Sisters Renee Tank and Sally Mueller began Nee & Sal’s Family Garden LLC in January 2020 with the intention of selling succulents, antiques, vintage and refurbished items in the Tucson, Arizona area. Well, we all know what happened in 2020. Starting a business at the onset of a pandemic isn’t the best formula for success, but the daughters of a postal employee who for the last 19 years of his career used to walk 12 miles a day, the sisters weren’t easily deterred. Realizing that customers may be frugal with their hard earned money in the coming years, the two improvised an essential product that people need rather than just desire. A product that can be unique in recipe yet economical enough for a decent return on investment.
After a few hundred hours of research by Sally’s husband Bob, and their son, Kyle, the family decided “soap” was the answer. An essential item, check! Unique in recipe, check! Soap can be made with just a few items or a few dozen. Being able to adjust amounts of those ingredients means the possibilities for uniqueness are endless; if not to remove grime and dirt from your body, then at least to remove viruses and bacteria from your hands. After a few dozen loaves had been saponified, a recipe was agreed upon that would clean your skin and moisturize at the same time. Initially, only essential oils were used to scent the bars, but customer feedback led to the expansion into fragrance oils as well. Two years later and Nee & Sal’s has a product line of sixty items made up of soaps, lotion bars, body butters, lip balms and most recently candles, with more items to come including liquid soaps, body washes, sugar/salt scrubs and bath bombs, face serums and smudging items. With the addition of a webpage in the spring of 2022, the customer sales region went nation-wide. Plans are in the works for a storefront in Juneau, Wisconsin, opening in the summer of 2023.
Besides the aforementioned challenge of launching a business at the beginning of a pandemic, there are challenges with any new venture: economical, logistical, promotional, etc. Some of the challenges we’ve faced include getting our name out there and convincing people our product is healthier for their skin than the store bought items filled with preservatives and ingredients you cannot even pronounce. We have to navigate global morality concerns of sustainably sourced, cruelty free products, as well as their place of origin. For instance, we have had many requests for West African style “Black Soap”. But as we understand it, Black Soap is the main source of income for many women in Ghana and Nigeria and we wouldn’t want to infringe on an already impoverished region’s main source of income. Another example is global warming. Indonesia flirted with a Palm oil export ban for several months after drought left their domestic supply depleted. With that decreased supply while there was still a constant demand, it not only caused the wholesale price to increase, forcing us to either pass that on to our customers, leave our price the same and take the hit, or to scratch that ingredient from our recipe all together. Due to the warm temperatures we have in the desert southwest, it limits our outdoor sales and promotional opportunities to nearly half a year, as our products are heat sensitive ie: soaps, lotions, candles. This obviously is a huge challenge. We were therefore forced to find alternate sales channels. Do we rent or buy a storefront, watching most of our profits go to landlords? We decided that wasn’t feasible. Do we try to get on the store shelves at local markets? Again, you rent space so money goes to the landlord. So we decided a website was the most economical way to go until we could afford a storefront. However, setting up a website has many challenges as well, including the initial set up, the photography, the descriptions, packaging, delivery and everything else involved with a web page.
As a company manufacturing numerous all-natural/essential oil skin care products in the exploding 7.3 billion dollar all-natural skin care market, the opportunities are definitely exciting. Many people want to improve their overall health by not only eating better and exercising, but also by being more aware of what they’re putting on their skin, shying away from the chemical laden grocery store shelf items. There is also a move toward small business shopping over the multi-million dollar corporations. Consumers are recognizing that corporations use inferior products due to their low cost, with more attention paid to returns on investment and stock numbers than to their customers’ overall health.
A word of advice to the entrepreneur looking to expand. When searching for employees, there are three main qualities you should be aware of and if lacking one of these qualities, it’s best to keep searching. The first is intelligence. You obviously want employees to be intelligent enough to handle the work that they’re assigned. The next is hard working. You need people that will put in the hours, and there are many of them, to get the job done. If they’re intelligent but not hard working, what’s the point? Third is good moral character. If they’re intelligent and hard working but don’t have any morals, they may use that hard working intelligence against you. You don’t need employees stealing from you, cutting corners or chasing off potential customers because of a bad attitude or behavior. Another word of advice is research EVERYTHING! Knowing everything you possibly can about the item(s) you sell and why it works well with other goods you produce and then being able to pass that wealth of knowledge onto your employees as well as your customers will give them confidence in you and your product. Start small, perfect your product and then look at ways to compliment it. Diversity is your friend! A meandering path of diversity: from a grocery store selling noodles, dried fish and vegetables, to textiles, to electronics, helped a well known tech behemoth from South Korea post a revenue of 232 billion dollars in 2021. Don’t give up on yourself! Harland Sanders used to travel the states, sleeping in the back of his car, cooking his secret recipe for restaurant owners and workers to negotiate franchise rights, as a senior citizen! Make your dream a reality. Most small businesses take a few years to turn a profit so do the legwork. Get out there and pound the pavement. There’s nothing wrong with asking your family and friends to help promote you. You’re the one in control, so steer your business in the direction you’ve always wanted it to go by taking the necessary steps to get there. And finally, building a loyal customer base through quality assurance and customer service. Return those phone calls and emails timely. Rectify issues that arise. Be honest! When we receive feedback from customers that our essential oil or natural products have improved their skin issue that they’ve suffered with for years, actually making someone’s life better because of our products, has been a huge confidence booster that we’re on the right course. It truly brings an emotional gratification that’s hard to describe. “I’m not crying, you’re crying!”
Please visit our website, neeandsals.com, for a current showcase of all our products and check back periodically for our ever-expanding inventory.