Startup Profile: Purveyor of Sustainable Manure Compost ‘Closes Loop on Poop’
October 25, 2011 | Jessica Vernabe
Teddy Stray of Point Reyes Compost Co. isn’t afraid to call it like it is—his product is crap.
The entrepreneur, who runs his manure compost company out of Point Reyes, Calif., uses humor to get the message across about what he does. Point Reyes Compost Co., which also goes by the tagline “Purveyors of premium poop,” uses various sayings to catch customers’ attention. The company’s bags of products, which are used by organic growers to add nutrients to soil, say “Don’t let anyone else give you crap.” Inside the business’ office, customers can find a sign that proudly reads “Shit Shack,” Stray said.
Stray describes his company, which he founded in 2008, as “closing the loop on poop,” meaning he continues the cycle of use for a product that otherwise would have gone to waste.
Point Reyes Compost Co. uses cow and horse manure from the dairy farm run by Stray’s father-in-law, Robert Giacomini. Giacomini has had his farm for more than 50 years, Stray said. Within that timeframe, the farmer’s daughters—including Stray’s wife, Lynn—have diversified operations so they also include Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. Now Stray has found a way to take excess manure from the Giacomini farm, along with other farms, compost that manure at sustainable standards and make a living from it.
“We are reducing the carbon footprint because we are capturing that manure and putting it back into the soil,” Stray said. “In other words, this material is not finding its way to a landfill. It’s not finding its way to just some mountain of manure on a ranch somewhere. It’s being used and it’s taken to urban farmers and growers that really don’t have access to this type of product.”
Stray said the manure composting process requires letting the manure age for months at a time, turning the product, heating it at high temperatures and later testing the product for certain bacteria.
Compost results from the controlled biological decomposition of organic material, which is sanitized through heat and stabilized to a point where it becomes beneficial to plant growth, according to the U.S. Composting Council. The composted material is considered to make soil more resistant to erosion and better able to hold moisture, according to the council.
Point Reyes Compost Co. sells several products: Bob’s Best, its composted cow manure; Double Doody, a blend of composted cow and horse manure; and Mary Jane’s Blend, which is used for potted plants and containers. There’s also Tiny Timber wood chips, or mulch. The company makes this product by reclaiming and upcycling co-generation plants, according to its Web site.
The company’s composted manure products (Bob’s Best and Double Doody) are approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) to ensure they comply with United States Department of Agriculture organic standards, according to Point Reyes Compost Co.’s Web site. But that’s not the only way the company ensures its products are environmentally friendly and of high quality, Stray said.
“It really starts with having a well fed animal,” he said. “It’s also the way they’re being treated. … So when we’re talking to our customers in the nurseries and the garden centers and all these folks, we’re making sure that they know that we know the farmer and we know how they manage their herds and their animals.”
Stray said next in line are products made from duck and chicken manure. He even has a name in mind for the chicken-generated product: Poulet Poó.
Point Reyes Compost Co. currently has more than 80 retailers selling its products, including Whole Foods Market, Stray said. Stray noted that even though the company started as a local vendor that mainly served Sonoma and Marin counties, it now does business regionally in areas such as Sacramento, the San Francisco peninsula and Mendocino County. He hopes to expand his business to Southern California next year and to shortly thereafter become a provider serving the West Coast region. He expects the company to become profitable starting next year, when it is expected to grow year-over-year by about 150 percent.
In 2008, when Stray left his job in the corporate world— where he helped companies purchase “closed-loop” manufacturing products, or products for remanufacturing—he wanted to find a way to tap into his agricultural environment, he said. That’s when he decided he would take the manure that his father-in-law was already composting and giving away, bring it up to organic standards and sell it to growers.
The decision initially resulted in some skepticism from his father in law. Stray recalls Giacomini telling him, “Hey, city boy, don’t quit your day job.” However, Stray said that later changed when they both started finding there was a lot of local interest in the products. Stray talked to nurseries, garden centers and growers, discovering that people often knew little about where their compost really came from or how it was processed.
Next came additional research into equipment requirements, bagging processes and regulations, Stray said. Stray purchased a mobile bagging machine that allowed assembly lines to be set up right next to piles of manure, so as to reduce his carbon footprint and save on transportation and operational costs, he said.
Overall, it took him time to get things up and running. While the company obtained its LLC status in 2008, Stray said he didn’t start bagging product until 2009 and selling to retailers until 2010. One major reason for the slower roll-out was growers and retailers actually needed time to test out the product and make sure it worked.
Ross Perry, president of Sunnyside Nursery in San Anselmo, said he started using the product about two years ago.
“My customers tell me it’s the richest, highest quality products of its kind,” Perry said. “It’s more than just manure. It’s really a compost product, and it doesn’t smell like straight manure.”
Perry attributes the higher quality of the product to “happy cows.”
In the meantime, Point Reyes Compost Co. focused on marketing—and that’s marketing, not advertising, Stray said. He sold and gave away t-shirts and sweatshirts featuring the company’s name and slogans, and the trend quickly caught on. Basketball celebrity Charles Barkley even has one of the company’s t-shirt, Stray said.
“Sooner or later, they would start talking about our company because someone would ask them, ‘Oh my God, is that a real company? Who thought about those ideas?’” Stray said.
Stray made an effort to come up with slogans that were both hilarious and upfront.
“A lot of my customers gave me great feedback on the product being pure shit, calling it what it is, being very simple about it,” Stray said. “You don’t need to overdramatize a very simple matter-of-fact situation.”
James “Doc” King, general manager of sales and marketing at American Soil & Stone in San Rafael, which has been selling Stray’s product for about a year, said customers really appreciate the humor.
“It makes it really easy to sell because if the people are smiling, they’re going to be buying,” King said.