has a good problem to solve at Murphy's Naturals
Sales of the all-natural mosquito-repelling incense sticks
and candles he brought to market in 2013 have taken off so quickly that he's already out of space at the warehouse he rented a year ago. The neon green colored products will appear in as many as 2,000 U.S. garden centers, hardware stores, groceries, Hallmark stores, as well as in locations around the world this year. With home and personal care products also in the pipeline and growing staff needs, it's time to think about the company's much-bigger future.
And because he's interested in social impact—2 percent of gross sales go to charitable causes and Murphy's has an application in to become a B Corp—Freeman wants to share that growth path with other up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
He and Raleigh developer Grubb Ventures are in the process of designing and then building out 21,000-square-feet of former Winn-Dixie distribution space on East Whitaker Mill Road just five minutes north of downtown Raleigh. Nearly half of that space will be converted into a co-working space and office suites open to nonprofit and maker-entrepreneurs, with educational programs, conference space, benefits (like a beer tap from neighbor Blackjack Brewing and a quiet room for focused workers) and rates similar to those at HQ Raleigh ($200-250 for a monthly coworking membership).
The other portion of the building will be reserved for Murphy's manufacturing and distribution, as well as a wood and metalworking shop, sewing machines and eventually 3D printers available to coworkers. That opens early next year.
Freeman envisions a space with 25 to 30 members at opening this Fall and with as many as 200 in 12 office suites and dozens of co-working desks over time, making the Five Points neighborhood a hub for consumer product and maker companies in the Triangle.
He's calling it Loading Dock Raleigh, because a loading dock was the key feature he needed in a space when his company grew out of his garage and then a storage unit in 2014. The Winn Dixie space has 19 of them.
"I love entrepreneurism. I love working with people, coming up with ideas, hearing about their ideas," Freeman says about the plans. "We really want this area to become more significant in the B Corp world. We want to be an entrepreneurial hub for nonprofits too."
The Murphy's story
So how did a startup product brand get big so fast?
It helps that Freeman spent 23 years in the packaging industry working for a division of International Paper that designed packaging for cosmetics, luxury goods and other consumer products. Freeman worked with retailers around the globe to design, develop and fulfill packaging orders, as well as on the marketing and merchandising side of the business. His emphasis was always on conserving packaging to create as little a footprint as possible and reduce costs, but he learned all aspects of product development and marketing along the way.
But he had many ideas along the way—product plans he stuck in a file folder for a later date. About 10 years ago, he finally executed on one of them. As a hobby, he developed a line of all-natural incense and candles made with premium citronella and other ingredients from the Brazilian Amazon. He called it Amazon Lights
, and began selling the products online. He learned many lessons from the branding and development—today, it's part of the more vibrantly-branded Murphy's line, which is named after Freeman's beloved dog Murphy (pictured above with Freeman and his wife Pam; Murphy passed away 18 months ago).
But it's mosquito repelling incense sticks that come in a tube and are often sold at point-of-sale that have caused the biggest growth, helping Freeman see a much bigger vision than heating and pouring wax in his garage. What makes the sticks unique are the use of three essential oils, each of which repel mosquitos in different ways. There's citronella, lemongrass and rosemary, and they're in five times the quantities than is typical in repellent. Within a few weeks of launch on Amazon.com in summer 2013, Murphy's was a top 10 seller among all repellents. Today, it's rated 4.2 of 5 stars.
The products hit retail stores a year ago, and Freeman says reorders are happening fast. Helping was this year's visit to the Natural Products Expo West, where Freeman says he was mobbed by retailers. A sales group is now focused on serving them.
Product development has only increased since that time. An essential oil-infused Brazilian rubber bracelet is in development, along with a spray and lotion. There's work on a line of all natural home fragrance products and personal care items like lip balms. Freeman will make two additional hires this year to work on the new products. Some product manufacturing will happen in the new space in Raleigh, while the bamboo sticks will continue to be made by a Chinese company Freeman has known for more than a decade.
Murphy's is self-funded, but with the help of small business loans. A key advisor though is John Replogle, CEO of Seventh Generation and a local angel investor and restaurateur (he owns seven Which Wichs). Freeman is counting on his help to
raise the capital to continue the
company's fast growth. Replogle is rumored to also be an investor in the real estate—Grubb Ventures announced plans to reinvent the 180,000-square-foot building, along with a lease by startup craft brewer Blackjack Brewing, late last year, according to the Triangle Business Journal.
Loading Dock Raleigh a "one stop shop" for maker-entrepreneurs
Freeman is in talks with NC State University for help making the space a hub for nonprofits and social ventures, B corps and socially-conscious startups. The university is also supporting the launch of Audacity Factory on its Centennial Campus, an incubator for new social ventures. Loading Dock Raleigh could be a landing pad for companies that graduate from that program, or need space for manufacturing. Because the facility has space beyond the Loading Dock, Freeman hopes it gives young companies the opportunity to expand beyond his space.
"I would love to see someone in our space become one of our neighbors because they grew enough to get their own space," Freeman says. He calls Loading Dock "the in between."
"I want to create a one stop shop for the maker innovator who is already going or just getting going," he says. To manage the space, he's hired recent NC State graduate Carter Ellis. Over the next several months, Ellis will spend time at local co-working spaces learning the ropes as well as hiring interns to assist with programming and security in the space.
Freeman's team of eight full and part-time workers (up from just one—him—a year ago) will support his efforts, but they'll also be busy working on the next phase of Murphy's—building the next global brand in natural products.