Watching the Super Bowl shocked the owners of a Cape Coral-based, eco-friendly and global toothbrush company. The pleasant surprise had nothing to do with the underdog Philadelphia Eagles defeating the favored New England Patriots.
Cape Coral resident Christopher Fous, chief executive officer of WooBamboo!, was at home grabbing another drink when a buddy of his near-screamed: “I think I just saw your toothbrush!”
Upon further review, he had.
While the bulk of more than 100 million TV viewers were noticing Matt Damon holding a Stella Artois chalice while promoting the nonprofit organization water.org, Fous and his colleagues were seeing a sudden deluge of text messages and phone calls from friends and family familiar with their marquee product: a bamboo toothbrush.
During the 30-second advertisement, the actor urges fans to purchase a Stella Artois glass, with proceeds going toward water.org’s mission of providing clean drinking water worldwide. For a split second during the commercial, a WooBamboo! bamboo toothbrush appeared on the screen with clean water dripping over it.
“It’s not advertising our brush, but the people who use our brush will clearly recognize it,” Fous said. “The people who buy our brush, they believe in it. It means something to them.”
On April 22, Earth Day, 2013, Fous, Fort Myers resident Steve Hyde and longtime friend Tom Burt co-founded WooBamboo!, which, as far as they knew, was the first bamboo and biodegradable toothbrush company on the planet.
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Although the trio had nothing to do with the estimated $5 million cost of the Super Bowl advertisement, the cameo appearance just furthered their belief in their product. It marking a milestone of relevancy.
“It’s like seeing your kid pop up in a Super Bowl commercial,” said Fous, 37 and a graduate of Cypress Lake High School. “That’s the metaphor I’ve been using.”
Hyde, 55 and a native of Brisbane, Australia, but a Lee County resident for more than 15 years, was out of town at a restaurant during the Super Bowl when his phone began to vibrate with messages.
The idea for making biodegradable toothbrushes began on a whim. Hyde’s mother, Marguerite Hyde, had suggested bamboo toothbrushes as a potential new business venture.
Fous laughed until he realized she was right. A brief survey of the toothbrush section of grocery stores and pharmacies showed all-plastic toothbrushes. There would be no competition.
Five years later, the three businessmen have leased three adjacent strip mall units just behind the Hooters restaurant in Cape Coral off Del Prado Boulevard. One unit serves as their office. Two serve as warehouses for the hundreds of toothbrushes that ship from China to Cape Coral and from Cape Coral to the rest of the nation and world.
"We didn’t intend it to be something that would change the world," Fous said. "It was just a side project. And then people were blown away by it. I think that’s how a lot of world-changing things happen."
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The bamboo comes from Ningbo, China, a city of about 7.6 million that Hyde described as a “suburb of Shanghai,” population 24.15 million.
Since their founding, Fous, Hyde and Burt have added biodegradable silk floss to their line of products, which are available locally at Ada’s Natural Market, some Costco stores and two CVS pharmacies in Fort Myers, the one at Winkler and College Parkway and the other off U.S. 41 and Crystal Drive.
The toothbrushes are sold at about 10,000 different retailers worldwide, including about 4,000 CVS pharmacies. One of the company’s slogans is “Bamboo’s hot, plastic’s not.”
“We knew nothing when we started the business,” Hyde said. “All we knew is we had a great idea and we were going to run with it.”
The warehouses Tuesday had hundreds of boxes containing about 120,000 toothbrushes and 60,000 containers of floss.
“This is a constant flow,” Hyde said.
On March 8-11, they will be presenting their new line of WooBamboo! toothpaste at Expo West, a trade show of natural, organic and healthy products in Anaheim, California. The fluoride-free toothpaste will come in four flavors: Vanilla Mint, Marshmallow, Bubbleberry and Sweet Cinnamon. The toothpaste tubes will be made with plant-based materials instead of plastic.
“It’s been two years in the making,” Fous said of the toothpaste. “I started making it in my kitchen. I made a giant mess. Finally, I found the formula that would work.”
The co-founders said the Super Bowl commercial had super timing with the fifth anniversary of their company approaching. They still have no idea how the toothbrush ended up in the commercial. Efforts by The News-Press to reach Water.org were unsuccessful.
“It’s an absolute, shocking surprise,” Hyde said of their split second of fame during the Super Bowl. “It’s a thrill.”
Connect with this reporter: David Dorsey (Facebook), @DavidADorsey (Twitter).