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Sweet smell of success: Entrepreneurs land deals at Wegmans and Whole Foods for soap business

Kasey, left, and Kelly Evick, Biggs & Featherbelle founders
Kasey, left, and Kelly Evick, Biggs & Featherbelle founders - Steve Ruark
A lot has happened over the last few years at natural soap and skin-care company Biggs & Featherbelle.
Kasey Evick, 36, and Kelly Evick, 38, have landed deals at several supermarkets, including Whole Foods Market, Wegmans and North Carolina's Earth Fare. Stores in 30 states carry their products. This month, the company moved into a new 6,000-square-foot warehouse and manufacturing facility in Woodberry with double the space. And it just turned a profit in the last year.
Not bad for the former art students who became entrepreneurs after making lip balms and soaps for friends as Christmas presents 10 years ago. BmoreMedia first profiled the sisters in 2010.
The eight-person company also makes all-natural body scrubs, bath soaks and belly balm for expectant mothers. Jojoba oil, shea butter, adzuki beans and kokum butter are some of the natural ingredients in their products.
“We make everything in house, and we want to keep it that way,” Kasey Evick says. “We just needed more room.” They now have more shelving, tables and a larger area for making soaps and shipping.
Last year, the company sold 103,000 bars of soap, compared with 73,000 in 2011. Its first year, Biggs & Featherbelle sold 500. Evick says it’s on track to sell 150,000 bars this year. The sisters have funded the growth with $15,000 of their own money, $12,000 in U.S. Small Business Administration loans and $15,000 from the Whole Foods Local Producer Loan Program. The Whole Foods program provides low-interest loans to local businesses.
Whole Foods was the first large chain to carry Biggs & Featherbelle products. Now Biggs & Featherbelle is in 50 of its stores, including its Baltimore stores in Harbor East and Mount Washington.
The company recently enlisted the North Carolina-based Earth Fare chain. They’re in two stores now, with two more scheduled for the next couple months. Evick says she hopes Earth Fare will eventually stock Biggs & Featherbelle in all 28 of its stores. 
Columbia’s Wegmans started carrying Biggs & Featherbelle in June and has since added five more Maryland stores in Crofton, Bel Air, Lanham, Hunt Valley and Frederick. In the next month, they’ll join Wegmans in Fairfax, Va., and Pittsford, N.Y.
Biggs & Featherbelle employs four regional sales representatives, and a national sales manager they hired about a year and a half ago. The national rep helped Biggs & Featherbelle land shelf space at Wegmans.
Wegmans seeks out local products, says Wendy Webster, general manager of the Columbia store. Individual stores have the autonomy to work with local vendors, once corporate headquarters in Rochester, New York gives their OK.
Local entrepreneurs should be prepared for lots of follow up, which Webster says Biggs & Featherbelle has done very well.
“We meet with them probably twice a month. They come in the store. They talk to us. ‘How are the products moving?’ ‘What’s selling really well?’ If we’re out of a product we call them ‘Hey, when can you get something to us?’”
The process of approving new merchandise at Wegmans can take several months, says Webster, who offers advice for other local business owners.
“We’re not going to carry something like popcorn. There’s 5,000 different kinds of popcorn out there. It has to be unique. It has to be something we’re proud to put in our stores. But it also has to be about telling a story. I think the story is important because when our customers come to us they expect to see something unique. They expect to see something of quality.”
Biggs & Featherbelle products are found in dozens of local Maryland stores as well, including Body & Soul Salon & Spa on Harford Road and Trohv in Hampden.
One of their early successes was David’s Natural Market in Gambrills. General Manager Laric Wood says that when Biggs & Featherbelle first entered the market, handmade soaps were fairly new.
“They were the first ones who approached me with that kind of product. At the time, people were making it, but they weren't doing a good job trying to market it. People like it, their soaps, bath salts," Wood says of Biggs & Featherbelle's products.
Maryland boasts several additional body care companies as well. Botanical Skin Works makes all natural products for babies through adults. Savannah Essentials has carved out a niche in shea butter products. Mind, Body & Salt focuses on creating a spa-like experience in your home.
With so many bath and beauty products crowding the shelves, how do these ladies try to set themselves apart?

Evick says they try to stay ahead of the curve with eye-catching store displays, educating the stores about their products, making sure everything on the shelf is fresh, and solid customer service.
“All those little things really add up.”

Amy Landsman is a former TV and radio reporter and now a freelance writer in Lutherville. She can be reached at [email protected].

All photographs by STEVE RUARK.

Click photos to read captions.
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