By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
Better Life was born out of frustration for two young St. Louisans, who found that the so-called environmentally safe cleaning products they were using didn’t work very well – and weren’t very safe.
About a year and a half after Tim Barklage and his wife Nancy had their first child, they started worrying about keeping cleaning supplies locked up and out of their toddler’s reach. Barklage’s childhood friend Kevin Tibbs and his wife had children about the same age, and they shared those concerns. A doctor had advised Tibbs and his wife to clean when their daughter was out of the house because of her asthma.
“The reason behind all of the products was our kids,” said Tibbs, a formulation chemist. He advised the Barklages to lock up the environmentally friendly products they had because they were just watered-down versions of other chemical cleaners.
Nancy asked him, “Why don’t you come up with something better?”
A couple of weeks later Tibbs brought over a mason jar filled with a cleaner he’d made from plants.
“We said, ‘Wow! This stuff works. We should make a business of it,’” Barklage recalled.
Tibbs’ experience formulating skin and personal care products had taught him to avoid ingredients that irritate skin. He also knew about ingredients that were good cleaners but that normally wouldn’t be used in household cleaning products.
The business became Better Life, which makes about 20 products ranging from all-purpose cleaners to laundry soap and compostable dryer sheets. Each product is designed to work while being safe for the environment. Better Life products are available at grocers, including Schnucks and Whole Foods, as well as at major retailers like Target. Better Life is a BBB Accredited Business.
“We strive to exceed customers’ expectations of the product – to marry safety and performance,” Barklage said. The products are all derived from plants, including natural ingredients for fragrances.
A couple of years after starting the firm, the ABC reality show “Shark Tank” approached Barklage and Tibbs about appearing on
the show. Entrepreneurs who appear on the show make a live presentation to five investors – the ‘sharks’ – who may then offer to invest in and become partners with the entrepreneurs.
They turned down the show at first because they had to give show producers some of the equity and royalties on the products in addition to the production fee and any investment deal they negotiated with the sharks. After the show changed the terms to make them more favorable to entrepreneurs, Tibbs and Barklage agreed to appear on the show in late 2013.
“We were able to get offers from all five of the ‘sharks,’” Barklage said. “Over-all, it was a great experience.” The exposure helped propel sales on Better Life’s website. It also helped earn space on store shelves.
But it hasn’t changed the company.
“Our mission over the years hasn’t changed any: We’ve always focused on creating the best quality product that we can.
“If it’s not outperforming the conventional products,” Barklage said, “we won’t release it.”
Tibbs said Better Life is unusual among cleaning products manufacturers in listing the ingredients on all of its products.
“We want to be transparent,” Tibbs said. “We want to help educate the consumer so they become fans.”
Better Life employs 13 full-time employees at two locations: an office on South Grand and a manufacturing plant it shares with another company north of downtown. Better Life formulates and mixes large batches of its products, and the other company bottles it. Better Life has warehouse space at the plant that it uses to fulfill online sales and distribute products to retailers.