Eco Lips: Why This Successful Start-Up Is Moving to Marion

A decade and a half later, Eco Lips has finally outgrown NewBo’s Cherry Building. The organic and specialty lip balm company steadily took over more and more space as business boomed. When owner Steve Shriver – often called the “Mayor of NewBo” for his steadfast involvement in the neighborhood – expanded onto every floor in the Cherry Building and still needed more room, it was time to move.

Eco Lips is now renovating the former Squaw Creek Mill Works building, a 35,000-square-foot warehouse space in Marion with room for the business to expand even further. This Corridor success story is living proof of what can happen when a supportive community backs a great idea.

Thinking of starting your own business or moving one that’s outgrowing its current space? Here are four key lessons to learn from Eco Lips’ successes.

1) Recognize when it’s time to move on. Eco Lips expanded to cover every floor of the Cherry Building and still needed more space, with some former offices becoming storage areas for boxes of lip products. The company began exploring the city four years ago to find the right place with enough size but eventually realized the need to expand outside of Cedar Rapids to secure the perfect place.

2) Transition operations gradually. Eco Lips closed on their new property in March and plans to renovate the previously underutilized building, then move in incrementally throughout July. This allows for plenty of time to customize the building to Eco Lips’ needs and get staff situated in the new building without interrupting normal business. If you can coordinate your building’s move in phases, you won’t have to deal with the lost profits and interrupted workflow that can occur when you have to move on a shorter timeline.

3) Secure incentives. Eco Lips is investing about $500,000 to update the Squaw Creek Mill Works building for its 30 full-time and 20 part-time employees. However, the company also secured valuable incentives from the city of Marion to offset the costs. The incentive plan includes 80% reimbursement spread over seven years, totaling up to $60,000, according to a recent article in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.

4) Support the people who support you. Shriver didn’t earn the “Mayor of NewBo” title by accident. During its 15 years in the Cherry Building, Eco Lips continually invested into the community that helped it grow – not only by keeping profits local, but by helping the city recover after the catastrophic June 2008 flood, as well as nurturing an entrepreneurial spirit in the neighborhood and working to keep chain franchises from taking up space. The company also initiated the largest solar project in the state in 2004 by installing four large solar panels on an adjacent building to offset the energy consumption of the neighborhood.

Even though Eco Lips is moving into bigger digs in a different town, the company and its owner and co-founder aren’t leaving Cedar Rapids behind. Shriver is still closely involved with Brewhemia, NewBo’s popular coffee destination near the market. He’s also planning to open an innovative outdoor retail location, SOKO Outfitters, in the Czech Village this fall. The 6,000-square-foot retailer will be chock-full of clothing, footwear, and gear for every outdoor pursuit, fitting for a store just 100 feet from the river.