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    Friday, February 03, 2023

    Lyme's NeatGoods in expansion mode

    NeatSheets are available in several basic designs. (Photo submitted)

    Six years after launching NeatGoods LLC, Lyme resident Heidi Worcester says she now has sold millions of her products around the country. And she has only two full-time employees, buttressed by about a dozen part-timers and consultants.

    “We have access to really talented people,” Worcester said in a phone interview last month. “The gig economy always was our model. We wanted to connect with an established, more mature workforce. We actually pulled that off quite successfully.”

    Worcester’s company designs and oversees production of NeatSheets, a niche product of oversized napkins and bibs whose main market is seniors. NeatSheets have been selling exclusively online, at Amazon, Walmart, Target and the company’s own website, www.myneatgoods.com.

    Now, Worcester is ready to launch a new product line: biodegradable tableware and plates made from palm leaves that can be composted in your backyard. The company also recently launched NeatWipes, a biodegradable hand sanitizing product manufactured in the United States.

    Worcester said she has a Minnesota partner, Greg Pesky, who runs the operations side of the business, allowing her to concentrate on her expertise in design. The business, she said, is based at her house in Lyme.

    “I hardly leave my house these days,” she said. “I really like being consumed by this kind of work. The kids are out of the house. This is fun for me.”

    Design and sustainability are the two issues Worcester spends most of her time working on as she tries to add elegance to everyday products.

    “We always see it as an iterative process, especially in sustainability,” said Worcester, who has a master’s degree in design from Harvard University. “How to make the packaging process and the products better: We’re constantly upgrading on that.”

    When it comes to sustainability, most current paper plate products appear pretty mundane, basically brown and white.

    “They look sustainable,” Worcester said. “We want to come in and include ... really great design and high sustainability.”

    Worcester is aware that much of people’s entertaining during COVID has moved outdoors, no matter what the temperature is. So the new plates she has designed are beautiful but big and sturdy, too, with bold shapes.

    “I feel good,” she said. “It’s hard because it’s a lot of work, but I gotta say I love being consumed by building something and doing it in the right way.”

    She has had some bumps along the way. A few years ago, tariffs on products from China hurt since most of her manufacturing is based there (except for the wipes). And more recently there have been supply-chain issues, but the company’s proactive stance in dealing with shipping delays has kept products flowing, she said.

    And that’s a good thing, since companies like Amazon are not very forgiving when products are ordered online but there is not enough stock in the warehouse, Worcester said.

    “There’s a huge level of complexity to putting your products on Amazon,” she said. “It’s not a simple process.”

    It’s also a challenge to run a company with distribution centers in California and Connecticut, with employees similarly spread throughout the country, including marketing operations in Providence, R.I.

    “Because of our model, we’re very comfortable with the idea of Zoom,” she said. “We have scheduled meetings multiple times of the week with different groups. ... It’s worked out.”

    Though NeatSheets are geared largely to an older female audience, Worcester calls her most surprising user her twentysomething son, who uses them to make sure he doesn’t stain his favorite T-shirts and sweatshirts.

    And that brings up the question of where else the company could expand and who its future customers might be. Would restaurants be interested? What about airlines, or truck stops? Concession stands at professional sports events? Lobster chains?

    “We’re trying every angle,” Worcester said. “In some ways, our biggest issue is focus.”

    At the same time, the company is looking into how to expand the original NeatSheet line. Placemats and tablecloths are two of many possibilities. Sustainable tableware is another area of possible expansion, but then there’s the question of whether reuse, recycling or compostability is the way to go.

    “People are so into the ‘buzziness’ of sustainability they don’t know what questions to ask,” she said. “And you have to factor in the cost. It goes on and on, and there’s no right answer.”

    Neatsheets and NeatWipes so far have followed the same marketing arc of beginning with online sales with the intention eventually of moving to traditional retail sites.

    “With our plates, we will probably look to go into retail (from the beginning),” she said.

    Worcester said new NeatGoods products might be ready as early as June. But it’s going to take a while to find the right sales niche, which could include looking at the corporate market.

    “It’s exciting. I could see doing this for a while,” Worcester said. “There are so many aspects of doing it better. I’m not going to be slowing down anytime soon.”

    l.howard@theday.com

    NeatSheets are available in several basic designs. (Photo submitted)
    NeatSheets are available in several basic designs. (Photo submitted)
    NeatSheets are available in several basic designs. (Photo submitted)
    Heidi Worcester, founder of NeatGoods LLC, lives in Lyme, where the company’s operations are centered. (Photo submitted)
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