November 23, 2022

☀️ Wood Stain Made by the Sun ☀️


Meet Rebecca Berger, Silicon Valley’s newest CleanTech entrepreneur. She is literally harnessing the sun’s power to make wood stain! ☀️ After her artisan friend had a stroke right in front of her, she was determined to create a wood stain that would do no harm to the applicator. Considering she is an artist, her ability to create unique colors is unmatched. Her tannin reactive wood stain is exceptional because it starts a reaction that unlocks nature’s true colors right before your very eyes, in minutes, instead of decades. Finishers call WeatherWash “magic in a can!” 


 What made you think of weathering wood with reactive stains? 


“True beauty exists in nature. No wood stain is more beautiful than the colors of naturally weathered drift or barnwood. I needed to find a way to re-create that inner beauty. Hold the color with a topcoat and retain one hundred percent of the wood grain,” Rebecca says as she uses an air compressor to mix the ingredients in a 330 gallon tote. 

Check out the WeatherWash portfolio on Instagram @WeatherWash.


Rebecca bootstrapped sales until she was ready to launch into retail stores. She and her husband bought a nice motorhome and traveled from state to state and grew as fast as sales would let them. Those efforts paid off big, as major retailers started to place her product on shelves. At present, she is in five hundred Walmart stores. 

Rebecca explains her initial success, “Walmart gave us our big break! Our buyers, Amanda Dias,-Jayasinghe, Jose Castaneda, and Jonathan Feinberg, have been an exceptional team to work with! Jose has been patient, helpful, extremely fair, and understanding during the supply chain shortages. I really can’t say enough good about him, and I appreciate all the lessons I learned as I scaled with Walmart. I’m proud to say that Walmart shares our CleanTech vision. Made in America and sold in America, that’s America’s future!” 🇺🇸 

Bob Glass, the Home Depot paint merchant, is considering a trial of one hundred Home Depots in 2023. Michael Harwell, the Lowe’s buyer is considering a placement in 2024. Michelle LaForge, the Menard’s buyer, is moving WeatherWash into all their stores Spring/Summer 2023. 

As states have begun to regulate paint and stain emissions, you saw an opportunity to improve upon the inventions of nineteenth-century industrial giants. How is your wood stain innovative? 


“Not only is the product innovative, but so is the manufacturing process. Inventors like Edison, Tesla, Ford, Dupont, Carnegie, and Sherwin-Williams created our modern world through oil-based industrial manufacturing operations. These operations account for one-fifth of global energy use and roughly fifteen billion tons of carbon annual off letting. Most manufactured products use energy to create heat to produce the world’s materials and chemicals. The problem is that as oil supply decreases, prices will continue to rise. This is happening right now. Eventually, the oil demand will be higher than the oil supply. When this occurs, I expect a big energy switch to occur. I believe renewable energies will be the peak of the next innovative height because the energy’s source is replenishable and combinations of renewable energy can always meet demand. So, I’ve built my manufacturing operation on renewable energy and raw materials.” Rebecca tosses what appears to be herbs into a tote. She pinches a little of this and a little of that and mixes with a wooden oar. 

 “Second, my product is innovative because it decarbonizes wood stain. My stain is tannin reactive and water-based instead of oil-based. Once the stain is applied, I start a natural reaction inside the wood, which yields an aged color, like how the sun bleaches driftwood over decades. My secret sauce is that I know how to stop the reaction so that it doesn’t continue to age over time. The whole process takes just twenty minutes, including dry time. Once I stop the reaction, I seal it with a special topcoat I created to hold almost the exact same color as driftwood. Architects can’t tell the difference between real barnwood and the wood I stain, which is great because my stain gives them an unlimited supply. My product is also innovative because it’s a tannin reaction that speeds the aging process up and can be protected without compromising the color. My clients call it barnwood in a bottle. The entire process from stain to topcoat takes only two hours versus my competitors’ process, which takes fourteen days. Innovation is easy to spot when you’re reducing labor costs and material costs.” 


What is your biggest hurdle? 


“Retail stores limiting the number of stores I can get into. They want to test the product in a hundred stores even though I have a proven track record with online sales and more than enough capacity to fulfill thousands of orders!” 

What are some benefits to using water-based reactive stains rather than oil-based stains? 


 “My formulas harness naturally grown renewable raw materials and renewable energy sources. Another benefit is resource efficiency. Water-based formulas would be a great alternative to oil-based products because water is more abundant than oil. Switching the base formula from oil to water would be the biggest benefit, because on a mass scale, my formula will increase the oil supply. Also, traditional manufacturing operations contribute to the fifty-two billion tons of carbon emissions each year. I used a ratio (total gallons produced / energy use) and learned that my manufacturing carbon emission is practically zero. And the product itself has no carbon or VOC emission. It’s beyond carbon. It’s #netzero!” 

Your product is truly magic in a quart, but your operation is next level. You said you use the power of the sun to make the product. Can you tell me how you do that? 


“Sure! I use the sun’s energy to catalyze my product. I was inspired by PV solar panels that capture 20% of photovoltaic protons. I realized I could use the sun’s rays to cook the batch rather than electric powered heat or fossil fuel heat. Right now I’m capturing approximately 80% of the sun’s heat. And once we install solar panels, my operation will generate power for the grid. #Negawats! This is the future of net-zero American manufacturing!” 


You say your primary focus in your operation is on efficiencies. How do efficiencies play a role in CleanTech? 


“Efficiencies are the key to real CleanTech results! The built environment is responsible for 29% of the 52 billion tons of annual carbon emission. I have five main efficiencies that are reducing carbon, they are raw materials, workspace, energy, labor, and plant power. I have one goal in mind when manufacturing: my energy efficiencies must maximize outputs and minimize inputs. With where my operation is right now, I would say I’m 78% efficient. As we scale to our goal of eight thousand retailers, I expect my efficiencies will be closer to 92%.” 

Rebecca attributes her success to lessons she learned in her MBA operations class. She has capitalized off continuous flow manufacturing (CFM) and just-in-time delivery (JIT) processes she learned from an IBM case study. What are some constraints you’re experiencing as you scale? 


“Warehouse capacity and price parity. When we first launched in gallon milk jugs on my apartment deck, space was an obvious issue, and costs were high. Now that we’re manufacturing in 330-gallon totes, our next increase will put us in 15,000-gallon stainless steel vats. The biggest constraint of any CleanTech product is to be on price parity with existing low-cost products. Right now my price on the shelf is $19.97. My competitors are around $15.97. The end consumer is paying a CleanTech premium of $4 when they buy WeatherWash, which is 25% higher than my competitors’ prices. With more orders, my total manufacturing output will double, and labor efficiencies will improve. I’ll pass those decreases onto the end consumer and get my price in line with my competitors’. I might even land on $14.97 once the supply chains untangle. I’ve learned a few lessons as time has passed. Technology-driven learning, product efficiency, and shared experience will reduce costs per unit as the total volume of production increases. At least that’s what the classic experience curve says. The more you know, the better you can do right? #Profitable!” 


To date, the wood stain industry generates approximately $6B a year in US domestic sales. Wood stain is a commodity, so sales have incredible sticking power. What is your growth strategy going forward? 


My strategy is to get WeatherWash on big-box retail shelves as fast as possible. The DIY coatings market is estimated to be $60B. I wanted retailers with the highest foot traffic because that would yield the highest inventory turnover. I’ve set my sights on Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart. These eight thousand retail stores combined have a 191.5M US consumers in foot traffic per week, but Walmart gets most of that foot traffic. Retailers are the fastest path to the highest growth. 

Keeping up with demand: Once homeowners complete their first project, a sort of hunger for the next project ensues. Most start at picture frames and rapidly escalate to kitchen tables, end tables, TV consoles, headboards, decks, beams, floors, and even home exteriors. The need to beautify and fill empty spaces is limitless, because DIY is incredibly affordable. A strong buying segment of DIY clients is 24- to 35-year-old LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability.) LOHAS want wood stains that don’t have strong chemical odors. They want low costs. They want wood stain to be efficient and provide the same quality as oil-based stains but with fewer steps. In 2020, LOHAS represented one-third of home purchases. Home Depot is the number one retailer in the home-improvement DIY space, with a towering $151B in revenues for 2021. The majority of their clients are LOHAS consumers who are fixing up homes to sell or repairing homes they’ve just bought. I see a lot of LOHAS crossover growth between the world’s two largest retailers, Walmart and Home Depot, but Walmart could easily cut into Home Depot’s revenues. #Growth! 

 

“Also, government regulation uses tax incentives and subsidies. It would be nice if state and federal governments would give CleanTech coatings the break they give solar and wind. Could you imagine the impact regulation would make if lawmakers required 25% of paint and stain to be carbon free, the way they require 25% of grid energy to be renewable? The reduction targets two primary points of emission. Reduced carbon from plant manufacturing and reduced carbon/VOC off-letting from product application. Between high foot traffic and government regulation, I believe the growth will be there.” 

You’re ambitious! What is your endgame vision? 


“I would like to make instructional videos shoppable in a platform like iTunes. Something simple where any LOHAS could buy a DIY video for a $1.29. The purpose of the DIY instructional videos would be to connect ‘the how-to video.’” 

COVID pushed consumers online. Do you have an online strategy? 
 

“What I want to do online would be even bigger than retail shelves! The Cleveland Research Clinic estimates that finishers will make more than half their purchases online over the next three years. I already have a very strong online presence with Facebook, Instagram, and soon TikTok. Amazon, Home Depot, and Walmart are in the top ten most searched websites. As in-store brand awareness increases online traffic will also increase, sales volume will go up and attract more and more customers. With higher sales volume and multiple projects, I can get faster turns on inventory and more out of fixed costs like my vats, shipping line, and servers. Those efficiencies will continue to lower my price as I feed the flywheel to attract exponential traffic. That is how you grow market share; you build a flywheel and feed it. And the best part? Store shelves would NO longer control inventory capacity. WeatherWash could go GLOBAL! #Scale!” 

How would you go global? 


“Ship everything! I would hire someone to use Microsoft power BI and predictive analytics to give me data analytics. I can also use information from social media feedback loops to create an algorithm that would unify a DIY digital video library with DIY online clients. Burberry has successfully created and implemented this type of algorithm. Angela Ahrendts’s Fast Company interview gave me the idea with a model she created. I think that same model can be used to democratize the global DIY movement by making wood stain affordable and ubiquitous on the shelf and online. I mean, as prices for furniture and fixtures continue to rise, who wouldn’t want a CleanTech do-it-yourself online shoppable option? Plus, if you do it yourself, you can disrupt the oil-based coatings and get the high-end Restoration Hardware furniture look at a price anyone can afford. Ultimately, that’s endgame—the highest-end look at Walmart prices. No finishing experience required!” 

If you had one wish, what would it be? 


“That my product would accelerate the switch from oil-based wood stains to water-based stains on the retail shelf as quickly as possible.” 

 What would you need? 


“To accelerate a three-year product switch on the shelf to, like, yesterday? The company needs super scalers with proven exponential growth track records to help accelerate the scale. WeatherWash may even need an experienced CEO who lived through Moore’s law (revenue growth) and Wright’s law (cost reduction). My goal is to execute with military precision and strike with a vengeance!” 

What would you give up? 


“Take a look around you. Everything I have here is for sale. It looks like my staff is overflowing a tote. I gotta go. Are we done here?” 


*****

When I wrap the interview, I’m surprised Rebecca can even hear me over the noise of the air compressors, shouting, and continuous lid hammering. She is laser focused on “the batch” and somehow manages to answer all my questions even though we are interrupted multiple times by employees. 

Here are some of my key takeaways: I personally have a new appreciation and a new perspective for renewables. I believe renewable energy operations will be revolutionary! Why? Because renewable energies are REPLENISHABLE, whereas crude oil is not. If renewable energy products can perform as well as oil-based products and cost just as much, or less, why wouldn’t we switch? CleanTech may be able to offer even lower prices, once the machinery is paid off, and prices can continue to fall because the cost of generating energy is practically nothing. 

Rebecca has arrived at a manufacturing crossroads where renewable raws and alternative energy sources intersect. The result is a breakthrough technology that needs no electricity and no fossil fuels to manufacture. Her process may even be cheaper than oil-based wood stains and this visionary entrepreneur has decarbonized the product and the manufacturing operation. She has lit a path for industrial manufacturers inside and outside the coatings industry. The possibility for a transition from oil-based formulas to carbon-free water-based formulas now exists. 

How will the big switch from oil to renewable energy happen? 
Inventors and innovators like Rebecca will harness renewable energy the way she did with the sun’s power to make wood stain and satisfy old oil-based demand with new renewable supply. Inventors are inventing products that will have a ripple of change as products are dropped into the market. Light bulbs, alternating current, and gas-powered vehicles were all products that were like a pebble in the pond. Some ripples will be big, like Elon Musk’s electric vehicle, wind, and solar. Some inventions will be small and nearly unnoticeable, like biofuels and wood stain. Either way, change is coming. 

When will it happen?
It’s already happening! In the summer of 2020, Germany successfully provided their power grid with 56% solar power. If you want to see the switch happening within the built environment, specifically wood stain, go to your local Walmart store or go online to Walmart.comHomeDepot.com, Amazon.com, or Rebecca’s website, WeatherwashCoatings.com. Just search for WeatherWash and don’t forget to leave a review! 😊 

Some serious questions, as the big switch begins are: How will innovators get 52 billion carbon tons to zero in these categories: transportation, agriculture, electric power grids, industry, and the built environment? How much is the big switch going to cost? How many fossil fuel jobs will be lost? How many carbon-zero jobs will be gained? 

Many believe 2050 is the cutoff before the 1.6 trillion tons of carbon emission heat the earth up one or two degrees and bring irreversible global damage. Think superstorms, extreme weather, droughts, food shortages, and energy grid collapse. Don’t be afraid of what may come. The big switch shines rays of hope through the darkest carbon cloud, and it’s happening one ripple at a time. 

Thank you for reading, and may each and every one of us find the ability within our consuming capacity to make the BIG SWITCH. Feel free to comment below.

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