Atlanta women start beauty companies in their homes

They were not working with food.

Anderson, 52, Larsen, 57, and Taylor, 41, all started organic beauty, skin and hair companies.

Anderson founded HollyBeth’s Natural Luxury out of her Decatur home. She and Larsen have commercial kitchens in Inman Park, while Taylor’s Darcy’s Botanicals is based in her Marietta home.

The women are among several locally who have started their own beauty companies that sell everything from handmade soap to make-up and hair products. They strive to make their products as pure and organic as possible, even at the risk of reduced growth.

Each has a loyal customer base which, thanks to the Internet, is worldwide. While they face the same business issues of most small firms, they have an added challenge: They are in one of retail’s most competitive product categories, dominated by mega brands such as Estée Lauder, Revlon, Avon and Clairol.

“The beauty market in the U.S. is a $400 to $500 billion business,” said Larry Oskin, president of Marketing Solutions Inc., a Fairfax, Va. marketing company that specializes in the professional beauty market. “A lot of people start companies but they don’t have a clue what they’re facing. It’s like having a lemonade stand -- it’ll take you a long time to reach $500,000 in sales, if you’re lucky. You really have to have a value-oriented product to beat out the national brands.”

At first, Larsen said she “really wanted to grow and be all over the place.” But now she’s “happy doing what I’m doing. I don’t think I want to be the next Estée Lauder.” Lauder, by the way, started out making her first products in her kitchen.

Anderson, whose grandmother taught her how flowers and plants affect the skin, had her own consulting company. A series of events prompted a change of direction. One night she talked to a friend about making her own eye cream. She found an organic cold cream online, tweaked it and HollyBeth’s Natural Luxury was born.

“I had money from my father and sold all my jewelry,” she said. “I paid a chemist $12,000 to stabilize the product. Bad decision. You can buy a microlab in a box for $20.”

She sold her eye cream at trade shows and went back to the Internet and her kitchen. “I love ingredients and would just mix and match. I knew what I wanted. It was just a matter of finding it.”

Today, her 17 products are sold locally in Whole Foods and Natural Body spas as well as in stores and spas across the country. In January, she sold 2,000 eye creams. She can make 200 to 300 eye creams in two hours, complete with labeling.

With the help of friends, who served as angel investors, she moved out of her house and into commercial space, a move required to be certified organic, a designation she just received. Sales from 2008 to 2009 are up 466 percent and she is projecting $500,000 in sales for 2010.

Taylor wanted natural hair products for her “coils” and made her own as a hobby.

“I was working, but when I had my daughter I became obsessed with natural hair products. I started researching products and sharing ideas with other women,” she said.

She ordered natural ingredients in bulk, including oils from Africa, storing them in her garage. After four years of perfecting the formulas, packaging, getting her Web site up and selling to friends, she decided her day job was “getting in the way of my success.”

A year ago, Taylor officially launched Darcy’s Botanicals, named after her daughter.

She first put her products on etsy.com, a site for handcrafted products.

“It was my exact target market,” she said. “I had sales within two weeks.”

Her skin and hair products are sold globally as well as in several Naturally Curly Hair Care salons.

“My products are not for the ethnic market,” Taylor says. “They are for women with curly hair. It’s mostly been word of mouth, both locally and through the Web.”

Like the other women, Taylor has control issues and struggles with how she can grow while still wanting to make the products by hand – her hand.

“I know I can put out a good product,” she said. “Now, I’m using friends and family to help out with labeling, shipping so I can still make them myself.”

Although she projects sales of $1 million within five years, she says her growth is being stymied by the bank credit crunch.

Larsen was interested in living organically and, not finding suitable nontoxic skincare products, she decided to make her own. She purchased organic shea butter and “started playing. It was all trial and error.”

Sally B’s Skin Yummies was launched in 2005.

“My family wasn’t happy. I was making my products and then turning around and cooking dinner. One of the best things we did was move into a commercial kitchen and out of the house,” she said.

The marketing side of her told her to go big, but she has opted for a smaller operation. Her store is in the Collective on Elizabeth Street and her products are sold in spas, stores and salons.

“I pick up a lot of clients from word of mouth, the Web and repeat business,” Larsen said. “Deciding how big I want to go is something that I really struggle with.”

The women know they have an uphill battle to go mainstream, but they are adamant that they will not sacrifice the all-natural, organic and handmade aspect of their business. And, that just might be the key to success.

“To get anywhere in the beauty business, you have to define who you are and offer something that’s better and different,” Oskin said. “But, it’s very difficult.”

LOCALLY GROWN COMPANIES

The following are organic and natural beauty product companies started by local women:

Authentic Beauty is the beauty salon/studio of make-up artist Alyson Steiniger Howard-Hoag. Determined to only use and sell natural products, Howard-Hoag worked with a custom manufacturer to develop a line of all-natural cosmetics and skincare. Her gel-based foundation will debut in the fall with other products to follow. www.myimagejourney.com.

Darcy’s Botanicals is an all-natural line of hair and beauty products created by Lysandra Taylor. www.darcysbotanicals.com.

HollyBeth’s Natural Luxury is a certified organic line of face and body products by HollyBeth Anderson. www.hollybeth.net.

Love Your Mama Bath + Body is a line of all natural soy candles, body lotions, sugar scrubs and artisan soaps started by Emilie Sennebogen. In addition to the Web, she opened her own store on East College Avenue in Decatur. www.loveyourmama.com.

Rinse Soap was founded by Heather Swanepoel in 2003 in Woodstock. The company has expanded its offerings for face, lips, feet and body lotions as well as candles. www.rinsesoap.com.

Sally B’s Skin Yummies is an all-natural line of face and body products that includes perfume and make-up. www.sallybskinyummies.com.

SaraRose Co., founded in 1996, offers a line of all natural skin care products that include luxury soaps, bath salts, hair and body oils, shampoo soaps, facial mask, body cream and natural potpourri. Soaps are made from natural ingredients with no chemical preservatives. Owner Juanita Fails grows most of the herbs, vegetables and flowers used in her products. www.sararosecompany.com.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.