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Guest Post :: Anyone who has bootstrapped their way to starting their own business knows exactly how difficult it can be. I read articles all the time that say it takes about three to five years for a small business to make it. As a small business owner, I don’t think that same rule applies to moms; at least it didn’t for me.
My fascination with making natural body care products started in 1996 when I found out my best friend’s housemate was creating natural salves and body butters in her kitchen. That looked interesting to me since I was already into all-natural-anything back then so I asked if I could come over to watch her make it. That day was the beginning of who I am today. From that moment on, I read every book I could get my hands on related to natural bath and body care products and I set to work in my kitchen. My family and friends started coming to me with their skin issues asking if I could make a product for them to solve the problem they were having. And I did so, gladly. I made everything from lip balm to bath salts, butters, lotion, soap and more. During my first pregnancy I made pregnant belly butter followed by a diaper rash cream for my newborn baby.
As the years passed, I got better and better at my craft. I began to question why there were (and still are) so many chemically-ladened products on the market when it was clear to me that quality, natural ingredients combined in the right way could be just as effective if not more so than their chemical counterparts. And safer, I believed. So in 2006, I started JK Naturals. I was all in. I began the trademark process on the name and started to sign up for local craft fairs. A few months in, I discovered I was pregnant with my second child and as I got closer and closer to the due date, my energy began to fade. As any mom knows, a newborn with a toddler in tow, is more than a full-time job.
In the fall of 2009, I received an email from a woman asking me if I’d consider selling my products at the local farmers market. She had tried my products a couple years earlier and loved them. I decided to give it a year which turned into four. During those years I learned so much. Being face to face with prospective customers is invaluable. Talking to them, getting their feedback, listening to their needs, seeing their expressions when sampling your products are all things you can’t read in a book or experience in e-commerce or through wholesale.
When my oldest son was eight, he began smelling really funky. I couldn’t believe such a sour odor could come from my little cherub. After consulting with our pediatrician, I came to learn it was perfectly normal and that some children as young as five have body odor. It was at this time in 2010 that I started making deodorant for no other reason than to help solve my son’s problem without worrying about what was in the product. I mean, he was eight for heaven’s sake! Who wants to put hardcore Mennen Speed Stick on an eight year old boy?! I also discovered that none of the natural deodorants on the market worked. After a long development process, I was ready.
Because I was already selling at the farmers market at the time, I decided to test-market my new product to see what people thought. I had no idea it would be so well received. Word got out and I was invited to submit my products to the local Whole Foods Market. Over the course of those next 3 years I would make product during the week, spend every weekend at farmers markets selling the products and finding time in between to knock on doors of various Bay Area Whole Foods to get my deodorant on their shelves.
In 2014, JK Naturals won a $5,000 grant from Whole Foods because customers rated our deodorant as their favorite local product. In the spring of 2016, JK Naturals earned Best in Category from Whole Foods Northern California/Nevada region and they expanded JK Naturals deodorants into 28 stores in the region. At the same time, we launched a complete teen line on our website to serve the needs of families looking for a truly clean option in personal care.
In the past year, we have increased our web sales through SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and expanded our business by offering fundraising solutions to schools and sports clubs. We offer Personal Hygiene and Making Healthy Choices presentations to classrooms as part of serving our community in the San Francisco Bay Area. We pride ourselves in being the first truly clean personal care brand for the entire family and we dedicate ourselves to educating our community’s youth on the importance of using clean ingredients and knowing how to read a label properly.
It has taken us a long time to get where we are today, longer than most, probably. The point is that bootstrapping a small business is not for the faint of heart. It takes hard work and dedication and a lucky break from time to time sure doesn’t hurt. Some small businesses might get more breaks but it’s still not without old-fashioned hard work. If you have a dream, take action and stay on course. Ask for help whenever and wherever you can get it. Make patience your best friend. And, never give up.
Kathryn Holdforth is the founder of JK Naturals. She writes about her experiences of running a business, being a mom of a tween and teen and the products she creates for them. She’s been making clean, natural and organic skincare and personal care products for over 20 years.