It’s been said that small businesses are the backbone of the American economy, and examples abound at events like the recent Winter Fanta-Sea Arts and Crafts Show at the Ocean Shoes Convention Center. Most of the vendors are very small, many just one- or two-person endeavors, and, since everything offered for sale must be somehow hand-made, all of them can personally testify about the sizeable role that their actual backbones play in bringing their products to market.
A case in point at the show, at several retailers throughout Grays Harbor, and online, is Gaia Blends. Owners Laura and Ben Brannon have been making handcrafted, organic soaps, skin salves and beeswax candles for five years, working from their home in Ocean Shores since late 2015.
Theirs is a classic tale of creating something to satisfy a personal need, and discovering that they had come up with a product others liked well enough to buy. In their case, it was a “skin salve,” a waterless moisturizer made with beeswax, cocoa butter and organic oils, created by Laura for her dry skin, when they were living in rural Pocohantas County, WV.
Laura recalled that friends tried it, loved it, and encouraged the Brannons to try selling it. Perhaps befitting an organic product, the process of becoming a business was also somewhat organic.
“The salve got out there at farmers markets,” Ben explained. “We were seeing some success, and realized that with the ingredients that we had on hand, we could also do some beeswax candles.” When someone offered to trade goat’s milk for candles, they figured out that could go with some of the oils they were already using, to make hand-crafted soaps.
Their business today is 85% salve and soap, split about evenly, with candles and other products making up the rest. Their products are all organic, hand-made in small batches with food-grade ingredients, and most are offered fragrance-free or scented with natural essential oils.
After early enthusiastic responses, the Brannons started doing more regional events, bought an RV and took their products on the road to craft shows and other events in the summer of 2014, going for some months later in 2015. “It was a lot of fun,” Ben said, but they knew they were reaching a crossroads.
Ben had worked for 15 years with activities programming at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia, and he and Laura faced a choice whether to return there for the winter season, or pursue their salve and soap business full-time. “The business grew and we decided that it was probably time for me to devote my attention to the business, as opposed to putting my time toward somebody else’s business,” he said.
They spent a month in the fall of 2015 in an RV park in Gig Harbor, getting to know the area, and ultimately found a home in Ocean Shores.
They felt this location is perfect for its proximity to enough events to keep their schedule full. They are at the Ocean Shores Convention Center for both Winter Fanta-Sea and the Labor Day weekend arts and crafts show produced by Associated Arts of Ocean Shores. And, they felt honored to be invited to AAOS’ spring Fine Arts Show, for the unique method they have developed to make their cold pressed soaps a truly artistic medium.
“Up and down the coast and up as far as Olympia and Tacoma,” they’ve been able to book enough shows within a couple hours’ drive that they can “be an events vendor nearly every weekend of the year. Next year, we’ll have 100 vending days,” Ben said, sharing a smile with Laura. More information about their business can be found online at www.gaiablends.com.
The Brannons’ Gaia Blends products can be found at retail in Ocean Shores at the Door Mouse Boutique, 849 Point Brown Ave NW; at the Seabreeze Artists Gallery at Hogan’s Corner, at SR 115 and 109; in Hoquiam at Grays Harbor Farmers Market, in Montesano at Awaken Wellness Studio & Boutique, in Grayland at Clam Tide Gallery and at Nelson Crab in Tokeland. Their online storefront and more information about their business can be found at www.gaiablends.com.