Creating a giant of green cleaning products with a $22 budget

How did you start up and how did you reach success?

When I was 18, I relocated to the United States to study medicine, but it proved to be hard. So, I decided to study chemistry instead, as it was much easier for me. Eventually, I liked chemistry and after graduation, I started working for the industry. Back then, it was very easy to live and work in the United States and the industry was short of chemists. College graduates were few due to the war. After receiving my bachelor in 1957, I started working on my masters, but I did not conclude it. I started up my company in 967. The first year was hard for me, but business proved to be redeeming. So the company developed well and we currently have 5 factories and one more is being built in Texas as we speak. We also make some efforts to locate a factory in Greece. We are encountering several problems with the State Chemist Laboratory demanding all our secret ingredients, while in Great Britain, in Italy and Turkey this information is not required. However, we will try to comply with the rules to give the company the opportunity to sell in Greece and set up a factory. The main asset of our company’s growth is our environmental orientation, meaning that we deal with all issues through the spectrum of solar power and solar panels, we use natural ingredients, like coconut and olive oil and we count on green factories. We recycle our liter and we have created a company unique in the United States. Every year, the company grows and becomes stronger supporting us with the financial resource to build further in Greece to manufacture products for Europe, Greece and Turkey.

Do you think that your products will be popular in Greece?

We will be successful for two reasons. Our products will not only be green, but will also be inexpensive thanks to our chemical-free, human and environment friendly technology. They are cheap to manufacture and even cheaper for the consumer compared with major brands’ products. Why should Greeks pay the big companies 50%-60% up when they can spend less buying from a Greek company like Earth Friendly Products? In 2 or 3 years, we will be #1 selling cleaning products brand in the country. I have no doubt about it.

In which region do you plan to locate your factory?

My first wish is to locate the factory on Crete, but unfortunately it’s not a transport friendly island. Piraeus is the best location to manage a factory, with a frequent shipping schedule to Turkey, Italy and England on a daily basis and not once a week. So, the idea of venturing from Piraeus seems to make things easier for us, as sales will be bigger when we start doing business. I scouted the entire country, from Kozani and Ioannina to Patras and Crete and I unfortunately came to the conclusion that the ideal location for our factory would be somewhere close to Athens or Thiva.

Greece is living under harsh financial conditions and businessmen quit Greece as an option due to bureaucracy. For what reason do you insist on expanding in Greece?

Unfortunately, Greece is currently facing some major issues, but we are determined to deal with emerging problems and I truly hope that things will work for the best. It’s not as easy as in the United States to start up a business in Greece. Bureaucracy and lack of intelligence dominate over everything. Eventually, Greece will have to change its mindset and pay people fairly. In our factory in Greece the lowest wage will be 1,500 euro. We wouldn’t even think of paying an employee less than 1,500 euro, the lowest salary that people need to lead a standard life. I can’t even imagine how people afford living on a basic income of €600 per month. Greeks don’t seem to realize that common well-being is important to everybody. Greece can achieve it, it’s a rich and God blessed country. Clever people. No need forcing the people to get out in the streets on their bulldozers and busses standing up for their right in diesel. It’s sad. What people need is a change in their moods. The major money holders should pay their taxes. In the United States, we pay our taxes without being sad. Are you making money? So, pay your taxes! Why not? Although I’m opposite to the US war tactics of going anywhere in the world and kill people and Greeks don’t apply this strategy and employ no army abroad, but the state planning kills their own people instead! I can’t imagine what Prime Minister Samaras and his administration have in mind and make people suffer.

What must be done to reverse the bad financial conditions?

The country needs to go in to Article 99. In the United States, big companies, like American Airlines, go in to Chapter 11, when they are unable to pay their debts. If Greece bankrupts and avoids paying its creditors, the administration will have the opportunity to borrow money and use it wisely to rebuild the country. The huge weight of current debt on the country’s shoulders deprives the administration from any option of viable treatment. Greeks must immediately restructure their economy, stop taking money from the working citizens and go after Greeks who keep money in Switzerland and France, those who currently ought to give a helping hand to their homeland. How on earth will they spend their money in Switzerland and France? Greece needs their money right now! They should act patriotic. We are given such a beautiful homeland. I left Greece in 1957, because I couldn’t see any opportunity ahead. I didn’t like it, but things were hard back then.

Did you actually leave Greece with just $22 in your pocket?

My mother was broke. She told me, “Child, that’s all I have. Take it”. So, I took it and left for the United States, where money lies on the street. Honestly! I got a job and made enough money to live, study at the university and develop in business. There’s no such thing as big opportunity. United States is a vast country. Greece can’t become a vast country due to numbers. Moreover, it is a European country and Europe is its opportunity to become a successful nation. We have wit, we have the opportunity. What we miss is a clever administration.

Do you really think we have a non clever administration?

Yes, I really do. They try to suck the blood out of a turnip, when they should instead be trying to force wealthy Greeks to bring their money back to Greece and stop demanding money from every day people that work their life away. Actually, they’re killing the market, because people don’t have enough money to spend. Shops are closing down, citizens don’t even have enough money to eat and are forced to stand in the queue for free oranges. It’s a shameful thing to let the country experience 1946’s post war conditions. I have never before witnessed life like this during the 21st century!

What are your memories of your birthplace?

I remember the war, of course. I lived through the war, I was born in 1935. When the war started, I was 6 years old. When I turned 7, my father died in a military camp. When the war ended, I was 10 years old. We were starving to death. When things got better, my grandfather started working as a doctor and had a salary, my mother got the pension of my father and we managed to survive. Actually, we did live a better life back then than Greeks do today. However, I could see that there was no future for me. Chania and Crete are always on my mind. I like the south part of Crete in particular, because I love the sea.

Do you visit Greece often? Have your children visited Greece?

My younger daughter visits Greece every year and the rest of my family every 2 or 3 years. I don’t visit Greece every year, because it’s a long trip. When I was 42 years old, I quitted from the Management and since then I’ve been working mostly on the company’s expansion by distance. I go on vacation for 20-25 weeks per year. I visit the Caribbean or Florida or even Greece and elsewhere.

The film A Green Story features your life and your American Dream. Why did you decide to turn your life into a film?

My daughter is acquainted with Nikas who created the film. They worked together, they interviewed me about my life, I gave them all the facts and it proved to be hard to talk about everything, as it is quite expensive to produce a biographical film. They came out with a very pleasant film, portraying the life of a young immigrant pursuing a better future in a new country. I think you’ll like it. When I first watched it, I realized that it is a sentimental film.

What’s your advice to young businessmen? Would you suggest they should stay or leave Greece?

It’s hard to give any advice to young entrepreneurs. The only thing I kept always doing in Greece is sending back money to help relatives and I still do. If I had stayed in Greece, I’m not sure whether I would have turned as successful as I have in the United States. Probably I wouldn’t. Greece is currently changing by being part of Europe and anyone has the opportunity to start up a company and accomplish something great with patience and persistence. We will offer the opportunity to some Greeks to stay in Greece and work with us in our factory, because we need clever young people in the country.

What’s your top question to your Greek fellows?

Why, dear fellows, do you refuse to realize that by paying fairly your employees, they will become your future customers and will help you the most with your business? Why do you deprive them of the money they need to live well?



Creating a giant of green cleaning products with a $22 budget

Eftyhis Vlahakis was born and raised at Chania. His dream was to become a doctor, but due to financial hurdles he was urged to leave Greece at the age of 17 to pursue a better life in the United States, with only 22 dollars in his pocket.

Although he had dreamed of becoming a doctor, he studied chemistry, while working as a waiter to support his daily needs. After graduation, he worked as a chemist for 10 years and his final release from this job inspired him to start up the leading company for environmentally friendly cleaning products Earth Friendly, owning currently 5 factories in the United States and Canada. Earth Friendly’s revenue exceeds in $0.5 billion dollars per year and the brand’s products are exported to Canada, America, England, Greece, Turkey, Taiwan and Japan.

In the United States, he was nicknamed Van and became best known as Van Vlahakis.

At the beginning, his business, located near the city of Chicago, produced cosmetic products, shampoos and lotions and cleaning products later on.

Despite Greece’s current financial crisis, Van Vlahakis’s next step in his future agenda is to set up a new factory in his hοmeland.

“In Greece, entrepreneurs must be given the chance to create new jobs. Therefore, the pro business plan must be implemented and generate new ideas and enterprises. Only then will there be growth”, Van Vlahakis stated in a former interview.

Vlahakis is also the owner of Progressive Solar, a photovoltaic systems producing company.

He also owns 50% of Paramyth Films production company, which has recently released the autobiographical feature film Green Story, following Van Vlahakis’s life course from the poor neighobourhoods of Crete to his present successful businessman icon status.

Read Van Vlahakis interview to team