Interview with Peter Witonsky, CEO of Sun & Earth - Part III

10/17/17

Peter Witonsky

Click here for Part IPart II

A line of natural, non-toxic, biodegradable cleaning products

Peter Witonsky is the president of Sun & Earth, a natural cleaning products company based in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. From laundry detergent to kitchen wipes to hand and dish soap, Sun & Earth offers products that are non-toxic, biodegradable, certified kosher, and free from animal testing. The company’s lines are available for purchase on its site, as well as through major retailers such as Amazon, Jet, and soap.com. Peter and his wife Donna bought Sun & Earth in January 2017. Prior to purchasing the company, Peter served in leadership positions at companies such as RGI Infomatics, Asynchrony, and iSirona.


EDWIN WARFIELD: As an entrepreneur and new business owner, where do you see innovation happening in the market today? What challenges have you come up against that, until you were running a business, you didn’t realize existed?

PETER WITONSKY: I see a couple of things happening in the world today. It’s a great conversation from where Donna and I both look at from a different point of view. Where Donna and I totally agree is that [brands] like Uber and Airbnb have put traditional industries on their ear. When you take a look at Chewy, at Amazon, at other component parts that have taken businesses that are brick-and-mortar businesses and changed them fundamentally to a receipt-at-your-doorstep-type business… I had one lab; now I have two labs—I was buying two 50-pound bags of dog food a month. I’m no longer lugging them into my car—they’re actually being delivered to my front door, and only I have to move them eight feet to where I’m actually taking them. Those parts of the world are changing.

As companies like Sun & Earth move, we need to be wildly aware of what a digital platform can do for us. We need to figure out how to change that and how to partake and then change that platform. There are lots of startups in Philadelphia that are doing small distribution centers and that are doing doorstep distribution. How do I partner with or become or acquire one of those? Those are great aspects.

One of the things that Sun & Earth should do in the next year is approach Philadelphia regions where we are very well-known and try to own that space. And you need to own that space by taking that platform change. I am still today fighting with fundamentals of the business. I’m fighting with there are days where our lines are not busy enough. And then I pick my head up out of my dusty cloud and I look above it, and I go, “Wait a second. Chewy makes total sense. I need to be in the subscription world. I need to create a subscription platform for this.” You have to marry those together, and that has to be part of the 5-year plan.

We are really at the point today, seven and a half, eight months into it, where we have a good understanding of what the product is, of what the business is, and now we have to go out and alter it the same way that Airbnb, the same way that Uber, the same way that other large companies have changed it. It does not need to be the billion-dollar answer, but it needs to prove that product and platform can marry and can be sustainable.

Q. What does effective leadership mean to you?

A. It’s a tough question. I think proof of positive leadership happens when you see the rest of the company succeeding. I’m a total believer, because of my experience at iSirona and others, that the company actually is a reflection of the leader. The ability to have equality, the ability to prove that everybody in the room can have an opinion, the ability to make a decision after those opinions have been placed on the table and move forward with that—those are all leadership qualities. And what I hope is that the people around Donna and me believe us when we say “tell us your opinion.” The refill station is a great example. We had the opportunity to create a less stable, cheaper refill station by going to China or somewhere else and buying a prefab unit and Joseph told us that he wanted to have the unit built here in the US—and it’s actually built in Lancaster and fabricated in the US—and he told us why. He told us about the quality that we are going to get from here versus China, and we believed him and we went with that. At the end of the day, it’s 10-minute conversation, but it’s about the ability to give someone a chance to voice an opinion. It is about the yea or nay that goes with that, and an explanation as to why, and then the ability to move on and go to the next problem and solve the next problem.

Connect with Peter on LinkedIn

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Edwin Warfield, CEO of citybizlist, conducts the CEO Interviews.

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