In 1999, entrepreneurs Luc Jalbert and Don Goguen created Prelam Enterprises, a small New Brunswick air freshener company. In the seventeen years since, the pair has managed to attract great media attention for its ever-expanding product catalogue. The bestselling Just’a Drop, a personal bathroom odour eliminator, has been featured on Dr. Oz, The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, CBC’s Venture, and the Howard Stern Show.
Jalbert says his company’s formulas have been licensed by industry giant Reckitt Benckiser (makers of Air Wick) to create ViPoo, an odour eliminating spray. Those formulas are researched and developed from a 7,500 sq ft facility in Moncton, New Brunswick, where manufacturing and graphic design are also handled.
We spoke to Jalbert to learn about running a business from New Brunswick, his visits to China, and more.
ONB: Just’a Drop has received the most media coverage for you. Tell us about that product.
Jalbert: I found an odour neutralizing liquid in China. I brought it back and Don and I tested it; we loved it. We reworked the formula a bit so that it was truly our own, and a product was born. We kept telling people “just a drop” is all you need and that just stuck.
The product got good early traction so we put a lot of marketing cash into it, that’s how we landed coverage from the likes of Dr. Oz. CBC’s Venture chronicled our trip to New York where we engaged in some guerilla marketing efforts. That helped get our product to Howard Stern. We didn’t approach Howard ourselves, someone sent him the product and they discussed it on air.
PR efforts like that are essential. We were trying to change people’s habits, and that’s hard. Typically, you light a match or spray something to cancel bathroom odor. Our product gets dropped in the bowl before you go.
It helps that it’s a great product. To this day I don’t think we’ve refunded anyone because it didn’t work, and we’ve sold upwards of 8 million bottles. We’ve also added Just’a Spray to the product line, and I anticipate that getting even better traction than Just’a Drop.
ONB: You’re dabbling in industrial work as well, correct?
Jalbert: We’re working with a partner in Chile to counteract malodours from lagoons. We’ve also begun medical work, making products for ostomy bags. We’re in talks with [New Brunswick health authorities] Horizon Health and Vitalité, hoping to get product into local hospitals. We’re also doing work in cosmetics; we’re increasingly diversified.
ONB: You mentioned finding that liquid in China. You recently returned from a New Brunswick trade mission to China, tell us about that.
Jalbert: That was my 26th trip to China. Past visits were about procuring equipment; this mission was about selling. I was quite happy with the mission, I had 12 meetings in total and I’d say nine have serious potential. I’m really focused on e-commerce, which is huge in China; everyone buys online there. I met with Alibaba and JD.com, the two largest e-commerce platforms in that country, and there is real potential there. It’s easier than trying to target their supermarkets; that’s a tough sell.
ONB: What do you see as advantages of operating from New Brunswick?
Jalbert: There is a well-educated workforce here. I’ve hired chemists and engineers directly from university here in Moncton, and one of my graphic designers came from our community college.
This province is well-positioned for shipping around the world. We have customers in Mexico and we’re looking at which port is best for reaching them, we have options being on the coast. All the big players are here for land shipping; UPS has a strong presence here for example. U.S. shipping is a breeze being so close to the border. Basically, our logistics and infrastructure are great; it’s no more difficult to run the operation from here than from a major city like Toronto. In my opinion, it’s a great place to invest.
ONB: Can you touch on your relationship with ONB?
Jalbert: ONB has been a huge factor in our growth. Your team is very knowledgeable and give great business advice. It’s also about help with things like buying equipment to expand our bottle-per-minute output. We’ve worked with ONB on that to make us more attractive to corporations. Without that assistance, I’m not sure we’d be able to take the leaps we do. It’s also about travel opportunities like the China mission; we need more missions like that.
ONB: Let’s wrap with your best advice for young entrepreneurs.
Jalbert: Leverage things like tax credit programs for investors which were a huge help for us early on. You should educate non-seasoned investors, like friends and family, about those types of tax credits.
Join a business roundtable group; I’ve been part of one for 26 years. It’s like a board of directors, we meet once a month. Surround yourself with smart people by joining something like the Wallace McCain Institute.
Finally, reach out to people. Don’t be too shy to ask questions of anyone. If you feel butterflies in your stomach, that’s a good thing. You’ll have to get out of your comfort zone.
Learn more at Prelam.com
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Images via Prelam Enterprises