Posted on May 19, 2011 by Dennis Salazar

Grouples (pronounced: grup’ els) Are Green Couples Making a Living While Making a Difference

1820 HouseThis past weekend, Lenora, my wife/business partner, and I attended Green America’s Chicago version of their Green Festival. As usual, we had a great time seeing a wide variety of new green products and meeting some really nice people in the process.

For the very first time, we also realized how many husband and wife couples have become green entrepreneurs and are enjoying building a green business together. Some are applying their past experience and skills, or in some cases they are utilizing brand new, previously undiscovered talents. In either case, they have teamed up with their significant other and together are making an equally significant difference in the irreversible green trend we are all witnessing.

Maybe it’s a sign of the economic times or a result of the continued interest and growth in sustainability that has helped to create these husband and wife green teams. Or perhaps it is simply that no one other than a loving life partner would be willing to work as long or as hard, and in many cases for little or no immediate compensation.

Certainly the sacrifices of owning your own business are many, but so are the benefits when you both enjoy and are totally committed to what you are doing. The festival was filled with many wonderful “grouples” stories, and I would like to share a few with you.

Melissa and Mike Smith – 1820 House

Everyone who’s been married for fifteen years like this couple has undoubtedly experienced some changes in their life that initially appeared as negatives but eventually proved to be positive opportunities. Mike and Melissa (pictured above) operated a popular antique shop in East Palestine, Ohio, but eventually the downturned economy impacted their business as well. About the same time, Melissa was laid off from her job at GM, so they narrowed the focus at their store to their eco-friendly candles that had continued to sell well in spite of the economy.

Today their brick-and-mortar store is doing well, and they are looking at expanding their candle manufacturing capability. They have added organic bath and beauty products, as well as handcrafted jewelry from local artisans, so things are looking and smelling good.

John and Melissa Ziech – Recycle Bin

Recycle Bin BoxJohn and Melissa’s experience in office interior design helped them to realize offices and businesses needed attractive and affordable recycling containers to make their recycling efforts possible. The only available products seemed to be either very overpriced or inexpensive but extremely unattractive.

So after thirty-eight years of marriage, and a lifetime of being consultants and service providers, John and Melissa decided to make a daring change and go into the manufacturing business to make the products they were confident the market wants.

Six months ago they created and launched their own line of attractive, eco-friendly recycling containers designed for a green office environment. Their products look great and are made of recycled molded plastic and plastic corrugated board, making them lightweight, reusable and washable. Their unique products are available on their web store, and don’t be surprised to see them at a local green festival. You’ll be impressed by the products and the people.

Gerri Alger and Kurt Brunner — The Nicolet Candle Company

Nicolet Candle CompanyEven though they were just engaged a year ago, Gerri and Kurt have been together for more than eight years and are partners in a company they started in 2007. Gerri has been a full-time massage therapist, which is how she became aware of the need for scented but natural eco-friendly candles. Much like our friends John and Melissa Smith above, when Gerri could not find what she wanted, she decided to make it. Kurt’s background is in residential architecture, so the slowdown in his industry has enabled him to spend more time with Gerri growing their business.

There are a lot of companies selling soy-based candles these days, but theirs are unique in that most of the containers they sell are either natural wood or recycled glass. Their most popular products are their recycled glass candles made from old wine bottles, which make attractive and unique drinking glasses when the candle is used up. Their web site and store are extremely well done with some beautiful photography.

Quite frankly, I’m not sure if the word “grouples” is ever going to catch on but I hope it does because it describes some pretty neat and dedicated people who are enjoying each other as well as their work.