We sat down with Tom Sanetti, the mastermind behind Earthlog, a locally based and sourced Huntington Beach company. He shared with us his wild ride as an ambitious, persistent entrepreneur, and he's also sharing an online deal with our readers.
Sanetti was in business selling toners to offices before Earthlog was born. The now 22-year Huntington Beach resident believed in this clean burning solution to a traditional fire log so much that he voluntarily closed his previous business to focus full-time on it. He admits to going without pay at some points while he worked to improve this product and its production to ensure that the future of Earthlog is a bright one (pun intended!). His girlfriend and family members are also employees and are inspired by his strong beliefs—sticking with him, paycheck or none. His girlfriend quit her job to help him with the numbers side of things so that he can "do what he does best, which is sell logs," Sanetti tells us. He jokes that he's gone "from riches to rags" in quitting his successful business for an uncertain fate. His recent visit to ABC's "Shark Tank" is steadily changing all of that.
It began in January 2010, inspired by the recycled rubber sidewalk that was being installed in front of his home. Sanetti wanted to recycle in his own way and dreamed up an idea for fire starters. These were made using junk mail and wax from a candle, all inside a length of PVC piping. He experimented with different sized containers, which burned for varying lengths of time, and was then paid by a friend to make a bunch. These small fire starters evolved into bigger logs, which he was able to sell at Main Street Market, his first account. At this time they were called Eco Logs, before he realized name was already taken.
In the beginning, Sanetti was teaching himself how to make them. He took the operation to an office he occupied until he realized the machinery was too loud for business hours in a non-industrial area. He then moved it to a warehouse, souped up the machinery a bit, and started pounding the pavement for orders. Sanetti says he's "the luckiest man you'll ever meet" and that luck got his product into three major retailers: Mother's Market, Sprouts, and Fresh & Easy. In the cases of Sprouts and Fresh & Easy, neither retailer would grant him a meeting, so Sanetti invited himself. He waited at buyers' offices at both locations until they sat down with him. The meetings lead to stocking Earthlog in every location of each chain in 2011 and 2012. Currently, logs are no longer offered at Sprouts.
The casual spectator may ask how burning a fire log is "green." Sanetti explains that Earthlogs contain only two ingredients: scrap wax and recycled, shredded paper. Melted wax and shredded paper are combined in a mold and pressed into logs. After cooling, the logs are removed from the molds and hand-wrapped in recycled packaging. Sanetti and Earthlog partner with Goodwill's "Shred for Good" program as well as paper recycling programs in local schools, businesses, and even the City of Huntington Beach. They employed special needs adults for a period of time as well.
While there is no such thing as a "clean fire," Earthlogs offer a cleaner alternative with the benefit of a great scent. The scent of regular logs is subtle, and citronella as well as a trio of winter scents—pumpkin spice, vanilla-berry, and natural pine—are also available. An Earthlog can burn from two to three hours without emitting the harmful chemicals typically released when burning competitors' logs, which contain artificial ingredients. The Earthlog motto promises "more heat, less smoke, great scent."
Sanetti had another "luckiest man" moment when he received a call in the spring of 2013 from entrepreneurial reality show "Shark Tank." He does not remember submitting the online application, but he was told they loved his idea and wanted him to submit a video. Production-wise, he was not ready and declined. In 2014, he got wind of an open call in San Diego and drove down with his girlfriend. They spent the night in line on the sidewalk. Producers were only accepting 500 applicants, and after his interview, Sanetti was called back in three days and asked to make a video and appear on the show.
It's showtime. In early September Sanetti waited in a room on set for eight hours as other contestants were called in and returned crestfallen. Just before 6 p.m., he was one of the final three in the room, and the only one who got to pitch to The Sharks. As he walked to the stage, he was asked to change his pitch and not light the log as he had planned. Sanetti appeared on TV, basically winging it. His episode aired on November 21 and has been a great source of exposure to customers who may not have heard of Earthlog otherwise.
The "Queen of QVC" Lori Greiner proposed a deal on air for $160,000 for 35 percent of the company. After further examination, Sanetti and Greiner did not move forward with the deal after the show. However, exposure from his appearance saw more Earthlogs selling in the six weeks following the broadcast than in the nine months leading up to it. It also helped Sanetti move the product into a few large retailers outside of California. Sanetti says, "Online orders also jumped, from 19 online orders in three years to about 1,900 in three weeks." BOOM.
Feedback from customers is largely positive, and any negative feedback is just more motivation for Sanetti. "Most of the successes in my life are because people told me I couldn't do something or by accident," he says. "Tell me what I can't do, and I'm going to prove you wrong. I love the naysayers." He credits his entrepreneurial spirit to necessity as one of 14 children growing up in El Toro. "When you're that poor, you've gotta hustle," he says. One of his older brothers is also taking a product he invented to a "Shark Tank" open call in Miami.
The future of Earthlog is now. Sanetti says he would like to make more videos for the Earthlog website, tackle other means of promoting the product, and raise his production numbers to fill larger orders. Earthlog is on the verge of acquiring a new machine that can manufacture 14,400 logs daily.
Main & PCH readers can score a special "buy one, get one free" deal in perpetuity on the Earthlog website by entering the code "LOCAL" at checkout. Buyers must be locals (residents of Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach, Seal Beach, Westminster, Fountain Valley, or Costa Mesa) and be able to pick up the product from the Earthlog headquarters, located at 5422 Oceanus Drive, Huntington Beach, CA 92649.