BOUNTIFUL The busy home of entrepreneurs Stephanie Greenwood and Steve Thomas smells of lemon, cloves and lavender.
White marker-boards cover walls of the home, which serves as headquarters of Bubble & Bee Organic. On one board is a list: "Due Nov. 15: Pit Putty = 800, Lip Balm = 1,800, Lotion Sticks = 600, Geranium Lime = 800."
The list is for products that the rapidly growing company will stock in Whole Foods Markets, after making agreements this month to stock products in 16 Whole Foods stores in Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Idaho and Wyoming an increase from four Utah stores in which Bubble & Bee has been supplying products since July 1.
Bubble & Bee makes and sells organic deodorant, shampoo, shower gels, soaps, lotion sticks, lip balms, salt scrubs and bath salts. Growth has been so fast that Greenwood and Thomas, who are partners in life as well as in business, are still not quite sure of their profit margins, how they want to grow, or even how big they want their company to become.
"One of our issues is we're kind of just going, and we're not able to say how profitable we are on a daily basis when things are changing," Thomas said.
The couple began experimenting with personal-care products when they lived in Phoenix. Greenwood wanted products that didn't contain parabens and phthalates. She had suffered the effects of hormonal imbalance most of her life, and through research, she learned that some of the chemicals in products that she put on her body, such as parabens and phthalates, could be contributing to the problem.
"They're estrogen mimickers," she said. "They act like estrogen in the body."
The products she could find that didn't have parabens and phthalates contained other chemicals, "and I thought, why can't I make something that's chemical-free?" she said.
Working in her kitchen, she developed a lotion stick made of beeswax, cocoa butter and essential oils. She gave them to family and friends, who encouraged her to go into business.
The couple moved back to Utah in 2006 to be closer to Greenwood's family. She took a job as a videographer at Channel 2. He worked in
marketing at Eco Moto. They developed the personal-care products business on the side.
In the summer of 2007, Greenwood and Thomas began selling products at the Downtown Farmers Market in Salt Lake City to test the popularity of Bubble & Bee with the general public. They launched bubbleandbee.com in October 2007.
"Last Christmas was amazing," Thomas said. "We had just started the Web site in October, and by mid-November, we did $3,000 in sales."
This year, they expect about $20,000 in sales over the holidays.
Last February, they travelled to Denver for a Whole Foods seminar for local growers and producers, passing up an opportunity to show their products at an Academy Awards gifting suite in Los Angeles. During the first day of the Whole Foods seminar, they learned about the Austin, Texas-based grocery chain. The second day, they displayed their products on a table among 150 other vendors.
"We were very nervous about the packaging," said Thomas. "We worked really hard to make this fun. One of our slogans is 'We make organic fun.' And we wanted to be more accessible and not so pretentious, maybe is the word and we kind of had a feeling our designs wouldn't fly on the shelves."
Their products didn't receive much attention from Whole Foods buyers and regional representatives. At the end of the seminar, the couple was packing up to leave when they were approached by company officials, who commented on how much they loved the packaging. The Whole Foods representatives said they were interested in placing the products in some stores.
"They took the entire line," Thomas said. "That's pretty unusual, we were told. Normally, they'll bring in a couple products and test it."
Greenwood and Thomas quit their day jobs this past January and hired Greenwood's aunt as their first employee in April to prepare for the Whole Foods orders. They purchased a Hobart mixer, which shaved hours off the production. But they still package by hand.
They would like to move into a facility outside of their home, but that would require outside investment and loans. The potential investors are waiting for Thomas to provide data on expenses and profits.
Greenwood and Thomas have poured the money they make back into the business. Venture capitalists have approached them about investment, but Greenwood and Thomas declined. "Their idea of helping out is, 'We want to take 80 percent of the company,"' Thomas said.Comment on this story
On their Web site, Greenwood and Thomas average about 15 sales a day. "What we're noticing is people aren't testing us as much, ordering just a lip balm or just a deodorant," Thomas said. "They're ordering $100 worth of product."
In addition to selling to Whole Foods through wholesale, Bubble and Bee is stocked in handful of boutiques throughout the United States. Whole Foods may spend as much as $2,000 to stock up shelves with various products. Smaller boutiques will spend $500 on lip balms and lotions. Whole Foods reorders products every week to 10 days. "But it's staggered because each store will do it differently," Thomas said.Dr. Bronner's liquid soaps and Pangea Organics compete with Bubble & Bee. Greenwood doesn't consider Burt's Bees a competitor because while that company's products have natural ingredients, they're not organic. Greenwood is in the process of getting her products certified as organic by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.