February 25, 2017

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Kitty Litter


Thanks to this entrepreneur, cats became house pets.

You may not know it, but indoor cats are a relatively new phenomenon.  That’s because for centuries cat box filler was pretty dreadful stuff — consisting of things like messy ashes or dusty sand.  It’s why most people kept tabby outdoors.

So how did cats come in from the cold?

You can credit American entrepreneur Ed Lowe of Cassopolis, Michigan. In the late 1940s, he was a young WWII veteran working in his family’s business, which sold coal, sand and industrial absorbents to local companies.

One winter’s day in 1947, a friend, Kay Draper, told Lowe she was tired of the mess that ashes were making in her cat’s litter box and her home.  She asked for some sand.  Instead, Lowe suggested a bag of Fuller’s Earth – a type of absorbent clay used by shops and factories to soak up oil spills.

Draper tried it, loved it, and returned for more. So did her cat loving friends.

That’s when Ed Lowe heard success meowing. He packed some of the clay into five pound bags, labeled them “Kitty Litter, 65 cents” and headed for a local pet store. But on that day, the pet store owner Lowe visited wasn’t impressed. With sand virtually free, he said he doubted anyone would buy the bags. “Then give ‘em away!” Lowe replied.

The store did.  And like Kay Draper, its customers came back for more.

Ed Lowe knew a good thing when he saw it. The 27-year old quit his family business and hit the road to drum up interest in Kitty Litter, hauling it to pet shops and cat shows across the country. Once he conquered pet stores, Lowe wanted to move into supermarkets. But pet stores balked. So he launched a second brand, Tidy Cats, for the grocery trade.

Edward Lowe’s invention and ingenuity created a multi-national, million-million dollar empire – one that eventually was selling 700,000 tons of litter annually. Company scientists worked continuously to upgrade existing products and develop new ones. Their product research effort included a “cattery” with 120 felines, a cat-care clinic, and an animal-behavior facility with 24-hour television monitoring of resident cats.

When Lowe sold the company in 1991, annual revenues exceeded $165 million. Today kitty litter is a multi-billion dollar product category and Lowe’s Tidy Cats brand is owned by Ralston Purina.

And that’s how cats became house pets.

Today, Ed Lowe’s legacy lives on in the Edward Lowe Foundation, a center dedicated to helping entrepreneurs and small-business people. It sponsors seminars, educational programs, and information support services. The institution is housed on a 2,600-acre complex on the grounds of Lowe’s family estate, outside of Cassopolis, Mich.

Ed Lowe exemplifies one of our Axioms For Entrepreneurs. Find a new application for an existing product.  He turned absorbent clay into Kitty Litter, and brought cats from the alley into the home.

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