Picture courtesy of George Everett of Mainstreet Uptown Butte
By Diane Larson
According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) website, Apple Computer, Hershey’s, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and the Ford Motor Company all started as home-based businesses.
In 2010, 27.9 million small businesses registered in the Census and 18,500 businesses with 500 employees or more registered. Fifty-two percent of those small businesses are home based.
Inc.com, in the article, “Are Small businesses Really the Backbone of the Economy” by Jared Hecht, concludes that they are. They have faced the challenges directly resulted from recession and are growing, albeit at a slower pace, because of that, he said, “Facts are facts, and small businesses are still the backbone of the U.S. economy.”
Across America the impact of buying local is having a positive effect on a community’s economy. A 2012 study by Civic Economics found that local businesses are known to have a “multiplier effect” on the community, meaning that every dollar spent at a local, independently owned business will stay in the community and generate a far greater economic value. The study concluded, “the findings have been unequivocal: independents bring substantial benefits to their local economies.” Butte is a community that thrives on small business and the Butte business atmosphere has a better competitive environment than community that is full of franchise and chain stores.
Butte local small, home-based business
One such business in the Butte area is Montana Home Sprout. Montana Home Sprout has been in business since 2011. They sell a variety of products; the main product is a completely home-made bar soap. Currently, according to their Etsy page, there are over 20 different types and scents to choose from. They also have lotion bars, whipped oil, bath bombs and tub teas.
Montana Home Sprout was started by the husband and wife team of Aaron Brown and Kimberley Trythall-Brown. “I started the whole thing,” says Aaron. He explained that he first became interested in making soap when his wife, Kim and their two kids, David and Alexis, were having serious skin dryness issues and he wanted to find a way to help them. “I have always been interested in doing things myself,” said Aaron so he researched how to make soap. He said that he wanted something that would work for the whole family.
After his research, Aaron developed some formulas and made soap for the family. It worked so well for them that they began to branch out. A good friend of theirs used one of their soaps, the Castile, for her son who suffered from eczema with amazing results. From that point the word spread out to family and other friends.
How they came to sell the soap
The next step was the Butte Farmers’ Market. They started at the market Kim said, because “I really wanted an excuse to do the farmers’ market.” She explained how much she enjoys the market because it is a place where you meet all sorts of people, you get to visit and enjoy your community. “The market is such a friendly place and it resonates with my friendly, happy personality. I love it,” said Kim. It just seemed the natural next step, was to take the soap to the market and see how it sold.
Sell it, they did. Over a few short years, this business of making soap soon became a job for Kim. Kim explained that they have seen growth each year they have been in business. In 2016 their growth doubled from the beginning of the year to the end. When she first started making and selling her soap Kim said that she would only have to make it only during the winter months. For most soap makers that is the norm because the soap, once made, then needs to cure. Sales have turned the job of soap making to something she does year round.
Kim’s soap isn’t just used in Butte; it travels. The market is a place where you meet people from all over the world. “Someone (from England) who had purchased the bathtub tea from my booth at the market when she was here posted on Facebook how much she liked it and that it made it safely across the pond,” said Kim. Tourists come to Butte from all over the globe. In the past year alone Kim said that her soap has also been in Africa, Ireland, and Australia. “Even my skeeter stick is a product that is selling all over the world,” said Kim.
Starting and Growing the business
The name, Montana Home Sprout came out of the notions of natural and home spun products. First, she said, “I wanted to incorporate Montana because I’m very proud of the fact that I was born and raised here.” Also, the idea of “Home Sprout I took from things growing and being nurtured at home.” I liked the idea of the sprout, “nurturing and growing a plant is like growing this business,” said Kim.
The logo or brand that appears on these products is a cupped hand that is holding a bar of soap, and from the soap you see a sprout growing. It was created by Kim; it is her concept and her drawing. “Just the sprout growing out of the bar of soap in my hand says it is hand-made,” said Kim. She wanted something that expressed safe, wholesome, and hand-made. “I felt this logo signified all that,” Kim explained.
Montana Home Sprout sells on their Etsy site, the Farmer’s Markets in Butte, as well as other markets and craft fair/trade shows. Kim is particular which shows she does, they have to work for her and her product. Kim has gone the round of craft fairs and home-made product fairs and trade shows. She knows what will work and what will not.
Kim also wholesales her product in Butte and surrounding areas. At the time of this interview, she explained her soaps and other products are in Hennessy Market, Chamber of Commerce in Butte, Butte Stuff, Muddy Creek Brewery, 5518 Designs, and the summer months they can be found in Wagner’s Nursery. Soon they will be headed to a tea shop in Wyoming.
Kim says that they do very well at the farmer’s market. One of the reasons she believes that her product sells well at markets is the wonderful smells that waft in the air, and her display. She explained that it is a lot of work and takes quite a bit of time to set up her display, but she won’t change a thing. “I get a lot of compliments on my display, and I don’t want to change it because I think that is part of who I am to people,” said Kim. It draws people. They look for my booth, and it needs to be easily recognizable. “I have a lot of people that come from out of town just to come to my booth at the farmers’ market,” said Kim.
What makes this successful?
Another reason Home Sprout enjoys success is the quality of product they use to make their soap. Their soap is 100% hand-made. They start completely from scratch. They do not use a melt and pour base. The three main ingredients are lard, lye and water. One thing that both Kim and Aaron wanted to make clear is that ‘soap’ cannot be made without lye.
There seems to be a fear of lye, and a belief that it is bad. However, both Kim and Aaron have said that used properly, lye is harmless, and it is what makes the product soap. When fat and lye are combined in the correct amounts, a chemical reaction called saponification takes place. Kim said that, “Saponification is the process of making soap; it is mixing the acid with the alkaline that is the chemical reaction of making soap.” Aaron explained that if you don’t use lye, your product is not soap, it is detergent.
On the Chagrin Valley Soap and Salve Company website they also tackle the question about lye in soap. They say that when they are asked, do you use lye which is sodium hydroxide mixed with liquid, in your soap, they answer…of course, no lye…no soap.” They also say that any skin or hair cleansing product made without lye is not soap, it is detergent.
Kim explained that our ancestors learned that when they cooked meat over an open fire the fat would drain off and fall into the ashes. The fat and ashes would then harden. Eventually they noticed that you could use that end product of hardened fat and ash for washing. Soap was born.
Lastly, Kim believes that one reason her soap has seen the success it has is because the smell in her products have staying power. For example, the smell of the bar of soap Home Sprout sells, whether it is lilac or honey oat stays with the soap the entire time. She uses high quality oils and scents so that you can smell that until your soap is but a sliver in your hand. Kim feels that there is “nothing more disappointing than buying something for the aroma and the smell goes away after you use it.” The smell stays. “I think that really matters to people,” she says.
Why this home-based business is sustainable
While Kim is the main soap maker and business operator, she says “this is a joint effort; I could not do this without Aaron.” All of the molds and cutters used in the making of her soap are hand-made by Aaron. If these had to be purchased that would drive up costs and make the venture more difficult. Kim explained that the type of cutters and molds used could be costly. “When you can do all this yourself your profit margin goes way up,” Kim explained.
Aaron also calculates all of the formulas for her soaps. Kim said that, “He spends a lot of time formulating recipes for me because he is the math guy.”
Another contributing factor to the success of Montana Home Sprout is simply the love of the work. Kim loves her product, and she is proud of it. Kim is the face and voice of her product. For this type of sales you need to be a person that people feel comfortable approaching. She is friendly and easy to approach; Kim says she is a people person. She used the following example to clarify, “we were at ‘Art in the Park’ in Anaconda. My dad and my husband were there with me. At one point I said I’m going to take a short break, and get something to drink. When I came back to the booth my dad told me that while I was gone no one even looked at the booth, they just all walked by. He said that ‘you are a magnet, you have a magnetic personality, and people are drawn to you.’” Kim said, “People are drawn to my booth, first because of the great smells, but also I am friendly and have an outgoing personality.” That personality is a part of her brand and a good reason for her continued success. She is welcoming, bubbly and honest.
It is important to Kim that she is always honest about her product when questions are asked. “I don’t want to sell you something you might not like,” said Kim. If someone is concerned about the product because they may, for instance, have sensitive skin, Kim says that she will give them a free sample to try. For Kim it is imperative that you like what you buy and that it works for you.
To insure this happens, Kim will do trials or case studies on new products. She recently came out with a “Skeeter Stick,” for, you guessed it mosquito repellent. For one solid season Kim said that she gave this product to family, friends and even some people she didn’t know and had them trial it for her. She wanted to make sure the results were good before offering it up for sale. “I’m not gonna put it on my table if I’m not proud of it,” said Kim. She went on to say, “I’m not gonna tell you something that isn’t true, I will be straightforward and honest, that is really important to me.” An example is the Skeeter Stick, “I tell people to double up,” Kim said, if you are concerned about disease from mosquitoes.
Structure and staying motivated in a home-based business
Kim’s work day is structured around her family. “My kids come first,” Kim said. She explained she feels very blessed to be able to have a job that she can arrange around her family. “My kids know that I will be there for them at the drop of a hat and that is important,” she explained. “My family is where my heart is and they are first. I feel very blessed to be able to stay home with my kids,” said Kim.
Kim calls the space where she makes her products, the soap shack. It is right out her front door. Three days a week, as soon as David and Alexis are off to school, she will be in her ‘soap shack.’ Then when it is time to make dinner, she will drop it all and head back into the house. Summer months can be less structured, but it all works out in the end.
Motivation can be an issue when you have a home based business. Kim says that sometimes it is a struggle to get busy. However, our ultimate goal is to have a business that will support the whole family. Having that goal in mind keeps me moving forward.
While Aaron does help Kim, she is the main business operator. Aaron also works outside the home. A goal is that Montana Home Sprout turns into something eventually they can both do together. “We have always been able to work together, and work well together,” she said. Kim went on to explain that one motivator is that, “the business has had a good and steady growth so it feels that it is coming to fruition.”
Next: Make the brand
This past year Kim said that she was going to work on marketability. “I think I need to be more recognizable,” said Kim. To make that happen she worked with 5518 designs to create a brand that was the same across all her products and that was reflected in her business cards and labels. “I want to put it on paper, make it colorful, because that‘s important to me, and be recognizable,” she said. Being recognizable, for Kim, is the next important step for her. She used the example of Burt’s Bees. When you are in a store you can recognize that product long before you are close enough to read the label. She said, “I want people from far and wide to be able to see our booth at a distance and recognize us and know that we are there, we are friendly and they could come and say hello, and that we have a great product.”
Kim said, “I put my heart in my soap.”
For her websites and more information on Montana Home Sprout:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MontanaHomeSprout/
The logo and photos of products and display are courtesy of Kimberley Trythall-Brown