Max Appel and Elaine Appel – Fast 50 2003



This husband-and-wife team is cleaning up by helping customers clean their homes more naturally, with products based on orange oil. Orange Glo International generates annual sales of $330 million.


Max and Elaine Appel
Cofounders, Orange Glo International
Greenwood Village, Colorado

Additional Team Members:
Joel Appel, David Appel, Linda Appel


Tell us what you do (or what your team or organization does) and the specific challenge you faced.
Having raised funds for a variety of non-profit environmental organizations as well as four children, we were ready for a new challenge. Always paying attention to the products we used in our home, in 1984 we began to seek alternatives to the harsh chemicals that were commonplace in America’s homes. We started tinkering in our garage with natural ingredients such as orange oil, which we discovered not only had a delightful fragrance, but also dissolved grease and grime. In fact, it was a lot like turpentine–only without fumes and a headache. Working with chemists to develop cleaning products based on these natural ingredients, we began to introduce consumers to our products at the grassroots level, through home shows and state fairs. Following tremendous word-of-mouth success, the challenge became promoting our brands on a national level, which was dominated by deeply rooted loyalties to older brands used for generations.

What was your moment of truth?
Believing that other families would also appreciate the benefits of healthy, powerful cleaners, but first needing to convince them that natural ingredients such as orange oil and oxygen can be just as effective as those contained in traditional brands, we decided to promote them through infomercials. This format gave us the extended time needed to explain how these products work, and–we hoped–would generate enough sales to attract attention from the retail giants. Using a charismatic spokesperson, Billy Mays, infomercials for Orange Glo Wood Cleaner & Polish, OxiClean and Orange Clean became ubiquitous, making us instantly profitable. Sales grew so quickly that major retailers took notice, and soon thereafter, our products were stocked in their stores across the country. Because of the widespread recognition our brands had from infomercials, consumers who did not purchase through the direct channel were influenced at retail. Further, infomercials helped preserve our heritage of a family-owned and family-operated company, distinguishing us in the minds of the consumer. The relationship between direct response promotion and our success at retail worked beautifully. We wouldn’t be where we are today had we not used this approach.


What were the results?
After our first infomercial appearance, during which the product completely sold out in minutes, we began making several successful infomercials for a number of our products. Following several years of infomercial success and distribution at major retailers, we are now a $330 million company with more than 20 healthy, powerful cleaning products on the market, used by consumers in 15 countries, and have been listed in the top 10 of Inc. Magazine’s list of fastest-growing privately owned companies for the past three years. Because of our products’ strong performance at retail, it is clear that there is a growing demand for healthier alternatives in household products. And we are successfully fighting off imitation products based on orange and oxygen that were recently introduced by the industry goliaths, in a move we view as flattery.

What’s your parting tip?
Be unique, be different and promote the difference. Work at the ground level to listen and respond to your customers.

Read more entries from the Fast 50 2003