Aaron Krause is in his element.
Wearing an orange baseball cap and a sky-blue dress shirt that both showcase Scrub Daddy—the company he put on the map on Shark Tank, becoming the most successful product in the TV show’s history—Krause fist-bumps his employees as he walks briskly and percolates with enthusiasm while giving two visitors a tour of his massive distribution facility in Folcroft, Pa.
Scrub Daddy, the brain-child of South Jersey’s Krause, is a smiley-face sponge made of a “game-changing” material that is in kitchens around the world, making its inventor a celebrity of sorts. For instance, he was at the Eagles’ post- Super Bowl in Minneapolis because of his connections, and he got to hold the Vince Lombardi Trophy while wearing an Eagles jersey and having a Scrub Daddy necklace dangling under it.
On this February afternoon, he stops by his company’s headquarters and unpacks a box of a new creation, a pineapple-scented, under-the-sea Scrub Daddy/SpongeBob Squarepants scrubber.
“It’s going to be so awesome,” he said.
Partnering with the Nickelodeon character will give Scrub Daddy more visibility—not that it really needs it. Krause estimates that 35 million Scrub Daddy sponges have been sold.
“A lot of people look at Scrub Daddy and they say, ‘OK, it’s a smiley-face sponge,’ and they don’t give it a lot of attention,” he said. “This will make them stop. They’ll recognize SpongeBob and say, ‘Wait, SpongeBob is talking about this? What’s going on here?’ And they’ll give it a second look. They’re show-stoppers.”
Krause, 48, a marketing genius who grew up in Wynnewood, Pa., and attended Akiba Academy in Merion, talks about the sponges as if they are people. He is that INTO his product.
He said the idea of partnering with a cartoon character came from an email he received from a woman who, it seemed, was complaining about Scrub Daddy as she began her remarks.
“Moms send emails in all the time. When it starts out, we think we’re getting yelled at,” he said. “They start by saying, ‘I was in the store with my five-year-old, and he picked up your overpriced, ridiculous $4 sponge with the smiley face on it and he wouldn’t put it down, screaming and yelling so I had to buy your stupid sponge.’ ”
And then comes the surprise ending.
“And they say, ‘Oh, my God. What is this thing? It’s the greatest sponge I’ve ever used. I’ll never use another sponge in my life! Thank you for making this!’ I get emails like that all the time, and I was like, ‘I need to get more kids picking this up and making Mom get it because once they’re converted, they’re converted [forever] and they’re going to be happy.’”
A short walk away from his pineapple-scented creation, Krause stops at an office wall that is plastered with awards for Scrub Daddy, a product that is sold all around the globe. Right next to all the testimonials is a framed letter.
A letter of rejection from QVC, a live, home-shopping show that sells a wide variety of products.
Krause received the letter in 2011, a year before Scrub Daddy became a Shark Tank wonder.
The gist of the letter: Scrub Daddy doesn’t meet any of QVC’s criteria to be shown on one of its shows.
Right next to the letter is a plaque Scrub Daddy earned in later years for selling 2.1 million Scrub Daddy sponges on QVC.
In one day.
Repeat: One day.
After getting rejected, a broker helped Krause get Scrub Daddy on QVC six months later.
Krause’s initial appearance on QVC was a bust.
“I actually had a terrible show,” he said. “It was my first show, and it was at 5 a.m. I had never been on TV before and I was scared to death. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing….and I wish I had more time to talk. But I was like a deer in the headlights.”
Luckily for Krause, the QVC executives liked his energy and he was invited back to try one more show.
He practiced his selling routine before his appearance. This time, he nailed it. In six minutes, he sold out of the few thousand Scrub Daddy sponges he had available.
It was the start of something big. In the coming weeks, he was given numerous shows. Each was wildly successful.
“After my fourth or fifth show, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I love this. I LOVE being on TV. I LOVE selling my product,” he said. “It was just so much fun, and at that time, I just started rocking.”
In time, Scrub Daddy was the featured item of the day. He was on nine times, back to back, from midnight to midnight. Each show was live.
“You’re there for 24 hours, and you’re doing show after show after show,” he said. “There are different hosts and you never know what they’re going to ask and how you’re going to respond.”
In one of his days, he sold 2.1 million Scrub Daddy sponges.
“It was insane,” said Krause, who studied psychology and marketing at Syracuse University.
After his fourth QVC show, Krause filmed a Shark Tank episode in July of 2012. It was shown in October of that year, and that’s when Scrub Daddy, which was already successful, took on a life of its own.
Scrub Daddy now has numerous products, including Scrub Mommy, Screen Daddy, Eraser Daddy, Scour Daddy, Daddy Caddy, Sponge Caddy, and Scrub Daisy.
Scrub Daisy, a new product, is a set of sponge-like flowers that fit into vases, water bottles and other items that have openings too small for Scrub Daddy. Krause invented the product, and his engineering team perfected it.
Naturally, he took the new product to the recent Philadelphia Flower Show.
“This,” Krause said, “isn’t work. We have the most fun in the world, and I have the greatest staff.”
“It’s not work for ANY of us,” said Robin Romesburg, a customer-service representative for the company.
Krause has numerous products on the market, but Scrub Daddy—whose name was created by John O’Brien, senior vice president of corporate operations—is his baby. Its success is what enabled Krause to launch his other products.
“You can’t compare it to anything,” Krause said of Scrub Daddy. “It’s a complete game-changing material, and what makes it different is the material. The smiley face is not a gimmick; it’s actually fully functional. But what changed the game is the material. Before we came out, sponges were stinky, smelly, bacteria-ridden things that didn’t rinse clean and were an eyesore that you would hide underneath your sink.”
The Scrub Daddy material, created by Krause and called flex texture, is made in a Germany factory, and the sponge changes its texture depending on the water’s temperature. Put it in cold water, it turns firm and will scrub off debris but won’t scratch any surfaces. Put it in warm water and it turns into a soft, moldable sponge and rinses clean.
Before he developed Scrub Daddy, Krause owned a company that manufactured buffing pads for cars, boats, and planes. In 2006, his mission was to create a product to clean your hands, “and this company in Germany sent me this material and it was amazing,” he said.
Krause refined it. He created holes in the product to clean your fingers.
“I launched this as a product for mechanics in body shops to clean their dirty hands,” he said.
The product flopped. Krause said he had mechanics tell him, ‘Dude, I’d rather have dirty hands than pay $4 for a hand-cleaning sponge.’ Krause had close to 500 samples made; by 2007, he put them in boxes and labeled them “scrap” and packed them away.
“Five years later, my wife was nagging me to clean the lawn furniture,” Krause said. “I took a traditional sponge out with the green scouring side and started scrubbing to get some of the mold off—and it scratched the paint off. And she’s screaming, ‘You ruined the furniture!’ ”
Krause remembered he had the “scrap” sponges in boxes from his failed venture, and he cleaned his lawn furniture with one. “And the same one I started with was still in perfect shape when I got done with it,” he said. “And every time I would dunk it in this bucket of warm, soapy water, it would go totally soft. I was like, ‘What is that?’ We had put these stiffeners in it to make it rough for scrubbing your hands, and I had only been (testing) it in cold water. So as I’m scrubbing, it’s like crystallizing in my hand. The harder it got, the better I could scrub, and the softer, the easier I could mold it between the seats.”
That night, Krause cleaned his dishes with the sponge. As he did, he realized that, because of the shape of glasses, pots and pans, the old-fashioned rectangle sponges aren’t as effective as round ones.
“The ‘lightbulb’ moment for me was when I put my fingers in the (sponge’s) eyeholes and go into this mug, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, why would you ever hold a sponge from the outside? And if you put a smile in it, you can clean the silverware [in that opening]. I was like, ‘Oh my God. I’m going to put a mouth in it and I’m going to change the whole game.’”
That was in 2011.
Three years earlier, 3M had acquired Krause’s company, but he stayed with them as a consultant and set up factories for them around the world. “But when I sold the company, they didn’t want a bunch of items I had created,” Krause said, “because they thought they were stupid and wouldn’t go anywhere.”
One of them that they rejected was a “stupid” product called Scrub Daddy, a sponge that now has plants in China, Germany, Taiwan, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Moorestown, NJ. The product’s popularity soared when Shark Tank cast member Lori Greiner paid $200,000 for a 20 percent share of Scrub Daddy when he presented the product on the TV show.
“She already knew I was going to be successful on QVC and was going to be a huge winner,” he said.
After the show, Krause said, the lawyers got together and “tweaked and adjusted” the deal. The terms of the final contract, he said, “are in confidentiality. We’re both very, very happy. ”
They should be. The product has become so well-known that Scrub Daddy was recently the answer to a question on a highly popular trivia show called HQ, which is sort of a smartphone version of Jeopardy!
One of Krause’s loves is hockey. He is a Flyers season-ticket holder, he plays on a Scrub Daddy men’s league team, and he coaches his son’s team in Voorhees, NJ. He has a shrine devoted to the Flyers in his office, and he has hockey nets spread around his distribution plant for employees to take shots and blow off steam.
Oh, and he recently became one of the owners of Tovi Hockey, a company that invented a hockey stick made of solid carbon fibers.
“It’s going to revolutionize the sport,” Krause said.
The carbon fibers are so sturdy—Krause said they are as strong as steel—that the blade doesn’t ever bend, making shots harder and ensuring that the sticks will last. The black blade has tiny holes in it, causing it not to have any wind resistance. “So you get faster swing speed and faster velocity,” Krause said.
He has some NHL teams looking into the product, which is manufactured in Boston, and he has contacted the league to inquire about its approval process. One of the NHL’s long-time stars has used the stick at some of his team’s practice, said Krause, who is in the process of introducing the product to the Flyers.
“This,” Krause said, excitedly, “changes the whole game of ice hockey forever.”
He said the sticks, which retail for $275, can also be used for street hockey and roller hockey.
Krause’s son, Bryce, used the stick on the ice, “and he was scoring from the blue line. He was RIPPING shots—and he’s only 12,” said Krause, who has a full-size hockey rink in the back of his 2½-acre Voorhees home, where he lives with Bryce, Bryce’s twin sister, Sophie, and his wife, Stephanie, who is Scrub Daddy’s director of social media and public relations.
The stick’s shaft needs to be fine-tuned, Krause said, calling it “too boxy.” On the positive side, “you never have to tape a stick anymore. It’s got a sticky coating to it and it has a texture that grips the puck. You actually get much better control with it, and you get better puck feel.”
Krause’s voice bubbles with enthusiasm as he talks about the future of the product (Stick Daddy?) And why not? If the hockey stick becomes as popular and as used as Scrub Daddy, well, Aaron Krause will move one step closer to being known as Entrepreneur Daddy.