How I Started A $6K/Month Plant-Based Organic Body Care Brand
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Wendy Mackenzie and I am the co-owner of Everlasting Herb Farm in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. After having been a teacher for over twenty years, I am now able to make a living out of my backyard in one of the most photographed villages in all of New England. I am right where I want to be, surrounded by forests and open farmland just outside the village of Peacham.
I make plant-based, organic skincare products using lots of plants that grow around us here in Vermont, many of which are considered weeds by most people. I have always had dry, itchy skin since our climate is so rough with long, cold winters and hot woodstoves. I make a Skin Salve that is great for just about any skin dilemma. People tell me all kinds of ways they have used this salve to have great results, sometimes getting better results than from their dermatologist’s prescription. It is organic and features four herbs that grow nearby. It is handmade in small batches. People use it for cracked heels, split fingertips, burns, bug bites, scrapes, and even diaper rash. It works great for skin soothing in all four seasons.
I make $6,100 in revenue on average each month and am working hard to grow my business. I have been using the downtime of COVID-19 to take courses, formulate new products, and even rebrand. I want to find one or two more large retailers to white label/wholesale to. We also sell products through our website directly to consumers and have products in a local store just a few miles down the road.
The best part of owning my own business is having time freedom, getting to use the twenty-four hours I have each day how I want to use them, doing what I need to do, but in a way that works for who I am. The second best part of my business is getting to work from home, especially during COVID-19. As a former educator, I had NO time freedom, so I feel particularly giddy about being able to work from home.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My interest in herbalism started when I was teaching health in 1998 and an herbalist guest speaker came into my classroom. Isabelle Hadley showed my high school students beautiful jars of dried herbs and passed around small vials of plant-based essential oils. She talked about using these beneficial plants for health and beauty, as healthier alternatives to products many of us were using in our daily lives. Everything smelled so good and I was captivated. I followed Isabelle out of the classroom and took her 6 Saturday long course at her cozy log cabin in the woods. We learned about plants and made herbal products. I had found my passion.
Supporting pollinators is a big part of what we do here at Everlasting Herb Farm. We give back to help the plants that help support us.
Five years later in 2003, with the help of my friend, Mary Ellen Reis, Everlasting Herb Farm was born. We met while volunteering for our local school’s parent/teacher group when our children were little. We went to Pickety Place in New Hampshire one day, which is where you can enjoy a fabulous 5-course herbal lunch, walk through greenhouses, and wander gift shops designed around herbal themes. On the long, three hour drive home, we chatted about starting our own herbal business.
We generated lots of ideas, but we landed on growing herbs and everlasting flowers that dry well to make Tussie Mussies, bouquets that featured the Language of Flowers, in which each flower had its meaning and you could convey your thoughts much as they did during Victorian times. Well, this was just about the stupidest idea ever, and my first piece of advice to new entrepreneurs is to think about what you name your business. I am attached to our name, “Everlasting Herb Farm”, but we don’t grow everlastings, and we don’t farm row after row of herbs, so we aren’t your typical herb farm. I do grow herbs, mostly herbs that grow despite me, and my gardens are a bit on the messy side because I value the plants that grow for me prolifically.
About one year later of dabbling with various product ideas, we decided that it might not be a business that could support us both financially and Mel ended up starting her own marketing business. For 9 years, Everlasting Herb Farm was just a side hustle while my children were little. I could study and experiment with different formulations and even tried them out on my family. I found this so entertaining, and a great way to grow intellectually while my kids were young and I was a stay at home mom.
I did an internship with Zack Woods Herb Farm in 2003. In exchange for planting and weeding, I was able to attend classes. Melanie and Jeff Carpenter are amazing herbalists and farmers, and I learned so much from them about herbal product making.
Soon after that, I found a way to take courses with Rosemary Gladstar at Sage Mountain, which was exactly 30 minutes from my house. I started with her home study course, The Art and Science of Herbalism, and went on to take her beginner herbal apprentice class and then her advanced class. I learned to make salves, Rosemary’s Perfect Cream, teas, tinctures, flower essences, and fell even more in love with product making. Working with useful plants became my passion. It was the perfect fit.
On a girl’s weekend away, my friend, Jen, was perusing catalogs she had gotten in the mail. She suggested I send product samples to a large Vermont retailer, because they sold similar items to what I made, but not exactly what I made. I thought she was crazy, but less than one week after I sent a box of products off, I was talking to a buyer who wanted herbal cosmetic products made to their specifications for white labeling, specifically a solid perfume. It was at this point that Everlasting Herb Farm started to grow. I was teaching full time, filling orders in the evening and on weekends, and eventually, I ran out of time outside of my teaching hours to fulfill orders.
The business took over the kitchen, our dining room, and office space. Our mudroom became storage for shipping supplies. You couldn’t move in some areas of our house. My husband, Matthew, who is now my business partner, built a beautiful barn in the backyard to house our growing business. We took out a loan for $35,000 to build the new workspace, which for paying back $336 each month for 10 years was one of the best things we ever did. The money covered most of the materials, (we now have about $50,000 into it total with insulation and fixtures). Matthew built the space himself in his spare time, It took 1 ½ year to build, but it was worth the wait. My new workspace is beautiful and a dream come true.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
In the beginning, I was just trying to make products that soothed skin that was painful or dry to solve my skin troubles. Now I start with a customer request about a certain scent that is wanted or a problem they have that they are trying to solve. I do lots of research and then just start making different formulations to see what has a nice consistency and is appealing. Then, I get my friends and family members to try what I have created and even give customers the chance to try it if they wish.
I have been studying plant-based oils and their healing properties, so that is the basis for what a recipe will include. Susan M. Parker wrote a fabulous book, The Power of the Seed, which was a real game-changer for me because I had the chance to learn about so many plant oils, many I had never heard of before, and the many healing powers they possess.
The Skin Salve that I made was one of the first products I came up with, and the feedback from customers sometimes surprised me. One customer told me he had purchased a $100 cream that his dermatologist prescribed that didn’t work, but my Skin Salve, which sells for $14.95 did. I have heard many stories over the 22 years I have been making it, and I am never surprised, but always happy to hear how it has helped people.
Describe the process of launching the business.
In the early years, I would make up different recipes, add personal touches, and have family and friends try the products. Back then I went to a variety of craft fairs, which were so much work and not me.
I am not much of a salesperson, and I found packing everything up over and over and lugging it around tiring. Bad weather could ruin a whole lot of work and it always seemed to rain at outdoor craft fairs. Eventually, I had a website made, but I couldn’t make the edits to it myself and had to pay someone each time something needed updating. It didn’t have photographs of products and was old fashioned looking.
From early on, the business has paid for itself. I have never taken out a loan. I have a business credit card that gets paid off in full every month. Now and then I might go for two months to pay off the balance, but never more than that. I have learned to get more than one business credit card because there seems to be a lot of fraudulent users out there, and to have to wait for a new card to arrive was wasting time, especially during COVID-19 because supply chains are out of whack and some things take so long to arrive.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
What works to retain customers is a high-quality product and excellent customer service. We incorporate special requests into our product making and value what our customers think. Each order that gets sent out is presented like a gift being sent to the purchaser. We enclose a handwritten note with every order too and sometimes throw in freebies.
This might sound dreadfully old fashioned, but I don’t own a cell phone. I use Facebook under duress because I am a perennial student and online learning focuses on learning communities so I have to use Facebook. So it’s no big surprise that I don’t use social media. I am trying to be true to who I am as a person. I don’t want to do the popular things that just don’t align with who I am.
I saved calendula seeds from last year and packaged them up, wrote a detailed letter about how the seeds could be planted, and how the harvest could be used and sent it out to my customers. It was very well received and I am already planning to send out a letter next year with milkweed seeds since milkweed is the only food source for Monarch butterflies. Supporting pollinators is a big part of what we do here at Everlasting Herb Farm. We give back to help the plants that help support us.
We also make a product called “Building Up Body Butter” and we donate all of the money from the sale of the product to support The Mario Almonte Community Center in Los Cocos De Jacagua in the Dominican Republic. My two years in the Peace Corps taught me to give back to help others. I believe that customers like it when businesses make a difference in this way. The body butter sells for $19.95 a jar, and we donate 100% of the money from the sale to the cause to help Dominicans learn and build better lives for themselves.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I was hoping that 2020 would be the year I grew my business. COVID-19 threw me for a loop but has also given me time to work on my business. I have been using downtime well. I applied for and received a technical grant, which allowed me to pay ⅓ of the cost of some projects I wanted to do, and Northern Community Investment Corporation paid the other 2/3s. I was able to hire a graphic designer to come up with a new logo for Everlasting Herb Farm, and also a new product line I am creating called Meadowscape Botanicals. I am having new labels designed, and a sell sheet made. I have a list of about 20 businesses I would like to approach for white labeling services.
I am also taking an online skincare course through Formula Botanica, out of England to advance my product formulation skills. Only having to pay one-third of the cost of these projects has allowed me to leverage the cash I have on hand and do these projects now, rather than waiting until I could afford to do them at a later date.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Be careful when choosing your name. Does it limit what you might do in the future?
Hire an accountant early on. It is a good investment to have things done correctly from the beginning.
Keep track of your business mileage. In Vermont, it adds up!
Keep good financial records. Lots of COVID-19 help is out there, but your record-keeping has to be in place.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My website is hosted at Squarespace. I was told that it was easy to use to make your website, and that was true. I added the ability for local customers to choose “free front porch pickup” and it has been a great option during COVID-19 because folks like to go for drives to get out of their houses, and the idea of not paying for shipping is just so appealing. I have no special technological abilities, but I made my website and that means that everybody else can too.
I also use Freshbooks and I have heard it is so much better than Quickbooks. I am very happy with Freshbooks. It has been a quick way to generate some of the documentation that COVID 19 relief requires very efficiently.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Sylvia Inks has a book, Small Business Finance for the Busy Entrepreneur that I found so helpful. I have bought lots of business books, and this was by far my most favorite. She sends out weekly newsletters, so get on her mailing list. She shares lots of great information.
I love all books by Jan Berry for product making. She has a website called The NerdyFarmwife. It is excellent and she offers very reasonably priced courses. I am taking her Lotion Making Course. It cost $37.00 and is excellent!
Sage Mountain offers an amazing online course to learn about herbs called The Science and Art of Herbalism. It is Rosemary Gladstar’s signature course and it is excellent. In the herbal world, she is a rockstar! I am completely biased, but this is one of the best ways to learn about herbalism.
I also love anything Marie Rayma at Humblebee and Me puts out. She is talented and has so many videos with lots of great tips and advice.
NPR’s Guy Raz has a podcast called How I Built That which features businesses that have achieved big success. His show features the story of a whole variety of famous businesses and all of their ups and downs along the way. Some stories are so hard to listen to because of the financial woes experienced along the way, or how the ownership was given away to investors, and the founders were pushed out the door. Listen to this podcast to learn about lots of mistakes you should try to avoid.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
In New England, we have The Center for Women in Enterprise. They offer so many free and low-cost classes, workshops, and free business counseling. In Vermont, Gwen Pokalo and her staff have helped me so much. Contact them. I cannot say enough good things about them. As a former teacher, I didn’t know much about business and they have been an immense help.
Right now everything is online, and you can easily access what they have to offer. It is a program run by The U.S. Small Business Administration. I love this organization. You don’t have to go it alone. I can’t imagine being in business without their help. I have taken many of their classes and received one on one counseling. I even got to be a participant in their “Power Forward Course”, which is a 12-week intensive business course taught by experienced businesswomen in the field. The ongoing support from that class has been amazing because even almost two years after I started the course, I continue to get support in the form of Zoom calls and resource sharing to survive the COVID 19 pandemic. See if you can get involved with this organization. They are amazing.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I enjoy working by myself at the moment has been in the middle school classroom for 20 years. It is a lovely change from what I used to do, and I am not hiring right now.
What I am looking for is one or two large businesses who want handmade, organic herbal body care products made to their specifications. I would be so happy to white label.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Everlasting Herb Farm has provided an update on their business!
About 1 year ago, we followed up with Everlasting Herb Farm to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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