Soft Sell

Squaring Off

Purely Cotton was on a roll, and Willy and Tim were carving a niche for their company in the midst of such giants as Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble. "We try to be creative in both our supply arrangements and our marketing strategy so we're not knocking heads and being an irritant to the big people," says Tim.

Also key to Linters' strategy is differentiating itself from being just another "me too" product on store shelves. While wood-based tissues are all marketed solely on softness and price, contends Willy, "We try to sell Purely Cotton based on its benefits and attributes." Among the benefits? "Tests [comparing cotton and wood pulp] found that our tissue was the least disruptive product [to the skin] as a result of having a different chemical content," he says.

The company's growing sales have been fueled by not only the brothers' devotion to the all-cotton concept but the duo's equity philosophy as well: It's not about 100 percent ownership, says Tim. "We've surrounded ourselves with [equity partners] who are far better than we are in pretty much every capacity of the business," he says of the $20 million in investment capital the brothers have raised to date. "Our role is to strategically plan the best enhanced value of the business."

"We don't want to suffocate the company by not realizing its potential," agrees Willy. "And if that means diluting [our percentage of ownership] to bring in the equity that's required, then we're prepared to do that."

Having achieved their initial innovative breakthrough, the brothers believe many possibilities lie ahead for Linters Inc. Full nationwide distribution will be complete later this year. The product line will soon grow to include such items as paper towels, napkins, feminine hygiene products--even baby diapers. They hope to turn last year's sales of $14 million into a dazzling $50 million this year.

And what does their mother think now of the idea she casually tossed to her sons? "She's a very happy shareholder," says Willy. In a family where both parents are retired doctors, their late grandfather was a surgeon, and an elder brother and sister are also physicians, it appears Purely Cotton has brought the brothers as close to things anatomical as they're going to get--a source of humor for the family.

Together, the pioneering duo has come full circle: "Purely Cotton [presents] an opportunity for going beyond America into Europe as well," says Tim. "It's been a lot of fun putting the pieces together."

Contact Source

Linters Inc., (800) 372-SOFT, http://www.purelycotton.com

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This article was originally published in the March 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Soft Sell.

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