Renee Harris runs MadeOn Skin Care. She had a skin care issue and was against the wall in terms of trying to get a fix for this problem. She tried bandages, she tried balms, she tried gloves. Finally she found a solution to her problem, but not only did she help herself but she went ahead and created a business around this product to help others. She is a mom of 9 kids ranging in age from 6 months to 18 years.
Jennifer: Can you tell us a little about your story. What is hard lotion is and how you came up with the MadeOn name?
Renee: You know when you are a mom and you're changing diapers and constantly washing your hands. Then you have to go and cut up things like onions and lemons and your fingers are so split and cracked it was just killing me every time I had water touch my skin or lemon juice. I remember having this problem since I was a teenager. My mom had this problem too so we were always trying to help each other come up with a solution. We tried putting the gloves on overnight and we tried using bandaids just to get the cracks and sores healed up. My mom actually came to me and asked if I had tried something called a lotion bar. She had purchased one at a farmers market.
She said if she could figure out how to make it, it would help me too. So I was in a soap forum because I was playing around with making soap at the time. So I searched for it in a the forum and found someone had a list of 20 recipes to try. I thought I don't want to go and invest in a whole bunch of ingredients that may or may not work. So I thought I'll just take the easiest one I can find the ingredients and make it at home and see if it works. I found one that had just three ingredients. It was just shea butter, beeswax and coconut oil. I put this on my skin then took away pain and it totally cleared up my skin within a few days.
Then later I had my son had a problem with seasonal eczema. It wasn't so serious that I needed to take him to a doctor but still it was an issue. It was aggravating. He tried it and it worked. As long as he uses it constantly he has it all cleared up. So I felt this was amazing, that something so simple could solve this problem I've dealt with for so long.
So it turned out that there was going to be a farmers market in my tiny little community here in Northern California and I saw a sign that they were looking for vendors to sell something. I thought wouldn't that be fun because we homeschool our kids and that was something I could do with the kids.
We had to figure a lot of things out with the lotion. How do you explain it? How do you package it? So it's lotion and that's why we started calling it hard lotion instead of solid lotion or lotion bar. We liked hard lotion because it's hard working on your skin. We didn't want to do some kind of a novelty cutesy scented product. We wanted something that was going to be powerful. We wanted to reach people with a problem not just people looking for a novelty gift. We did that farmers market for several months, and then we decided that waking up on a Saturday at 5:30 AM was a little hard on everyone because if you sell at a farmers market you have to be there consistently because people like to get to know you. Also they might need your stuff and if you're not there that's not good for customer relations.
We decided that we need to try to do this online. We have been able to send out products our to different bloggers and they have been able to tell their audience about it. Now we're able to sustain our whole family. We've been doing this since 2009. Two years later we were able to make it our full family income.
Jennifer: How did you get to the MadeOn name?
Renee: The MadeOn part came from having to come up with a business name. My husband grew up in Southern France and so he has special sea salt that my mother-in-law sent him. So we were having dinner one night and we turned of the tin over and it had this signature of the person who had packaged the sea salt. We just thought that was so cool.
Because of this you know it's not something some factory prepared. It was actually someone who took the time to do that. We decided to put MadeOn as the date the product was made on. We have little stickers on our products and on the bottom of the tin it will say the date and that signature of the person who packaged it.
The one nice thing about that is that there are no preservatives in the lotion bar. The minute you add water to a lotion product you have to add preservatives. The preservatives is what usually irritates people's skin. And that's why they have issues with the products they are using. So by taking out the preservatives and creating a product without preservatives. And most of our products don't have fragrances. There are a lot of people who are allergic to fragrance. To make your lotion smell really good the little bit of fragrance in there irritates your skin so now you have a different problem even though you might have solved the first problem.
The ingredients in the lotion bar last for up to 2 years. So the lotion bar itself can last quite awhile, but we emphasize the freshness aspect of it. That's why we put the date it was made on on the package. Then we guarantee it for six months. It won't go rancid. That way our customers know that it's fresh and it's made by a person instead of some person. That was a fun way to come up with the name.
Jennifer: So the 3 ingredients without water make is self stable at room temperature? Because if you add water to it you have to either add preservatives or put it in the refrigerator and I know that I don't like cold lotion. So why does it work better than other products? One reason I would guess is because you can take it with you and not have to go to the refrigerator?
Renee: Yes, you can take it with you. I have one on my night stand and in my purse. I think the reason it works so well is because the water is taken out of it and all the ingredients go right into your skin. I believe it's the shea butter that really helps with eczema. I'm not making medical claims I just sharing what I've experienced and what people who have used the bars tell me. Those that try the beesilk bar tell me that it really helps them with their problem skin. That bar has shea butter which I believe really heals. It is absorbed into your skin. The melting point of coconut butter is 78 degrees so it will melt onto your skin. It's not like rubbing a hard bar of soap onto your skin.
When I've used pump lotions in the past when you put it on it feels great in the beginning, but then within an hour it feels like you never put anything on your skin. But with this you put it on and it really absorbs and it stays on your skin. It works that whole time so you don't need to spend a lot of time re-applying it. In fact, someone who has cracked skin in the beginning if they apply it more often, they'll find that they use it less after their skin is healed up.
Jennifer: We have a question from Connie. She wants to know about sunflower and why you would not use sunflower oil and why these ingredients might be better?
Renee: You need to know for each person what the trigger is for irritating their skin. So that one I'm not familiar enough with to know if it's problematic for just some people or if it's just in general not good for your skin. I would say if you are allergic to coconut oil then you'd have to replace the coconut oil so the beauty of making such a simple bar is that you can substitute with another oil.
Jennifer: That leads me into my next questions about your DIY kits. If you get a DIY kit then you can do that substitution very easily if you need to.
Renee: Yes, and we also sell the ingredients individually too. The kit is really for the person that is like “please just show me step by step”. It's kind of like when I ask my mom for a recipe and she says a little of this and a little of that. And I'm like no mom just tell exactly how many tablespoons I need. So the kits are me telling you exactly how many tablespoons you need. And then if you make it and something didn't go right then something didn't go right you can email me and I’ll have a solution. The other nice thing about this is if you accidently put too much of one ingredient you can easily melt it and adjust it.
Jennifer: Let's talk really quick about how you started a business, because we focus at Self Reliant School on starting a second stream of income. We believe that's really important. So could you tell us a little bit more about how you got started in the online part of the business and how it's grown over the years.
Renee: I had to get comfortable with the product and explaining the benefits of hard lotion to people the farmers market selling was critical for us. Not because we were trying to make a lot of money at the farmer's market because that's really hard. But because we could test it and we could talk to people and see what worked for people and didn't work. So it was kind of like our research and development creative time.
The money we made them we would make so much and come home and say let's go out for dinner or ice cream or something like that. So we could just celebrate that way. Then we put what we made right back into the business. So we never took out any kind of loan. We did use some of our savings to keep it going and then at one point before we made this a full time job, my husband was laid off of his job at Hewlett Packard. So we had to decide at that point are we going to go full time or we going to a city where he can get a tech job?
We're in California so that's really expensive to move to another city. We love where we live. We decided we would throw everything into making this work for us. We had already gained some momentum and it was starting to grow and now we had one more adult person who could focus full time on this. And so together my husband and I worked out the homeschooling and developing the business and all of that.
So if you can do it without taking a lot of financial risks then do it that way. So we started taking what we made and putting a big portion back into the business and then grow. Even with ingredients start small. Don't go buy a huge like for us a huge container of coconut oil because you never know if that one supplier might have a product that acts differently. And this is natural product so sometimes it acts differently than other batches. We've actually had that problem.
We've learned as much as we can through podcast and like what you're doing with helping offering people how to learn. I had just started getting on Facebook back then and back then you could do Facebook affordably. It was a lot cheaper than it is now. Wherever the tide is going you try it and see if it works. And if it doesn't then you can't give up you have to go try something else.
For us it was advertising with bloggers and back then there were quite a few mom bloggers that were growing their audiences and I reached out to several and I reached out to serval and sent them products. I'm very big on if this does not work for you then that's ok. The good bloggers will not promote something they don't like. If it's not a good fit for their audience then they won't go for it. So we would go out and try to get the product into as many hands as we could and then you work out a relationship with them. Usually it's an affiliate relationship.
Another big help is to get your own email list of your customers. Like if I were doing the farmer's market again I would go back and build an email list. I would make sure that the people who were interested in the product would get on the email list.
And we always had samples. My sons would carry around a plate with samples on it. These old guys would say oh what is that? Cheese? And my son would say no it's not cheese but it is editable. If you prepare your kids for the questions they'll be asked they can sell a product for you because they're so cute. So it was really fun because people would sample and walk away but then they would turn around and come back and say ok tell me more about this. Then I would say if you want to know more or know when we're going to be at the farmer's market put your email down and I'll let you know and you can unsubscribe at anytime. So just building that list has been huge for us. So if Facebook goes away tomorrow or something is gone then at least you have your email list.
Jennifer: Would you say that is your number one tip for someone who wants to start their own business? I love the tip about the farmer's market and the research. So you can do market research there. What would be your number one tip for someone who is saying “hmmmm, I think I have this thing that I make and I really think I want to make a business out of it”. What would you say would be the first step for that?
Renee: Get people to try it and test who are not related to you, because you need to have tested to the right type of people and get their feedback. So I had in one situation where I had an online group of moms who I did not know personally and I asked them to give me feedback.
Jennifer: Yeah, that's really important because you can find out how you can improve and how you can go a different direction and all off that. Let me ask you this, because this is the burning question on my mind: How do you do all this with 9 kids? How do you run a business and develop a product and then do all this with 9 kids.
Renee: Well, first we didn't have them all at one time. You grow with it. From the time we started our family we just had to see what the priorities are and what works for you family. And that's with anyone at any stage of life. You just have to evaluate this is what the culture tells me I should do and you have to evaluate it because at the end of the day when you graduate your son or daughter, you're the one that has to say I did a good job or not and your spouse too. You really have to take all your information and make those decisions.
For us we weren't doing what the culture does with having a lot of activities for kids. Like organized activities and so we decided that's not going to work for our family. There is no way that as soon as son number one hit ten I'm going to have to carpool kids everywhere. So from the time that they are young you have to say no to a lot of things people expect from you because that's the culture.
My husband took over a lot of the homeschooling and he's amazing in the way he thinks. He is very big on developing talent with kids. Each of our kids got very involved in the business in one way or the other and then we took their talents and had them help us with the business. Now, their talents are helping them take off with their own businesses. We teach them that you need to have an income coming in that sustains yourself and hopefully your future family and then if you decide you want to go work for someone then you can and absolutely go do that. But make sure you have some way of generating an income because these are hard economic times for people. Just like what you're teaching when you talk about more than one stream of income. That's what we're teaching our kids too.
Jennifer: That's so interesting how you are homeschooling your kids. That's a teaser for another show. I know you have a gift for the viewer so this show. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Renee: Yes, I would love for people to try this especially if you have a dry skin problem. You can still take advantage of it even if you don't but especially if you have problem skin. I want to send you a lotion bar. The way it works is that you just rub it on the problem areas. It won't leave a greasy feeling. I think Jennifer has a link to click on. (Note: We're sorry, this offer has expired)
Renee: This is a gift for you but you do have to pay shipping and that's helps prevent us from going out of business. You'll also see that we have other things. We have a rash cream uses zinc oxide and that really helps with rash. Then we have goat milk soap. I don't make any soap products I have a few different soap makers that do that for me. We just yesterday got a hold of shampoo bars. I've tried so many and these from Sri Lanka are great. We have them until they are gone but I'm working on getting them back in stock, but that come in a travel box. Go here and then look gifts/bulk tab at the top and you can try several products at once if you like to purchase those. These are great to travel with because of TSA regulations. This takes care of your shampoo, your soad, your lotion and your lip balm. Then you can free up some room for other things like sprays.
Jennifer: That's a perfect solution especially if you don't want to check bags. That's a difficult thing when you have to go through security especially for us ladies when it come to hair and skin care.