Safe, Sustainable Organic Products: Dr. Earth
Among the first companies to merge probiotics with organic products, Dr. Earth’s strength lies in its ability to innovate, create a family of manufacturers, and use existing relationships to grow together.
Dr. Earth owns three federal patents and manufactures a complete line of organic fertilizers—both dry and liquid, soils, controls, fungicides and OMRI-Listed weed killers. Based in California, they now distribute in every US state and employ a staff of 122. Founder and CEO Milo Shammas explains how Dr. Earth has been expanding over three decades and what lies at the heart of their success.
Maximum Yield: What did you and your partners do before starting this company?
Milo Shammas: I founded the company when I was 25 years old in Los Angeles, California. I worked in multiple industries prior to Dr. Earth, including construction of custom homes with my older brother, as an architect, and general contractor. I also worked both in front and behind the camera whenever I could, as I grew up with all the major studios within walking distance from my home. I worked in landscape installation during these construction jobs.
MY: How did you get into this industry?
MS: I was an organic gardener when I was seven years old and took botany when I was 12 years old, while in Grade 7. I loved plants and loved to grow them. I came up with a fertilizer idea which was to add living organisms to organic fertilizers to make them work. And they did; by the time I was 27 years old I had single-handedly changed the face of the lawn and garden industry.
MY: What were the startup years like?
MS: Hard, exciting, full of promise. I was terrified and had to beg, borrow, and work with what I had. I never expected anything and everything was difficult because it was new and I had no one to help me. Some of my struggles included paying the bills and dealing with regulations at the city, county, and state level. That was the hardest. I asked as many senior people that I could for advice how to overcome these challenges. I was in desperate need of a mentor with experience.
MY: How many people were employed by the company at the beginning?
MS: In the first 18 months, it was just me and some migrant workers I hired to help hand blend the fertilizers in my parents backyard until I could afford to rent a building in downtown L.A. They also helped me formulate, buy, sell, clean, and cook.
MY: What did you first produce?
MS: Organic 7 all-purpose fertilizer. One product in one size.
MY: How did you gain market share and recognition?
MS: I traveled all over America alone and gave product knowledge meetings to as many retail locations as I could. I stayed on the road, sometimes three weeks at a time, to teach everyone that living organics were the future. It was hard, and a daily battle, but after about eight years I gained validation and respect for my work because several knock-off companies copied my work, which give me instant credibility.
MY: What are some of your proudest moments?
MS: When I was named the man that revolutionized the organic industry by IGC Magazine and was featured on the front cover, and when I wrote and got to hold the first copy of my first book Healthy Garden Healthy You. I was also randomly invited to a backyard party once and saw Dr. Earth fertilizer in their shed and introduced myself.
MY: What significant things have you learned so far about the industry?
MS: It is the kindest industry, full of loving and caring people. People that love plants are generally very good people. I love our industry and am very proud to be a part of it.
MY: What have you learned about starting and growing a company?
MS: It is one of the most exciting and fulfilling feelings anyone can ever have, because the company becomes a living part of you. You nourish it every day, you care for it, you feed it, you love it, it is like your child and one of the most important things to you. It’s the greatest feeling ever.
MY: What words of wisdom can you share about the business, the industry, or the future of the industry?
MS: Keep on the path of innovation with a sustainable stance.
MY: Share your favorite story from a day on the job.
MS: Being filled with organic fertilizer dust from head to toe because it’s all you have, with a few shovels and particle masks. Doing things the old fashioned way.
MY: What makes your employees great? How does your team bond?
MS: They communicate regularly, they trust each other, they respect each other, they care about each other, and we are a family.