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Norm Pohl with his paint tray at the Home Depot meet-the-buyer event.

When Adam Webster makes sales calls, he carts along a container of six-month-old kitchen scraps that have been sprinkled with an organic deodorizer – and invites prospective customers to take a whiff.

He took the container on the road with him last winter, through a blinding blizzard, to a meet-the-buyer event in London, Ont., where Home Depot Canada had invited small manufacturers to pitch to the merchandising pros.

The Compostgenie green bin deodorizer, manufactured by Cooter Muck Probiotics in the rural community of Vankleek Hill, Ont., passed muster and won coveted display space at the retailer's Ottawa stores – just in time for the sweltering summer season, when curbside green bins are often ripe enough to test even the most intrepid city waste collectors.

"I can tell you from first-hand smell, if you will, that it smelled like vinegar," said one Home Depot representative who attended the multinational's first Innovation For Sustainability event, organized in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Economic Trade and Development.

Out of more than 200 submissions, Home Depot selected 20 products, and 19 of them were pilot-tested in the London, Ont. market. Compostgenie, introduced in Ottawa because London does not have a green bin program for kitchen waste, will soon be on the Home Depot shelves in Toronto.

The odour-suppressing product, developed by Mr. Webster's business partner Scott Russell, is produced in seed form from organic ingredients such as seaweed, sea salt, bran, molasses and probiotics.

"We are creating a colony of very helpful, very friendly bacteria," Mr. Webster explains. "People don't want to have stinking, rotting food in the house with maggots and flies, but they do want to do the right thing. They do want to ... be part of municipal composting."

For Home Depot, the green factor was a key consideration in deciding which products to select. At the same time, the retailer says it hopes to score loyalty points with Canadian consumers by supporting small manufacturers in their home communities.

"We were very impressed with the number and calibre of product submissions. The 20 products selected meet important criteria for Home Depot and our consumers – helping them save time and money, and reduce their environmental impact," said Jeff Kinnaird, vice-president of merchandising for Home Depot Canada.

Norm Pohl, inventor of a new form of paint tray that minimizes spills – and keeps pets from tracking paw prints through the house – found out about Home Depot's meet-the-buyer event while browsing the provincial government website and "fishing for opportunities." A long-time painting contractor and president of Nuway Painters Supply Inc., Mr. Pohl started producing his own paint tray, manufactured out of recycled materials in Dundas, Ont., primarily out of frustration with the products that were currently on the market. "I realized this might be something that helps the general customer as well."

His tray, which retails under the brand name Rollux, has a lid that keeps the paint and roller fresh overnight, and it hooks onto ladders, which reduces the risk of the whole tray tipping over and spilling onto the floor or carpet, said Mr. Pohl, who spends his weekends at the Home Depot stores in London demonstrating his product to consumers.

"I think all small manufacturers want to get into Home Depot. It's the retail power, they are a volume store ... but getting in there, when you have just a few products, is definitely difficult," Mr. Pohl said.

Paul Berto, director of corporate communications and external affairs at Home Depot Canada, said the retailer was "blown away" by the ingenuity of the Ontario manufacturers who participated in the first meet-the-buyer event, and is now inviting applications for a second round, to be held later this year. The time and place will be posted on, he said.

Other innovative products that hit the Home Depot shelves this summer include:

  • A liquid fire-starter made out of recycled cooking oil, manufactured by Bio-Lite Technologies of Kemptville, Ont.
  • A contoured foam brush that “hugs the top and side of deck boards” to ensure complete penetration of paint or stain, manufactured by Custom Foam Systems of Kitchener, Ont.
  • Gardening gloves made with recycled materials and designed with extra padding to protect manicured fingernails, manufactured by Dig It Handwear of Toronto.
  • A jointing material, designed for placement around paving stones, that is less vulnerable to erosion than more traditional products as it contains natural adhesives from plants, manufactured by Envirobond Products Corp. of Kitchener, Ont.
  • A white roof coating that saves energy costs by keeping buildings cooler in hot summer months, manufactured by DuROCK Alfacing International Ltd. of Woodbridge, Ont.
  • Mr. Webster said Cooter Muck Probiotics is still a very small business, operating out of a converted helicopter hangar, but awareness of his product is spreading and he has received inquiries from as far afield as Tel Aviv.

His company is now looking for bigger digs and is working on the development of a new product – Littergenie – to solve odour problems from the litter tray.

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