If you're a mom, what do you do when the non-toxic, organic cosmetics you're looking to buy for your children don't seem to exist?
If you're Natalie Bauss and Katy Scheffler, two West Michigan moms, friends, and entrepreneurs, you create Keeki Pure and Simple products and start a successful business while you're at it.
Launched just four months ago, Keeki Pure and Simple is the brainchild of Bauss, 40, who lives with her family on an organic farm in Ada, and Scheffler, 39, a Rockford mother of three. The two were introduced by a mutual friend who thought their entrepreneurial aspirations might mesh.
Bauss, a California native with 20 years experience as an esthetician and a background in international sales and marketing, had been checking out reference works from the library and conducting exhaustive Internet searches in her quest to make wholesome products for her own friends and family. "I started out creating recipes in my kitchen from things we'd grown on the farm, just experimenting," she says.
Scheffler, an intern architect by trade, was reading labels at the health-food store in her efforts to find products that would be compatible with her daughter's need to be gluten-free. "I live in suburbia and I'm trying to get a handle on this whole organic lifestyle trend just like other moms. When I realized what I was looking for wasn't out there, I wanted to change that," she says.
Getting on board
After three years of research, the two women began making and marketing Keeki non-toxic nail polish and lip balm in March. They work from their homes most of the time, juggling the five children they have between them.
"We launched out of our own capital and funds," Bauss says, "because we wanted to make sure the products were well-received before we brought investors on board."
Though the economy wasn't encouraging, the women took the plunge anyway. "I think it's actually the best time to start a business in this economy," Bauss says. "There's such a niche in the market for what we're doing. Because of the economy, people are simplifying their life. They're turning to higher quality – spending more time with their family, eating more locally and organically. It is the best opportunity."
They say the response to their approach has been positive. These days, Keeki products are available in nine local stores, including Hop Scotch Children's Store, Harvest Health, and Forest Hills Foods, and the two women can hardly keep some of the products in stock.
Scheffler says the immediate growth has been "a huge surprise." She credits the support of local vendors and retailers in helping the company get off the ground. "West Michigan is really unique in that everyone is so supportive of the community and in realizing the benefits there are in shopping locally," she says.
Bauss concurs, noting that the West Michigan Co-op, Grand River Grocery, and Local First have all pitched in to spread the word about Keeki. "The community loves the products," she says. "We're getting so much repeat business. One thing that's so exciting is that buyers are starting to ask us to bring our product into their stores instead of us cold calling. People are talking about Keeki."
Fun for all
Many of those people are likely area moms. With nail polish names like Orange Creamsicle and Chocolate Covered Cherry, the Keeki line is packaged in a fun, cheerful way meant to appeal to children.
"Women are loving the alternative for their children," Bauss says. "They can still have fun with their kids but they can avoid the toxins." With a tagline that says, "Love yourself, love the planet!" the products are meant to make safe, eco-conscious items fun and attractive at the same time. "Keeki actually means cake in Japanese," says Bauss, and clearly the two are as passionate about what goes into their products as pastry chefs would be about the ingredients in their éclairs.
Tarra Parks, 28, is a nursing student and mother of five girls who lives in Kentwood and heard about Keeki when the company donated products for a Healthy Child, Healthy World event Parks helped to organize.
"I was looking for local companies that shared my mission of raising awareness about hidden dangers in everyday products," Parks says. "Keeki is definitely a company that supports that mission." A week later, Parks tried Keeki products at home with her kids and became a loyal customer.
Due to her concerns about the toxins in traditional salon nail polishes, Parks says, her little girls would miss out on the fun of painting their nails if it weren't for Keeki. "Keeki offers us a way to have fun, be fashionable, and I can feel good about giving them a product that I know is safe for their skin."
Hop Scotch co-owner Rachel Zylstra, 35, concurs that customer reaction has been positive. "People are buying it for their kids, but they're also buying it for themselves," she says. "Personal care products go right on your body, so it's a great way for people – both kids and adults - to have an opportunity to enjoy these products safely." Zylstra says the store previously carried a line of similar products, but that when a local option came along, switching to Keeki was "a no-brainer" for a store whose mission has always been to support local, non-toxic products for kids.
Drive to expand
Going forward, Bauss and Scheffler are already restructuring Keeki based on a 75 percent growth in sales since their first month in business.
Both of their husbands are pitching in now, handling search engine marketing and optimization as well as accounting, and they have hired their first employees. They have new products in the works, including lotions, shampoo and conditioner, and sunscreen, and once they've begun manufacturing their organic recipes, they want to take Keeki to the national and international markets. "What's exciting is that we're expanding because the market is driving us to expand by showing a huge interest in the products," Bauss says.
The company is also committed to continuing its focus on educating and giving back to the community. Keeki is starting a series of educational seminars at Harvest Health that will highlight the importance of reading and understanding labels on food and packages.
Followers of Keeki's Facebook page, Twitter account, and blog are continually invited to fun, healthy community events and given organic recipes to try at home. And Bauss and Scheffler donate Keeki products to the For a Day Foundation, a national non-profit that provides pampering and positive experiences to seriously ill children in hospital settings. "We love that we're able to create this outlet through the business to be able to help children with cancer. After all, we designed this product with kids in mind!" says Bauss.
In the meantime, the women are thrilled that the products they invented to fill a need in their own children's lives are taking off so quickly. Scheffler says that being a mom prepared her for launching a business, laughing: "When you're a parent for the first time, you learn as you go. Just like a first-time parent, we're taking baby steps to see what works best for our business."
Stephanie Doublestein writes and blogs about food, business, and parenting, among other things. She lives in East Grand Rapids with her husband and their two young daughters.
Keeki Pure and Simple
Animals on Natalie Bauss organic farm in Ada
Natalie Bauss and Katy Scheffler
Keeki Pure and Simple (2)
Photographs by Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved