Creative Disruption

Daring design breaks open categories and builds a $30+ million brand

by Pauline Tingas,
Senior Editor
In the five years since Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry launched Method, the pair has introduced dozens of products, taken in $32 million in annual sales, and scared the soap suds out of consumer products giants that have long dominated the homecare categories. How’d they do it?
“Package design is core to the business model,” says Lowry. “We were going against big soapers with unlimited resources. We couldn’t compete on their turf with uninteresting packaging.”
Indeed, custom bottles were used for the brand’s inaugural spray cleaner line. But to generate emotion in a historically low-involvement category, Ryan and Lowry knew “disruptive” packaging would be required.
So they recruited designer Karim Rashid and introduced a startling bowling-pin-shaped dish soap bottle in 2002 that put Method on the map, earning the brand coveted distribution with Target and also a cult following.
That early success inspired Ryan and Lowry to engage a master brand strategy and to push the Method name beyond cleaning into hand and body wash, floor cleaners and wipes, premium candles, a line of air enhancers and laundry care.
The laundry line was a particular success. The products established Method as the pioneer of the triple concentrated detergent category that others are only now entering (expect more; Wal-Mart recently requested all manufacturers “right size” their detergents).
“We did the math. If everybody went to triple concentrated there would be a reduction of 180 million pounds of plastic packaging each year,” says Lowry, who is making sure the brand’s “People against dirty” tagline reflects more than a penchant for a clean home, but for clean air, clean water and clean living.
“We’re a modern lifestyle brand and not just a green leafy brand. Consumers realize you can be green without making a sacrifice in performance,” he says.
To that end, the brand offers green products and packages, but in Method’s distinct style. And while products are immediately identifiable as being Method, according to Ryan, they are also uniquely their own.
“We need the whole thing to hold together as a unified experience. But it’s more confusing if everything looks the same,” he says. “You don’t want everything to look the same, but feel the same.”
Shape is the key in that effort; the company has a goal for every product to bring shape to its respective category. But what defines good structure for Method? The brand doesn’t have published design guidelines; it goes on intuition for what “feels” right. It also shuns consumer testing, focusing instead on consumer work in strictly an exploratory mode.
“The second you start putting in everything from testing, there’s a shift in the culture. People stop thinking, stop taking risks,” says Ryan.
That’s not to say that they only go with the ready-fire-aim approach. Lowry says the company has processes in place to qualify new product/packaging concepts, but also that it works hard to avoid what he calls “analysis paralysis.”
“Sometimes when you innovate, things don’t go perfectly,” he says. “But we like to learn from trying innovative ideas and adjusting as we go.”
That agility is how the company has successfully managed to stay ahead of old-line CPGs. Outsourcing is another. “We’ve got a balance with certain things in-house and special people who help us bring out the big ideas,” says Ryan.
Manufacturing, for instance, is allotted to dozens of suppliers around the globe. The value in that, according to Lowry, is that the development process is closely linked to the sourcing process. “When we want to change a package or what’s in a product,” he says, “we don’t have to build a factory to do it. That’s a space where a fast development cycle is important.”
Clearly, Method is growing its organization for speed, not size, though Lowry is hesitant to say how that strategy will reveal itself going forward. “Home is our domain,” he says. “There are a lot of places where we can bring product and packaging innovation in the home, and those are areas we’re looking into.” At Method, he explains, the product development machine never stops. BP
Names: Eric Ryan
Adam Lowry
Ages: Eric: 33; Adam: 31
Method’s Birthday:August 2000
Where or when do your best ideas come to you? 
Adam: “In quiet moments alone—on planes, in the shower, early in the morning in the backyard with a cup of coffee in my hand...”
Eric: “Tennis shoes, digital camera, a notebook and a plane ticket to a foreign country is my recipe for finding great ideas. Nothing opens the mind like roaming the streets of Tokyo, Stockholm or Paris.”
What do you consider the ultimate branded package?
Adam: “Our 25-oz Dish Pin. It’s iconic, it’s functional, it’s beautiful, and immediately recognizable as Method.”
Eric: “Our first dish soap. It was truly iconic and hard to tell if it was a great package or a great product. I believe the ultimate branded package should blur the lines in between.”