth for Rubbedin the most?
Ian: Firstly we only focus on niche and specialty cleaning products. Secondly, our constant new product development. We actively search out unique products that don’t compete in the ‘everyday’ cleaning market – innovation is very important. And thirdly would be our speed to market enabled by predominantly manufacturing here in Australia.
Me: How have you been able keep your manufacturing in Australia?
Ian: We continually review our cost control to find ways to remain cost effective. We also promote Australian made and owned because we understand Australian consumers are very keen to purchase locally, especially. Manufacturing in Australia has become more important than ever. Customers are telling us there is a huge demand for Australian Made as with niche speciality cleaner there are more imported products. For example other washing machine cleaners are made in Europe.
Me: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in growing Rubbedin?
Ian: Our biggest challenge I guess is the limited number of retailers in Australia. Only having two major grocery retailers makes it difficult.
For us the Independent grocer model is not cost effective for us and work through distributors in that channel. Discount retailers work well, we have a product under their brand but with these channels you need to be super cheap so lower margins.
There has been a reduction in shelf space from the major supermarkets so the category has shrunk. They allocate space to their own brands, remove product duplications and resist price increases – some of our products we haven’t had a price increase many years. This is a big barrier to growth. Australian consumer/market is very sensitive to price so we are constantly trying find ways to reduce product costs.
Me: In marketing your three brands (Magic, Firewise, Pura Choice) what has been the biggest lesson?
Ian: Keeping them on shelf is a big challenge with the major supermarkets. Price promotions drive consumers so thats important.
Be engaging. Bringing customers on a journey with social media and developing relationship has been great for us. Cleaning is not exciting products so we try to be fun and light hearted.
The other thing we were able to capitalise on is our Australian manufacturing, the strength and power of the The Australian Made marketing channels has been helpful. We are a member of The Australian Made Campaign.
Me: What is your best cost saving tip for an emerging business?
Ian: Fully understand and monitor the costs in the business. Always try to be doing more with less. Make financial decisions based on facts not feeling. Balance risk with benefit. Keep emotions out of decision making.
Me: What do you think will help you grow Rubbedin in the years ahead?
Ian: Innovation and diversification.
Environmentally sustainable cleaning products are continuing to grow.
We’ve diversified our sales channels with e-commerce growing by 247% in the past 12 months. Now we sell on Amazon, E-bay, Catch and our own website. We’re also branching into overseas market in Malaysia, New Zealand and with Amazon USA. We are finding China more challenging so have parked that for now.
Me: Is there anything you would do differently if you were starting now?
Ian: Probably trust my gut more. I have spotted opportunities and market gaps, but didn’t act on them.
Me: It has been almost a decade from the first project to the latest, why do you choose to work with Evolve Brand Design?
Ian: Your experience and knowledge for retail product branding in Australia are the main reason I like working with you.
Me: Feel free to add any thing else…
I am inspired and driven by ideas and innovation, I live by the saying “Some make it happen, Some watch it happen & Some just wonder what happened” its your choice!