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It’s been a hectic 18 months for Kelly Vlahakis-Hanks, president of Cypress-based cleaning goods maker Earth Friendly Products, who was one of the honorees at the Business Journal’s Women in Business awards ceremony on May 4 at Hotel Irvine (see related stories, pages 1, 6, 8 and 11).
She officially opened the company’s new 125,000-square-foot headquarters in Cypress in April, consolidating prior co-headquarters operations in Garden Grove and Addison, Ill. She also opened a sales office in Athens, Greece, to service Europe; increased the number of products from 150 to 200; created a line of commercial-grade products; launched a baby-safe line with Burbank-based Walt Disney Co.; and started to turn toward the Chinese market and its population of 1.4 billion.
The company also changed its labels and brand name to ECOS, because “that’s how we are known,” Vlahakis-Hanks said, referring to the name of its first laundry detergent, which has become synonymous with the company.
She said she considers the privately owned company, which was formed in 1967, as still an infant in the world of business and that there’s plenty of room for growth.
The new headquarters has about 90 employees, including executives and administrative and manufacturing staff, and produces about 25,000 tons of cleaning products annually on only one daytime shift.
The company’s four other manufacturing sites in Florida, New Jersey, Washington and Illinois produce an additional 50,000 tons. The company employs slightly over 350.
Vlahakis-Hanks said she limits work shifts because she’s concerned that employees have a healthy balance between work and their personal lives. She also pays them a minimum wage of $17 per hour, with occasional overtime pay, in order to reduce stress and hopefully prevent the need to work second jobs.
The company introduced the policy in 2014, and she said it’s reduced employee turnover by about 50%.
Vlahakis-Hanks said all of the recent Earth Friendly Products business changes align with her upbringing and her father’s vision for the company when he founded it: to protect people and the environment by producing sustainable cleaning products derived from natural components and provided by local suppliers.
Vlahakis-Hanks was elected company president in May 2014 after her father died.
She said she has mixed emotions about the way she got her current title but that she was happy to work alongside her father for 11 years. The time together allowed her to learn about every detail of the company and to understand his passion for environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Vlahakis-Hanks didn’t immediately join the company after graduating from the University of California-Los Angeles with a bachelor’s in communication and history.
For five years, she worked at a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., and as the public relations manager of a fashion company.
“The time was extremely valuable for honing my skills, developing relationships with members of Congress and other business leaders, and gaining perspective,” Vlahakis-Hanks said.
She joined Earth Friendly Products in 2003 as its first public relations director. “We never wrote a news release prior to then,” she said.
Vlahakis-Hanks declined to share its finances. The Business Journal estimates that Earth Friendly Products has averaged about 6% annual revenue growth to about $120 million in the past three years.
Pursuit of Passions
Vlahakis-Hanks beamed after she was announced as an honoree at the Business Journal event. “To be recognized by this community for all of our efforts is a wonderful honor,” she said.
She was first nominated for the award in 2010. “My dad even designed an advertisement congratulating me for the nomination.”
Vlahakis-Hanks said women in business should pursue “something you’re passionate about, where you are personally invested, and where you can pour your heart and soul into the company’s mission.”
She also advises women in business to voice their opinions, because women tend to have a strong understanding of people’s concerns due to their relational nature.
“We’re involved in the community, with our families and neighbors,” she said. “Our voices need to be heard at the business table. That is when everything improves.”