I've been reading the book Four Winds by Kristin Hannah. It is a story about a woman and her children during the Dust bowl followed by the Great Depression. The book paints a picture of the struggle people endured during this time in history. It is amazing the sheer determination and toughness people had during that era. People were literally 'dirt poor' but refused government help and would do anything for work even if it was only a few cents a day. Families couldn't afford shoes for their children so they fashioned them out of cardboard - an old tire if they were lucky. There were migrant camps in California for people that were forced to leave Texas and Oklahoma. Locals treated them poorly and were unwilling to help. Even if they were lucky enough to find a job, it was never enough to get themselves out of the tents they called home. Many in the camps were sick but couldn't afford health care. Babies were dying of starvation and disease. America had few labor laws at that time, so children often worked the fields along side their parents. Food was scarce. Many survived on just beans, rice and flour. They learned to live without, worked extremely hard, and prayed for better days.
When I feel like times are hard, I like to reflect on this story. Things can feel awfully bleak these days with gas prices, inflation and the bitterness that seems to be invading many of us. But I do know, that there have been worse times in history and we certainly aren't struggling to the degree that Americans did during the depression. (Yet) 🤔
Running our small business has some hurdles that just keep getting harder to jump over. We are proud of the fact that Queen B/Miller Organics has been in business for over 4 1/2 years (2 1/2 of which were during lockdowns and a pandemic). It might not seem like much of an accomplishment but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 21.5% of small businesses fail their first year. Only about half of businesses manage to reach their fifth fiscal year. And there aren’t many businesses that manage to stay open for a decade. Those are some sobering statistics and I have a feeling that they will only get worse for small businesses.
So what kinds of things are small businesses struggling with today?
Yes, we get it. Everyone is feeling the pressure of inflation. But in small business it affects EVERYTHING. Our ingredient costs have gone up at least 30%. Our cute custom boxes have doubled in price so we had to make the decision to go back to plain boxes. (Boo!) Our bottle and jar costs are up 20-40%. Labels, tissue and bubble wrap? Cost is up at least 10% on those as well. All of our utility costs are up, subscription services for our websites have increased. If we don't raise our prices on our products, our profit margins will just keep getting slimmer. At some point it becomes senseless to stay in business if we can't afford to pay our employees or our bills with revenue earned. The knee jerk reaction is to raise our prices but that can be a fine line. Raise them too much and we won't sell a thing. We are searching high and low to find ways to cut costs with still being able to provide quality products.
The effects of the pandemic punched us hard in the gut right away. We spent countless hours desperately trying to find the same bottles and jars that we usually ordered. Everything was backordered and not expected for months or even longer. We've had to make changes to some of our products because we can no longer get them. For example, our hero product Pain B Gone has been in a frosted glass jar for years, but they are impossible to find now. So we switched to a white plastic jar. Not that big of a deal, right? But once we change a product's container, that means new labels and new professional photography so that our pics match the new look. All of this is expensive and time consuming, not to mention frustrating. We are STILL struggling to find ingredients and containers today. I cringe every time I need to place an order not knowing IF I will be able to find it AND what it will cost this time.
Everyone knows that shipping costs have gone through the roof and yet everyone wants free shipping when they shop online. (Me too!) We offer free shipping on orders over $49 and a $5 flat shipping fee on all other orders. I feel like we need to continue to offer this in order to stay competitive but the costs are becoming unbearable. Once again this affects our profit margin.
We love our employees and we couldn't do what we do without them. Our employees never start at the minimum wage and we try to give raises at least 2X a year. But now, we can't even hire a high school student for less than $12/hr starting. According to U.S. Small Business Administration, the real cost of an employee is 1.25 - 1.4 times the salary. That means $12/hr actually costs our business between $15 - $16.80 when you factor in payroll tax and insurance coverage. These days we consider ourselves lucky when we actually find people willing to work hard, are good at what they do and show up. So hats off to our current Queen B Team - we do appreciate you!
This is where small businesses get hit with the all the feels. Our products are truly handcrafted. We do not have large bottling lines, robots that whip up batches, or fulfillment centers that quickly fill orders. It's just our little facility with a handful of people that pour their heart and soul into every aspect of the business. We know that you can run to Walgreens and purchase a bottle of lotion for a fraction of our prices. We know that you can go on Amazon and order a porch full of products and get it shipped to you for free in two days. We just can't compete with the big guys on pricing. We have to spend a lot more than our large competitors for everything that we use to create a product. For example, we purchase bottles in groups of 200, whereas L'Oreal makes a bottle purchase in the hundreds of thousands. That means they will get tremendous price breaks while we are forced to pay a premium price. This happens with everything we purchase. The little guy just has to pay a lot more.
The reason for this blog post is to not garner sympathy. Even if we have to close the doors tomorrow, it has been a great run. I have learned so much and feel blessed to have been able to build this little business. It is a joy to be able to create products that help others and to be able to connect with people all over the country.
So what is the reason for this post?
Well, we hope that this post gives you a little insight into the struggles small businesses are facing. While companies like Aveeno and Dove will more than likely survive even as people tighten their belts, the same can't be said about many small businesses. At some point, the profit margin will be too little for small businesses to afford to stay in business.
We also want to say THANK YOU to all of our customers for the last 4.5 years. Your support, referrals, reviews, social media likes and shares, and purchases have not gone unappreciated. Yes, it is true that every time my phone dings that someone just placed an order - I do a happy dance! Pretty sure the CEO of Dove doesn't even flinch when you purchase a bottle of their soap.
We would also like to thank our store dealers that share our products all around the country. Without their support I'm not sure where Queen B would be today. We acknowledge that they too are small businesses that are jumping over those ever growing hurdles.
So for now, Queen B is hanging in there and we are hopeful that the economy will turn around. It certainly isn't as bad as what Americans endured during the Great Depression. I can only hope though that I will have the same tenacity as Elsa in Four Winds should that day arrive.
Please consider shopping small and once again thank you for supporting family businesses like ours. ❤️
"Every time you spend money you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want." – Anna Lappe
Bridget Miller is the founder of Queen B and assists her family in the day to day operations of Miller Organics LLC.
Every day there are headlines highlighting the dangers of chemicals that can be found in our food supply. Consumers are more aware than ever about the dangers of chemicals in processed food or pesticides that are used to grow our fruits and vegetables. People are reading nutrition labels and choosing to buy organic. Yay!
Not only is there an increase in awareness about what we put IN our body but also what we put ON our body. Double Yay!
Our skin is the largest organ of the body. Think of your skin as your flexible shield. "On guard!"
This thin shield at only a few millimeters thick, has the prime job of protecting blood vessels, muscles, bones and tendons. It shields your body from bacteria and UV radiation. Your skin allows you to feel the sensation of touch, heat, cold, pressure, itching and pain. Skin also functions as a large storeroom for the body: The deepest layer of skin can store water, fat and metabolic products. And it produces hormones that are important for the whole body. Your flexible shield also regulates body temperature, water loss and some nutrient levels.
As you can see, our skin is extremely important and almost magical since it can actually repair itself. Imagine if our bodies still displayed every scrape, cut, or bruise that we ever received. Ewww. David.
Well, if our skin is so magical doesn't it protect us from absorbing chemicals that may be in skin care products? Sorry, unfortunately this is where our flexible shield can fail us. Darn.
Or benefit us as in pain medication via a transdermal patch, or the topical application of magnesium, or other nutrients. Oh nice.
Our bodies are capable of absorbing all kinds of chemicals or nutrients through the skin. This is called dermal absorption. It is the transport of an ingredient from the outer surface of the skin into the body. Chemicals commonly used in skin care products could potentially result in systemic toxicity or bioaccumulation. As these chemicals enter the blood stream they can cause a myriad of health problems if they are not flushed away by the body.
In an eye opening study conducted by the CDC, researchers sampled the blood of 10,000 subjects in an effort to determine 'chemical body burden'. They found that all samples contained hundreds of various synthetic chemicals. Huh? Yep, our bodies are contaminated with synthetic chemicals that linger in our bodies and can take decades to break down, if ever.
What?! That's right. You most likely have at least 700 different synthetic chemicals in your body that shouldn't be there. What's maybe even more alarming is that these chemicals mix with each other to create a "cocktail effect". One single chemical may have no effect on its own. Yet, it may have damaging effects when combined with other chemicals in a so-called ‘cocktail’. Now I'm thirsty.
What sources contribute to this cocktail that none of us want?
This information may make it feel like it is impossible to avoid toxic substances and we wish we could say that isn't true but our mama's taught us not to lie. Even people living in remote areas that grow their own food have been shown to have many toxins floating around in their bloodstreams. So cancel your moving plans and lets talk about what we can do to stay as healthy and chemical free as possible. I'm listening.
Bioaccumulation occurs when an organism (that's you) absorbs a toxic substance at a rate greater than that at which the substance is eliminated.
Your body has some remarkable filters; liver, kidneys, spleen, and the lymphatic system. These organs are like buckets. They work hard around the clock to filter out things that your body doesn't need. They would be the opposite of a hoarder. You may even hear them whisper "nope, nope, don't need that - let's throw it out". But over time some items settle to the bottom of the bucket - much like a junk drawer that is in desperate need of reorganizing. The more toxins you throw at your body's filters; the harder they have to work.
Now I have a mental image of the oil change employee holding up my car's filthy air filter and shaking his head at the long overdue oil/filter change. If only it were that easy to just drive up and get a new liver when ours becomes filthy. Ha. Funny.
Overtime with repeated toxin exposure our buckets may begin to overflow.
Who put all this stuff in the junk drawer anyway?
The result is a body that doesn't function properly. And as unique as our fingerprints, our bodies react and behave to this overload differently. It may appear in the form of hair loss, acne, brain fog, weight gain, rashes, fatigue, indigestion and even dementia. Many doctors believe that this toxin overload is the beginning of disease and cancer formation.
Here is our list of the big No No's. Read your labels and if you see any of these ingredients - Run. Or at least put it back on the shelf.
A great resource is EWG's Skin Deep. You can type in any ingredient and learn about the risks associated with it. It's a resource that our team uses before we work with any new ingredient.
It certainly can feel overwhelming as chemicals are all around us and we can't control everything. The good news is that if we can reduce exposures -even just a little bit- it does make a difference.
UC Berkeley researchers led a study where they had teenage girls take a three day break from personal care products containing parabens, phthalates, and other chemicals of concern. After just three days, the levels of all these chemicals dropped in the girls' urine samples by 27-45 %. See just a small change can have an immediate positive impact! Good to know.
By choosing to avoid parabens (Mr. Hormone Disrupters), or turning your nose up at "fragrance" (AKA endocrine disrupting phthalates) P.U., you're making a worthwhile difference in the toxic load on your body. Look for natural ingredients as opposed to synthetic. Synthetic ingredients are created and processed in a lab, and have no ties to nature or the natural world at all. These ingredients are derived from petrochemicals and often created to mimic what nature provides. Many (most) skin care manufacturers prefer synthetic because these ingredients are cheaper and more readily available.
And since we cannot drive to Jiffy Lube and get a new filter for our bodies, make sure you help those filters by:
Don't rely on the government or a company to tell you that something is safe. Do your research and read labels. Just because the front of a lotion bottle has the word "natural" or "organic" doesn't mean that on the ingredient list you won't find a cocktail of toxins. How sneaky!
Now run off and enjoy life. Don't stress the small stuff. Read your labels. Eat more cranberries. And clean out your junk drawer.
It's our 3rd birthday and we couldn't be more excited. We survived another year even during a pandemic. WHEW! Not too bad considering 30% of all small businesses fail in their first 2 years.
Fingers crossed we can keep pushing forward.
Birthdays are a time for reflection. And I've been thinking a lot lately about all the things we've learned in our 3 years as a small family business.
Here are my top 8 business reflections:
1. We all start somewhere.
We had the vision. We had the idea. We bought some equipment. But now what?
After months of trial and error, my husband figured out how to cold press a tiny little seed and extract the most nourishing oil on the market. He always said it's "the best oil that no one knows about". We worked hard on building connections, making cold calls, and talking about our oil to anyone that cared to listen. It was a rough start. Nothing was easy. Nothing fell into our laps (well except for some splashed oil I suppose).
Then along came the idea to begin formulating products with our cranberry seed oil. What started out as 2 products handcrafted in our kitchen has grown to over 50 SKU's produced (still by hand) in our very own food grade facility.
We had so much to learn in the beginning and we STILL have so much to learn. But that's good, right? Keeps life exciting.
"If you are always waiting for the perfect time, you'll never get started."
2. You're only as good as the last product you've made.
Thankfully, we have had a pretty good track record. It's probably because I tend to be a perfectionist (maybe even a bit of a control freak). In over 3 years of selling products, we can count the number of complaints on 1 hand. Seriously. But for me, an unhappy customer makes me feel like a failure. It will honestly keep me awake at night. Every product that heads out our door has to be perfect. We work hard at being consistent and making sure everyone on the Queen B Team values their part in the process.
"Mistakes are proof that you are trying."
3. Working with your family is a gift not to be taken for granted.
When we started Queen B, it was just my husband and I. Along the way, we have hired on both of our children. Our son Chase, is instrumental on the cranberry marsh but also extremely talented when it comes to fabricating and problem solving equipment malfunctions in our plant. Our daughter Kyla, joined Queen B almost 2 years ago. She left her corporate finance job in downtown Minneapolis to run our office and make sure we are making wise financial decisions. I love how both of our children can not only work with each other (and get along) but also with my husband and I. Whether our business has hit a speed bump or is soaring high, it's nice to know that we have each other for this crazy ride.
"Behind every successful small business is a family."
4. A disruption in the supply chain can wreck havoc on a small business quickly.
Holy schnikes! Dang Covid has had us searching the world over for ingredients, labels and containers. It seems every time I try to place an order; the product is backordered. Some of our "go to" suppliers have gone completely out of business. Some have temporarily closed their doors. While others are also left scratching their heads looking for supplies. We've learned to have a back up plan, watch inventory closely and stock up when given the chance.
"Keep Calm. It's the new normal."
5. Support from friends and family is priceless.
We cannot explain in words what it means when a friend or family member supports our venture. Whether it is by liking posts on social media, giving a product review, sharing our business with others, or buying Queen B products, those acts do not go unnoticed or unappreciated. We have been amazed over and over again at the outpouring of love and support from friends near and far. We certainly wouldn't be celebrating 3 years without that kind of support. It has taught us the importance of supporting small businesses and shopping local.
"Behind every successful woman is a tribe of women who have her back."
6. As a small family business you have to be willing to do everything.
Sometimes I wonder as I am sweeping the plant floor, if Jeff Bezos would be willing to pick up a broom or a toilet brush.
As a small business, we just don't have the luxury of saying no. We have to be willing to handle all aspects of the
job-even the dirty ones. Fortunately, we have been able to hire several employees and it is wonderful to have the extra help. No matter how much our business grows I hope that we are never too proud to pick up a mop.
"Humble yourself. Or life will do it for you."
7. You find excitement in purchasing odd things - like a new shipping scale.
Seriously. Every time we can improve our productivity and organization, it's like Christmas morning in this place. I also find myself looking at online equipment auctions. My favorite is Wisconsin Surplus Online Auction. I spend spare time searching and thinking 'hey we could really use a kick butt Hobart mixer' or (more likely) 'hmm I wonder what that thing is used for?'
I just recently added to my wish list a new bottle filler. We have a bottle filler but she is on her last leg or at least on our employees last nerve. We need one that is easy to use and fills quickly and precisely. Hey, a girl can dream.
"Work hard so you can shop harder."
8. You never stop thinking about your business.
All day. Every day.
From new product development, social media posts, responding to emails, or wondering why the last batch of lotion didn't turn out right. I just wish sometimes there was an off button. But...
"Success doesn't come from what you do on occasion, it comes from what you do consistently."
So to all of our customers - past, present and future - we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Your support gives fuel to our passion of creating a brand that offers quality skin care that does more good than harm.
No one will argue the fact that we are facing challenging times in 2020. It has been a year full of doubts, fear, anger and hostility. We are constantly drifting through a sea of medical terms, statistics, and images that are disturbing. We want to hear the truth but we no longer know who is telling the truth.
We are finding ourselves isolated and uncertain what the future holds. This pandemic has robbed us of our freedom to experience milestones in our families; weddings, graduations, proms and birthday parties.
We are not only struggling within our families, but businesses, education and healthcare are finding themselves dazed and confused. In the scope of just 4 months we have witnessed drastic changes.
All of us are wondering...
Will things ever return to normal?
While no one knows exactly what the future holds there are steps we can take to make sure we keep our minds healthy.
We cannot control the wind, but we can adjust the sails.
So what should we do?
1. Practice positive thinking
It's a lot easier to think about all the things that are going wrong than to remember the things that are going right. You can control that natural tendency by finding positive things to focus on. Before going to bed each night, say out loud five things you are thankful for. It may be the same five things every night. This shift in thinking will help you to live a life of gratitude. If you find yourself struggling to get through a day - stop- and quickly say five positive things in your life.
2. Spend time outside
Take a walk in a park. Float down the river. Tend to a garden. It's hard to ignore the benefits of some fresh air and sunshine.
3. Focus on your basic needs
Make sure you are eating healthy and getting enough rest. Keep being social. Reach out to family and friends even if its just a text or phone call.
4. Keep social media and news in balance
Schedule a time during the day where you can catch up on news and connect on social media. It is better to set aside a small amount of time each day to do this than to allow information to continually invade your piece of mind. Sort through the information and then move on with your day. If daily sessions are too much, consider having an entire day or even a week that is completely free of information. Your mind and body will thank you.
5. Invest in yourself
Follow your dreams, learn a new skill and never feel guilty or ashamed for taking care of you.
Self-care is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others.
Have you become familiar with this term yet? Green Washing is when a company uses advertising and/or packaging to make a product seem more of a clean healthy product than what it really is. The product is perhaps free of one particular toxin but is actually host to a variety of known toxic ingredients.
It can be daunting standing in the personal care isle at your local store trying to navigate through countless products.
Who has time to read the tiny print on the back? We often quickly read the front, notice a few eye catching words and throw it in our cart. For example, recently I was in need of more shampoo. Unfortunately, shampoo is one product that Queen B does not carry. I stood in the aisle looking over the myriad of choices that stood before me. I was in a hurry. My eyes focused on a lovely green bottle (plant colored). On the front I see that it has natural oils and essential oils like Tea Tree.
Hmmm. It looks like it has to be healthier than many others that I see on the shelf.
I flip the bottle over and see in large print that this shampoo is also free of SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate). Huh! Must be good. Right?
I throw it in my cart and get on with my shopping chore.
Now let's do a little research on the list of ingredients for my newly purchased hydrating TeaTree Mint Shampoo.
Cetrimonium Chloride (a preservative): Contributes to allergies and immunotoxicity (has adverse effects on our local and systemic immune system)
Diazolidinyl Urea (is an antimicrobial preservative that works by forming formaldehyde in cosmetic products): Also a known allergen and causes immunotoxicity
Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate (a water-based preservative agent that comes from the carbamate chemical family. It has been used for years as a preservative in water-based paints, metal-working fluids and as a wood preservative): Toxicant or allergen
Yellow 5 (synthetic food dye tartrazine): Causes organ system toxicity
Fragrance: ( Ingredient not fully labeled - identity unknown) This is the scariest. Manufacturers are not required to disclose the chemicals in a product if they use the word 'fragrance'. Many chemicals disguised as fragrance irritate our respiratory system, are bad for the environment, and causes human immune system toxicity or allergies.
You can see how difficult it is to figure out what is safe without a degree in chemistry. I thought I grabbed something fairly healthy and it turns out to be a slurry of disgusting chemicals.
1938 The last time any cosmetic legislation was passed in the US
Check out a recently released documentary (on Amazon & Apple TV) called "Toxic Beauty". It is an eye opener about what we apply to our bodies on a daily basis. What I walked away learning is that it isn't just one product but actually the accumulation of a number of products that we need to be concerned about. We need to reduce the chemical burden on our bodies and that of our children.
Toxic Beauty Documentary Trailer
Vogue: The New Toxic Beauty Documentary Asks: Are Skin-Care Products the New Cigarettes?
Here at Queen B we do our best to vet every single ingredient that we use. We check EWG's site to learn about possible toxicity. We never use fragrances and we are forever searching for the highest quality ingredients from trusted vendors. It's a huge feat and expensive. We know it would be easier to use the cheap synthetic chemicals that most companies use. We also know that it would be easier to use chemical stabilizers and harsh preservatives. But that is not what we are about. We strive to bring our customers pure, clean, good for you products.
Even if you make the switch with just one of your daily product applications to a healthier version , think about the long term effects. Think about how you can lessen the burden on your body to flush out unnecessary toxins that you slather on.
Be a smarter consumer and don't be fooled by companies that Green Wash.
B wiser. B more diligent. B more beautiful!