Suzy Batiz sits in a director’s chair in a 65,000-square-foot Dallas television and film studio. Wearing a tie-dyed cowboy hat with a match tucked in the band and cowboy boots, she watches as the first TV commercial for her toilet spray, Poo-Pourri, is being filmed, set to air just a few weeks later on Bravo and E TV.
The CEO and founder of Poo-Pourri is in her element. The lanky blonde laughs as her employees lob puns to add to the script: “Holy Poo-Pourri!” “Shut the back door!” “We’ve got a shituation!” She gives directions to the lighting crew, telling them to adjust the shadows on the face of Bethany Woodruff, the company’s red-headed, pearl-wearing, prim and proper British spokesperson.
Woodruff was a drama student when Batiz cast her in the company’s now-famous 2013 online video “Girls Don’t Poop.” Since then she has appeared in dozens of the brand’s videos wearing a turquoise dress and discussing poop—often while sitting on a toilet. Collectively, Poo-Pourri’s videos have been viewed over 350 million times.
Using potty talk and embracing bathroom humor has helped Poo-Pourri sell 60 million bottles of its spray and landed it on the shelves of large retail chains such as Bed, Bath & Beyond, Target and Costco. Revenues reached $63 million last year and are on track to hit $100 million this year. Forbes values the business at a quarter of a billion dollars. Batiz, who owns 97%, is worth an estimated $240 million, making her one of the wealthiest self-made women in the country.
“The common thing is people get it as a gift,” Batiz says, explaining how the marketing draws people in. “But then they feel they can’t live without it. … There’s a lot of stuff to worry about in life, and bathroom odor should not be one of them.”
“Girls Don’t Poop,” Poo-Pourri’s first video, went viral, amassing 10 million views in two weeks and $4 million worth of back orders.
Batiz, who says she’s turned down offers to sell the company, is looking ahead not just with a new national ad campaign but also new products, including one to help reduce foot odor and another to tackle smelly pets.
While some think of it as a novelty item, its success points to a bigger trend. Like Harry’s and Dollar Shave Club, Poo-Pourri proves that the bathroom market is a hot business and is no longer driven by the lowest price points. With its promises of all-natural ingredients and attractive packaging and marketing, Poo-Pourri, which Forbes estimates has margins of 20%, commands prices up to eight times higher than those of Febreze or Lysol. The small spray bottles of essential oils are sold for between $5 and $15, with larger refills going for $30.
“The bathroom is no longer off limits in terms of finding and extracting markets,” says Stephanie Wissink, a managing director at Jeffries.
Batiz, who’s 54, succeeded against long odds. She grew up in a poor, chaotic household in rural Arkansas. She says her father was bipolar and an alcoholic and that her mother suffered from depression. Even as a teen she thought money would be her way out.
“I’ve always been a hustler. If I could make money, then I could get myself out of there,” she says. When she was 17, she called Guess jeans to sell them on her own design for denim pumps. The company, she says, invited her to their offices, but her mother said she had no place in New York City.
Newly married at 19, Batiz bought a bridal shop in Jonesboro, Arkansas, for $40,000, some borrowed from her parents—her father was an insurance salesman and, eventually, owner of an asphalt company, her mother a housewife—some from her then-husband, a travel agent; and the rest from a bank. In what she thought would be a money-saving move, she purchased the inventory from the previous owner. But no one wanted to buy the dated designs, and within a year the store went under. She couldn’t pay back the bank and filed for personal bankruptcy before her 21st birthday.
“I’ve always been a hustler. If I could make money, then I could get myself out of there.”
She divorced her husband, got married a second time and had two children. She left her second husband after four years. Not long after, she met and had a daughter with a man she later married. That union lasted 26 years.
To help support her family, she entered bikini contests and ran a business selling lingerie to strippers. She and her soon-to-be-husband relocated to Texas in 1997, and she got a job at a recruiting firm. That’s when she had an idea for a recruiting website that would match potential employees to careers based on company culture. She bet her savings and maxed out her credit cards. Venture capitalists promised to put in $5 million, she recalls, but backed out as the dot-com bubble burst in 2000 and the stock market crashed the next year. Unable to pay off her business debt, let alone her mortgage or car loans, she filed for bankruptcy again.
She vowed not only to never take on debt or investors again but also to never start another business. For four years—what she calls her “spiritual sabbatical”—she kept her promise.
That changed after a fateful family dinner in 2006 during which someone stunk up the bathroom; her then-brother-in-law wondered aloud if bathroom odor could be trapped.
“It’s like my body became electric,” she says. She immediately thought about the pungent essential oils she used to relax. For nine months, she researched oils and natural ways to fight stink. She mixed concoctions in her kitchen and had anyone using the bathroom in her house test them.
Finally, her husband walked out of the bathroom one day with good news. “His famous words were, ‘Oh my god, we’re going to be millionaires,’” Batiz recalls.
How it worked: The oils (all ingredients are natural) were sprayed into the toilet bowl, creating a barrier on top of the water, just before use. Any malodor would be trapped beneath the layer of oil. In 2007, she began giving bottles to friends. “I asked, ‘Are we crazy or is this amazing?’’’ Word spread, and a Dallas boutique owner asked if he could stock it. “I didn’t even know what wholesale meant,” she remembers, but she quickly doubled her asking price to about $10 wholesale.
She scraped together $25,000, borrowing from her brother-in-law and putting up the rest, and ordered 1,000 bottles from a Pittsburgh manufacturer. (She paid her brother-in law back later that year, and she now owns 97% of the business, with each of her three children owning 1%.) From there she expanded into other boutiques and began showing at trade shows. By the end of her first year in business, Poo-Pourri had sold 260,000 bottles, notching $1 million in revenue.
Then the Internet got involved. In 2013, Batiz was on a beach in Hawaii reading a Harvard Business Review article about the seven-year business itch. It had been seven years since she had conceived Poo-Pourri. The business was stable with $8 million in revenue in 2012, and competitors were beginning to pop up. She needed to do something radical. She couldn’t afford a television ad, but she could make a digital video.
“I needed something rogue,” she says. “When I would make fun of it or what I was doing, people would open up a little bit.”
Batiz had seen a funny video for Orabrush, the tongue cleaner, and contacted the company’s cofounder and CMO, Jeffrey Harmon, over LinkedIn. She sent multiple emails and a free sample before he agreed to work on a campaign for Poo-Pourri.
Harmon, his brother Daniel, writer and director Joel Ackerman and a few others joined the Poo-Pourri team in Sundance, Utah (a mountain town near Provo, not the film festival), for a two-day-long brainstorming session. Jeffrey came up with the concept of putting an aristocratic, tea-drinking type of British woman on a toilet, saying ludicrous things in her proper accent.
Two weeks later, in September 2013, the company posted the $25,000 video, “Girls Don’t Poop,” on YouTube.
Within two weeks, the video, which the company paid $650,000 to have promoted on YouTube and Facebook, had over 10 million views. Within less than a week it had $4 million worth of back orders. In a very on-brand note, the company wrote, “You caught us with our pants down,” and offered a refund for those who didn’t want to wait for their online order to be filled.
“It’s a bloody brilliant marketing campaign,” says Cindy Gallop, the former chairman of the advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty in New York. “It’s a fantastic solution to a universal problem.”