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Greensolv: When Chemicals and Environment Work Hand in Hand

Entrepreneur’s corner | May 28, 2020

Greensolv is an example of resilience, a model of innovation and a firm commitment to provide environmentally friendly solutions.

Paint strippers and other industrial cleaners are usually thought of as having highly toxic formulations. However, a Montréal company has been carving out a name for itself for nearly two decades by providing environmentally friendly products that are just as effective to get the job done.

Founded in 1994, Greensolv was originally a division of a Québec business that was sold to a Finnish organization in 2002. “At that time, we decided to keep this division, and turn it into a full company,” said Martin Pageau, President and son of the founder. “We saw an interesting potential in the paint stripping niche. In addition, we had a great passion.”

In both processes and products, our concern for the environment is omnipresent.

Early on, Greensolv used its contacts to reach an agreement with a major paint manufacturer in Osaka, Japan, with a mandate to custom design a gel paint remover. Later, the Pointe-Claire plant's production activities were expanded to include cleaners and degreasers to meet demand from the industrial sector.

Major Strategic Shift

Even with those contracts, the first few years of operation were still difficult. “We lost $800,000 in eight years,” said Pageau. “Our products didn't quite fit the specific needs of the market. Also, they were more expensive than our competitors’ brands.”

Given those facts, something had to be done. “We came back to basics with just three employees. Then we made a major strategic decision. Rather than offering gel paint removers, we chose to offer global tank stripping solutions. This meant that our customers would be able to perform the entire operation themselves, since we would provide them with all the necessary equipment, including hoisting systems and ventilation hoods.

This decision was successful, as Greensolv won contracts with organizations like Bombardier Aerospace, BRP, the STM and the Canadian army, to name a few. As a result, annual sales rose from $1 million in 2015 to $2.5 million in 2018 and $3.9 million in 2019. “We invested heavily in research and development. In the end, we came up with a solution that is two to three times less expensive for our customers, with no loss of efficiency. In addition, because our system is faster than conventional methods, our customers save money on production time as well.”

Lucrative Niche Markets

At the same time, the company began serving the automotive industry and motor vehicle manufacturers, stripping 10,000 metallized parts for BRP on a daily basis. “There was a lot of loss here,” according to Martin Pageau. “For example, the rejection rate was as high as 5 percent for misapplied paint on a steering wheel or snowmobile handle. Our solution removes that paint at a tiny fraction of the cost. The client can therefore reuse the part and not have to discard it for aesthetic reasons.”

Again in terms of cost savings, Greensolv claims to offer a much more advantageous solution than its main competitor, located in Tennessee. “His barrel costs $800, but it can only handle a hundred wheels. Ours costs $2,000, but it can handle more than 1,000 wheels. What's more, that company's solvent is recognized as highly harmful, having even been banned in some American states. Ours, on the other hand, is designed to minimize environmental impact and has a longer life span than many others in the industry.”

Doing More with Less

Martin Pageau explained that the main focus of his organization is to accomplish more with less. “In both processes and products, our concern for the environment is omnipresent. For example, we help our clients with regular maintenance, to optimize the use of their products as opposed to just buying more.”

In production, Greensolv pays special attention to its water consumption at the manufacturing stage. “We will reuse the same wash water several times to clean the tank after designing similar products. We also do not use any air pollutants or toxic substances listed by the government.”

Through this approach, the company has sold 196 tanks in North America (where 90% of its business is located), but also elsewhere: Japan, France, Australia, and England, etc. “The customer niches are huge – just think of household appliances or bicycles,” explained Martin Pageau. “And we don't have to invest a lot of money in marketing, because we recruit more than half of our customers on ... Instagram. For example, manufacturers like to post nice car wheels. So we show them that with our paint strippers, we help them keep their product looking flawless.”

How PME MTL Made the Difference for Greensolv

“The people at PME MTL have been fantastic for us. We collaborated with them on the Parcours Innovation in 2016, the Parcours Développement durable Montréal in 2018 and the Parcours Aplomb MTL in 2020. They also served as matchmakers for us with business groups, including chambers of commerce. In addition to training us on topics such as marketing and sales, their experts often question us on our strategy. They encourage us to adjust by pointing out aspects we hadn't thought of.”

How Greensolv Is Managing the COVID-19 Crisis

“With currency reserves in the bank and being debt-free, our objective at the beginning of the crisis was to preserve jobs. So we chose to cut wages rather than have layoffs. In addition, since we work in the chemical industry, we adjusted our production to offer a hydrogen peroxide-based disinfectant solution to one of our clients, the STM. After a few days, this product already accounted for 20% of our sales.”

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Greensolv is supported by PME MTL West-Island.

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