Mr. Flanagan, 55, is president of Nuance Solutions Inc., a 37-year-old Chicago company that develops and produces cleaning chemicals for private-label and branded clients. Nuance Solutions was strictly a commercial and industrial manufacturer until 1999, when it began dabbling in retail cleaners. But it was still using mostly conventional chemicals.
Then, in 2002, Mr. Flanagan was referred to a job for Seventh Generation Inc., the huge cleaning products company based in Burlington, Vt. “We’d always prided ourselves on using greener raw materials, but there was no advantage to marketing that because people weren’t buying green just to be green,” Mr. Flanagan says. After Nuance got the Seventh Generation referral, things changed.
“We had to look hard at our company and where to go, and all arrows pointed toward us developing more markets for green products,” he says. “That was a significant difference.”
And, in hindsight, a prescient move. Sales at the 70-employee company have been rising steadily ever since. Today, 75% of Nuance Solutions’ $25 million in revenue comes from green cleaners, commercial as well as retail. And it’s the reason, Mr. Flanagan says, that the company has grown even during the worst recession in his lifetime.
“We were ahead of the curve, so we felt we were in control of our destiny and had better seize the opportunity to go out and grow the company before (green manufacturing) gets more crowded,” he says. “It’s a scary time right now, so I feel pretty fortunate.”