When Poo-Pourri founder Suzy Batiz started developing a bathroom spray to eliminate toilet odor in 2006, her family and friends were skeptical.

"They would just look at me like I'm crazy," says Batiz of her idea to use essential oils to mask bathroom odor. "Not one person thought it was a good idea. They were just like, 'What are you doing?'"

Thirteen years later, Batiz has turned the company into one of the fastest-growing private companies in America, ranking No. 1,671 on the 2018 Inc. 5000. After growing its annual revenue 275 percent from 2014 to 2017, Poo-Pourri generated nearly $60 million in 2018 revenue, and Batiz says the company is now valued at more than $400 million. The Dallas-based company's products are available at major retailers including Target, CVS, and Bed Bath & Beyond. Poo-Pourri also sells on Amazon and directly to consumers through its own website.

Despite consumers' discomfort with the subject, the business of air freshening in and out of the bathroom is having a moment. In-home air fresheners, a product category that includes sprays, slow-release, and plug-in devices, was a $2.3 billion industry in 2018, according to a recent report from the market research firm Mintel Group.

And slowly, says Batiz, consumer attitudes are starting to change. "When I started, nobody wanted to talk about bathroom odor. One of my proudest moments is realizing that we actually have people talking about poop," she says.

All About 'Oversharing'

Americans are indeed more willing to discuss toilet odor and ways to eliminate it, says Harry Bernstein, chief creative officer at the advertising firm Havas New York. "First social media was this idealized version of life, and now it's oversharing," adds Bernstein, whose company recently launched a marketing campaign for one of Poo-Pourri's competitors, Air Wick's V.I.P. toilet spray.

 inline image

Poo-Pourri also is amping up its marketing, after long relying on word-of-mouth, alone. Last month, the company launched a new campaign complete with billboards, subway station ads, and its first TV spot featuring reviews from real customers who, in some instances, describe their bowel movements in explicit detail. The company's SVP of marketing and creative, Nicole Story, says there were many funny tweets and Amazon reviews to choose from for the ad campaign.

"Twitter is great for comedy," Story says. "We've had people write us full poems. Tell us stories. Get really creative in their Amazon reviews." Story notes that customers appear to be more comfortable sharing their bathroom stories online than they would in an in-person conversation.

Like Poo-Pourri, Air Wick V.I.P. has focused on humor as a way to diffuse some of the awkwardness around talking about bathroom odor. In its latest marketing push for the brand, Havas New York launched a podcast called "The Very Important Podcast: The Podcast That Doesn't Stink," where the host and his interview subjects chat about a variety of topics while sitting on toilets.

"Humor is the gateway to normalize this conversation," Bernstein says. "The smart humor here is not being gross. It's tastefully produced."

While larger companies like Air Wick (which is owned by Reckitt Benckiser), SC Johnson, and Procter & Gamble still dominate the broader air freshener industry, smaller brands like Squatty Potty or Poo-Pourri are well-positioned to outperform, says Rebecca Cullen, senior household care analyst at the market research firm Mintel Group.

Poo-Pourri's attractive packaging is likely a key factor in its growth, adds Cullen. "Somebody might not be embarrassed to have it lying around on the bathroom toilet or anywhere within eyeshot of anybody," she says.

Poo-Pourri's choice to avoid synthetic fragrances also may help the brand gain market share. "Essential oils make the products seem a little bit healthier for consumers," Cullen says. "Consumers are just becoming far more aware of what's in their products. If they don't recognize it, they're becoming a little bit more wary about it."

Beyond the Bathroom

A fan of yoga, meditation, and nutrition, Batiz says it's important that her company continues to live up to her own health standards both in its products' ingredients and the way it treats its 75 employees. In addition to offering a massage room to employees, supplying healthy snacks from Whole Foods, and bringing in a feng shui guru to furnish its Texas headquarters, Poo-Pourri's bathrooms are decked out with live plant walls and, unsurprisingly, its signature toilet sprays.

Poo-Pourri is not Batiz's first company. The entrepreneur filed for bankruptcy protection twice before founding the toilet spray brand. The first time came in 1986, after a bridal salon she had acquired went belly up. She filed a second time as the founder of a dot-com startup in 2002; it was a recruiting website called Greener Grass, which matched candidates with companies based on culture fit. The investors she had lined up prior to the crash backed out, and without that funding, the company faltered.

Vowing not to let investors--or a lack thereof--get in the way of her business aspirations again, Batiz started her current company with $25,000 in savings. "No one could be a barrier to what I knew needed to happen," she says, referring to her decision to avoid outside investment for Poo-Pourri. "Typically brands that take advantage of investment lose control of their vision and company. I know I didn't want that and thankfully didn't need it."

As Poo-Pourri enters its 13th year in business, Batiz isn't slowing down. The founder recently launched a separate line of natural cleaning products, Supernatural, that also uses essential oils. And Poo-Pourri is developing other products outside of its trademark spray, even as it pursues the ambitious goal of being in every bathroom in America.

"We're determined to be the Kleenex or Band-Aid of the category we created," she says. "You have dreams and you have goals, and at some point you wake up and say, 'we're really doing it. This is where we wanted to go.'"