Earth Friendly Products vs. Green works
Earth Friendly Products vs. Green works
The challenge: Can a small, family-run business hold its own against a cleaning products giant?

What they did: Arriving in the U.S. at age 18, Greek immigrant Van Vlahakis worked as a waiter to make his way through Roosevelt University's chemistry program before becoming a chemist in the cleaning products industry. Laid off in 1967, he found his niche after Rachel Carson's 1962 bestseller Silent Spring inspired him to focus on green cleaners and change his company's name to Earth Friendly Products. Today the profitable 300-employee firm in Garden Grove, Calif., brings in, it says, $100 million-plus in revenue. Lacking a big ad budget, Earth Friendly sparks sales through in-store demos at retailers like Costco. Vlahakis, 77, keeps his team loyal by doling out the equivalent of up to eight weeks' salary in bonuses for holidays, like, you guessed it, Earth Day.

By Elaine Pofeldt, contributor @FortuneMagazine - Last updated March 21 2012: 6:25 AM ET
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