Women in Business

Meet Woman in Business Sandra Ann Harris

WE Magazine for Women is delighted to interview Sandra Ann Harris, Founder – ECOlunchbox

Tell us about your business.

We are a mission-based company in California specializing in plastic free food containers. Our target audience is people of all ages who are seeking to reduce their dependence on plastics for various reasons. For example, some people use our steel and silicone lunch boxes because they don’t want to be exposed to bisphenols in plastic, such as BPA, which are estrogen-mimicking chemicals disruptive to our hormonal systems. Other people are concerned about plastic waste in our environment and the damage it is doing to our marine systems. Our user community is averting tens of millions of pieces of trash every year through the use of our products as well as having a positive impact when it comes to CO2e aversion and global warming. And lastly, saving money is a universally compelling reason to shift habits. Check out our lunch study.

Please tell us what being a business owner means to you and why you became an entrepreneur in the first place?

I’ve always been a changemaker whether it was working as an investigative journalist for 15 years or as a humanitarian aid worker in Vietnam. Business has the power to do good and I started ECOlunchbox to bring to market plastic-free food containers because I thought they’d fill a need. My own family needed plastic food containers and I was correct in guessing that other families were also seeking to reduce their dependence on plastics! These factors were the impetus for putting to market our stainless steel food container line and starting the business. The more we sell, the more change we help families make.

What would you say is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?

The heartbeat of the company is our mission. So I would have to say that selling hundreds of thousands of reusable lunch boxes and helping people as well as the planet is what makes my heart sing.

What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to our readers?

It’s so important to pick a professional endeavor that resonates with one’s personal passions. Being an entrepreneur is an extremely challenging undertaking, but if you are working on behalf of something larger than yourself you can keep going through the thick and the thin. Never just pick a business idea that seems like it has a good market opportunity unless you are a complete believer in whatever product or service you will be selling.

What has been the most effective marketing initiatives or programs you have used to promote your business?

I believe that we’re better together! What I mean by that is collaboration is a powerful and usually free tool that small business owners often overlook. So I would say that initiating extensive collaborations with other eco-friendly businesses has been a very effective way to expand our reach. For example, people who are buying other eco-friendly products like Eco-Bag Products reusable totes, Glass Dharma straws, Bambu Home bamboo utensils, non-toxic laundry detergents, and other fabulous new to market green solutions are great pre-qualified buyers for our products as well. So we do a tremendous amount of work on our blog educating and inspiring our community in collaboration with these other like-minded businesses. Our Instagram and Facebook pages show many examples of these collaborations.

What’s one thing have you learned as a small business owner that has served you well over the years?

Ask for help! You can’t know everything. It’s amazing how many people out there do know what you need to school up on and will be so happy to help you. So reach out for help from your personal network as well as from the Small Business Administration in your community or other resources. We were in an accelerator program when I was first starting the business and it was an invaluable experience to work on my business in community with other entrepreneurs and with the support of advisors.

Are there any resources or tools you’d like to share with other small business owners that have helped you run your business?

There are a lot of cloud-based software systems that have free plans that we have used over the years. For example, Podio does a simple CRM and sales lead management system with a free plan that we really like and use to capture incoming wholesale leads with a form on our Website. We use Google For Work software systems now on a paid plan, but earlier in the business we used free Google systems. The free Google calendar, for example, is super handy for teamwork. We color code our marketing messaging based on channel, for example, with Facebook posts in blue and Instagram in orange so we all know what is pushing out that day and on which channel. Don’t forget that LinkedIn is a great way to post blogs and is also free. We also use Wrike on paid plan marketing projects and social media scheduling. Frontapp.com is our email platform and it works great for our small team to collaborate, including talking and moving email from one team member to another.

Do you have any new projects coming up.

ECOlunchbox is celebrating our 10th year in business this year! It has been an amazing journey both in terms of what we have accomplished as a business as well as my own development as a leader and a human. Business can be a tool for so much learning. It’s not just about making money, obviously. I would encourage anyone who is interested in challenging themselves to definitely start their own business. It is such an opportunity to push one’s limits!

What do you do for fun/relaxation?

At every opportunity I try to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors. I like to walk from my house to a nearby open space area for hiking. I also really enjoy kayaking on Tomales Bay in The Point Reyes National Seashore, about one hour north of where we live. Some of the designs of our Blue Water Bento silicone lids feature marine patterns from Tomales Bay and the Pacific Ocean, such as the green eel grass embossed lids on our 3-in-1 Splash Box container.  In the wintertime I like to ski both downhill and cross-country. Pretty much anywhere I go I can find about 10 things that I love to do outside and this is what keeps me ticking and feeds my ECOlunchbox passion project with a steady stream of positive eco energy.

What is Number One Business Goal you plan to accomplish over the next year?

I would like to new hire sales rep teams that are passionate about eco-friendly products so that we can continue to expand our in-store placements! Some of the sales reps we’ve worked with over the years just “don’t get it” when it comes to the uniqueness of our products being made from stainless steel and silicone in lieu of plastics. They have a hard time selling our products because they’re more expensive than plastics, and they can’t connect with the health and environmental motivations that drive sales of our ECOlunchbox line. It’s such a noisy marketplace out there that emailing buyers doesn’t work very well. Our emails just get lost. We need real humans connecting with buyers and sharing our mission and products. Even though we’re living in a high-tech age, most of us are still old fashioned humans and we respond to the power of story, such as the story of why I started ECOlunchbox as an eco mom in need of product that didn’t exist yet. And we respond to human connection. Emails just don’t cut it when it comes to selling a product that most people have never laid hands on yet. They need to touch out plastic-free bentos, open and close their easy leak-proof silicone lids, and connect with the mission behind our company’s founding! That’s where an effective sales rep can come in to help us continue to grow our business.

What’s the best way for the readers of WE Magazine for Women to connect with you:

Facebook:  @ecolunchboxes

Instagram: @ecolunchbox

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandraannharris/

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