By Carrie Beth Wallace
In the bustling little town of Pine Mountain, just twenty minutes from Columbus, there's a small business that's booming on Broad Street. Just four years ago, Blue Ridge Apothecary caught our eye at the Market on Broadway when we met a veteran and his wife who'd begun to sell handmade artisan soaps and bath salts made from all-natural ingredients.
At the time, I was on assignment from the Ledger-Enquirer working on a series of interviews for Small Business Saturday. The series featured vendors from the newly developed Market to familiarize locals with the small businesses Columbus was working hard to support. I remember wondering what kind of story I could muster out of a small soap business, but it's a story that I'm proud to still be telling today.
In four years, Blue Ridge Apothecary has gone from a small pop-up shop to one of the fastest growing small businesses in our area. A once simple line of products has developed into offering over 80 different handmade and private label products including soaps, beard oils, shampoos, bath salts, scrubs, salves, essential oils, and more. They are in over 100 retail stores, and have fostered business relationships with some of the most important companies in the natural product industry. Companies that now produce high-quality natural goods exclusively for them.
I sat down with William Bargeron, Blue Ridge Apothecary's owner, to learn more about the small business I've had the privilege of following for the past few years.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: It's been a privilege to follow your business as you've grown over the past few years. Let's start at the beginning though. Please tell us the history of how you got started. It's so important for people to understand the heart of where your business came from to begin with.
A: When we started this, the vision that we had was just to find a marriage hobby. We wanted to find something to do to bring us together. We like to go to the mountains a lot, and we'd always talked about trying something like this. So we started making these soaps and doing classes and everyone loved it.
When Michelle's mom was diagnosed with cancer, we had probably been doing this not quite a year yet. We had already started selling in the Junque Yard and doing the market. Just you know, selling on a smaller scale. I remember coming home one day and staying to Michelle, “We've got to help everyone get off these chemicals.” We were in cancer mode with her mom and really frightened to death about the effects of chemicals on our bodies.
My mother-in-law I loved as if she were my own mother. We were very close and I respected her so much. Her diagnosis hit us really hard. There was a lot of sacrifice as Michelle took a backseat in our business to take care of her mother. There was a lot of emotional hardship as we watched her go through it. The torture of it was that she went through it for over 17 months. She had the biggest liver tumor they have ever seen at John B. Amos Cancer Center. It was horrible and it was stage 3 or 4 when they found it.
It was just a really hard journey going through it and grieving afterward. I don't know that I ever grieved because I was just trying to be there for my wife and daughter. so that was a really hard time for everybody. It affected each of us in very different ways and continues to be a healing process.
Q: I am so sorry for your loss. You said that losing a loved one to cancer shaped your business. How did it impact you as a company? Are you still seeing it effect the way you do business?
A: As we were going through the journey of dealing with a cancer diagnosis in our family and starting Blue Ridge Apothecary, we made a resolve to do everything we could to help people to get off of the harmful chemicals they were putting on their body everyday without realizing it. The soaps were a n- brainer, the bath bombs were next, and then the scrubs. But the turning point was when we found a way to provide high-quality essential oils at an affordable cost.
Q: How did you find a way to do that?
A: I went through a due diligence process searching for the best way to get a private label for essential oils. I have a background doing some consulting work in the past. I had written two or three compensation plans that we had sold to network marketing companies. I knew that network marketing companies had really good products. So when Young Living and doTERRA started coming onto the scene, I knew that there was something to their products. Typically, network marketing companies will have very high quality products but there's a markup due to the fact they have so many levels of compensation for their employees. Not everyone can truly afford these products.
The whole idea for us was that if there was a high-end product out there that Young Living and doTERRA have, then there must be some way to find away behind the veil. You know, pull back the curtain to see Oz, if you will, and find the little guy pulling the strings. It's a much bigger picture outside, but when you get down to the guts of these networking companies, you find that it's just people making it happen. I knew I needed to find those people.
It was a year-long process, scouring hundreds of resources on these products and making trips back and forth to Utah to find out who these LLC's were behind the veil. It was just digging and researching, but we finally found the guys who were the original formulators and managers for Young Living. They left and started their own company doing these products with various grades of oils and things. They're in some of the bigger chains in America, and we found out that they had also been contracted for doTERRA. They set up their formulation and filling of the bottles. These are the guys that formulated and develop the plan for doTERRA to fill a million bottles a day.