Joel Appel `92
Taking new ventures to the top
By Sara Langen
In 2006, after selling his family business for $325 million, Joel Appel ’92 had the opportunity to rest on his laurels for a while.
But the former president and CEO of Orange Glo International Inc. just couldn’t resist the bite of the entrepreneurial bug. The ink was barely dry on the sale of the household cleaning products business when the Kellogg grad turned his attention to a new venture.
“After we sold Orange Glo, I thought I’d take a couple of years off, but some of my really good employees were trying to decide what they wanted to do next,” Appel says. “So I jumped and said, ‘Hey, let’s form this new entity.’ I pulled together a couple of the biggest stars in the Orange Glo organization and launched LaunchPad.”
An umbrella company that brings new innovations to market, Launchpad has already introduced two products — Fullbar and Brainetics. Fullbar is a line of diet bars, snacks and drinks that create a full feeling if consumed 30 minutes before meals. The product line was created by Dr. Michael A. Snyder, a weight-loss surgeon and Appel’s friend.
“I challenged him to come up with a product for consumers that does the same thing” as stomach stapling, Appel explains. Today, the Fulbar products are sold in tens of thousands of stores across the U.S., Canada, Mexico and several countries overseas.
Brainetics, meanwhile, is a line of math and memory games and products for children and adults created by math wizard Mike Byster. It received the 2008 Parents’ Choice Gold Award.
To spread the word about Fullbar and Brainetics, Appel has turned to infomercials, direct-to-consumer marketing and online sales — tactics that helped him transform Orange Glo from a mom-and-pop venture to an internationally recognized super brand.
Appel’s parents invented the orange-derived cleaning product in their garage when Appel was a boy, and began selling it at home shows and state fairs, with the Appel kids helping out. After Appel graduated from college, he joined Quaker Oats Company as a marketing associate, working his way up to brand manager while attending Kellogg’s Part-Time MBA program. Taking what he had gleaned at Quaker Oats about promotions and branding and the knowledge he had gained at Kellogg about advertising and positioning, Appel approached his parents about turning their garage business into a competitive brand.
“They had always wanted to build a business that their kids would find interesting,” he remembers. “We decided to do the company together, and that was the beginning of it all.”
After revamping the packaging and trying to sell Orange Glo in retail stores with little success, the Appels decided to go back to what they knew worked.
“We knew how to sell products at home shows and state fairs, so we thought, ‘Wouldn’t putting it on the Home Shopping Network be the same thing?’” he says. “We hired [professional pitchman] Billy Mays to go on HSN and he sold out every month, which gave us the idea to do an infomercial series. After we ran the infomercials for 12 months, the retailers were calling us.”
Soon Orange Glo International grew to include the OxiClean and Kaboom lines of cleaning products. The popularity of the brands soon drew competitors from Clorox, SC Johnson, Unilever and Procter & Gamble.
“We kept making our products better and hung in there,” Appel says. “By the time our competitors hit us, we had so many loyal consumers who just loved the product and would never give it up. Had they jumped in a couple of years earlier before we built a brand, it might have been a different ending.”
After building Orange Glo into a household name, the Appels decided to sell the business in 2006 to Church & Dwight.
“The business was strong, and we just decided it was a really good time to sell,” Appel says. “I was certainly ready to do some new things.”
As Appel focuses on new ventures, he’s mindful of the lesson he learned at the helm of Orange Glo: that traditional, big-company thinking doesn’t always apply to small businesses.
“We changed our advertising strategy radically at one point and took a more traditional approach,” he explains. “We dropped Billy Mays and started running 30-second ads and it was a complete disaster. I learned that you have to evolve your advertising strategy, especially if you’re a small company. Always build on what works, but be mindful of new technologies and never get complacent.”
Posted March 2010