Friday, January 27, 2012

Beardsley Bears: Our 2012 Artist In Residence

"She makes bears," Kim whispered across the Holcombe store counter at me as I was rushing thru the store one day last Fall, my arms full of bottles fresh from the lab.


"Bears...Deb Elertson...she makes bears."

I glanced over to the elegant woman perusing our facial items.  An image of Deb standing over a downed bear, one foot resting on its shoulder and a large shotgun in her arms flashed in my mind.  Quickly rejecting that image I turned back to the counter, "What kind of bears?"

Please join us in welcoming Deb Elertson as our First Annual Artist in Residence!

As soon as I was told that Deb was the maker of Beardsley Bears I knew we were destined to meet!  I remembered her bears from years ago when I had a brief obsession with toy collecting and had spent many hours drooling over magazines and catalogs. What luck!!!!  Deb lives only a few miles from our Holcombe store!

Deb's creations have been featured in multiple international magazine articles, catalogs and stores. (  To quote one, "Deb has sculpted emotions from wool, mohair, and excelsior that make us forget our everyday stresses and focus on the joys." I could not agree more!

Whenever I enter one of our stores I immediately have to go say "hello" to the creatures in their glass cases.  They make me smile. I can't help myself! Click this link to visit Deb's "gallery" and see for yourself how adorable these babies are!

 In awe to have met her and crossing my fingers, I quickly asked Deb if she would be willing to make some bears for us to feature in our stores. 

After another week Deb arrived for a brief meeting at the lab. I'll never forget that day! Deb came in with her arms full of bears and dogs that were ready to be shipped to a vender far away.  She set the box on the floor of the lab.  A collective "Awwwwww....." went up from myself, Alyssa and Jessica (our Director of Operations) as we spied a box full of tiny faces peering up at us.  One little dog in particular caught my eye.  He looked up at me so forelornly from his box, as if saying "Don't make me go....I want to live with you...take me home."  I was hooked!

We immediately ordered more dogs (with one for myself!) and bears so that three items would be on display in each store.  Several weeks later Deb arrived at the store, placing all nine creatures on the counter while our entire staff giggled and cooed over them.  After Deb left we all had to give them a hug and move their little arms and legs until we'd played ourselves out. 

All parts of these pets are hand-made.  You can learn more about the details of the process by reading some of the many articles posted on Deb's web-site.  To keep it simple, I'll just say they are made completely by hand, right down to the hand-dying of the fabric. The toys are also made of top fabrics and built to last generations. Each stitch is a well thought-out placement, sometimes meant to hold the bear together, sometimes meant to give the bear an aged look and sometimes meant to bring character to the pet. A crooked nose?  Done completely on purpose.  A loose stitch? Again, completely on purpose. These toys are meant to look well-loved and aged.  The perfection of Deb's work is in the imperfections! 

I asked Deb to tell me some of the places her bears and animals live.  Her response: "Germany, France,  Italy, UK, Scotland, Wales, Australia, Japan, Luxembourg, Astonia, Australia, Netherlands..I am sure there are a few more , just cannot think of them now.  All over USA ~~~"

And this is from her web-site: "Deb was commissioned in 2002 by The European Ballet in London, England, to create special "one of a kinds" for their Gala Events. This was one of the biggest thrills in her career. She has also had the honor to be included for 10 consecutive years in the prestigious Teddy Bears of Witney catalog."

How cool! What's coming next to The Brown Barn Company's stores from Deb's workshop? Bunnies for Easter!!!  Our customers will have the opportunity to enter a drawing to win a special lavender filled bunny as part of a giant Easter basket.  We will also have one bunny for sale in each store during that time.

Over the course of this year be sure to check out Deb's bears as we rotate the collection thru the stores.  Every few months the stores will switch their trio of animals with each other to ensure all of our customers get a chance to see (and buy!) one of Deb's creations.  Be sure to stop in and welcome all of them!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

How to Breeze Thru Airport Security

This week we drove (yes drove) from Steamboat, Colorado to Holcombe, Wisconsin.  We took our worse-for-wear four door pick-up, loaded with cases of freshly minted bath bombs, back to Wisconsin. Alyssa sat up front with Steve (my husband) and Miji, Alyssa's extremely furry American Eskimo, in a box between them. Steve was determined to keep Miji in a box so that he wouldn't be covered in white dog hair but Miji decided Steve was her new best friend and repeatedly leaned against him, snuggling and nuzzling Steve's right arm. 
Fuzzy white Miji with Alyssa at Christmas.

I was relegated to the back seat with Lola. Being a Border Collie, Lola is honor bound to herd. She herds everyone and everything, including attempting to herd every car that we pass. Our truck window quickly became smeared with doggy breath (and I prefer not to ponder what else) as Lola enthusiastically watched for on-coming cars and then attempted to nip the cars as they passed.  These nips were followed by my scolding "No Bite!".  We drove Alyssa and Steve crazy.

As we traveled I thought about the last time I'd traveled to Steamboat, that trip in the luxury of an airplane.

When we travel we try to keep it light and use carry-ons as much as possible. The only flaw is that I hate the security check process and loathe having to pull out liquids, my computer and all the other detritis necessary to clear entrance to the airport. The last time we flew I decided to try something new and took the following items:

- My Blackberry instead of a lap top because all I really need is Internet access.
- A massage bar for body lotion.
- A shampoo bar (which will be added to the web-site in about a month, when our current stock is cured and we can guaranteed consistent inventory from now on. I never need conditioner with these.)
- A Bar of body soap in a plastic holder
- A Deep Cleansing facial bar in a tin
- A test of a solid facial lotion product I hope to launch this summer

I always purchase a small toothpaste once thru security so I don't have to worry about that item.

Smugly, I breezed thru security, knowing there was no reason for me to be stopped.  I was wrong!!

As soon as I stepped thru the body scanner I was pulled to the side and told to wait.  The entire line of luggage on the scanning conveyer belt had come to a halt and the two guards who were scanning came to the end of the conveyer system to talk to me.  They were joined by two other security guards.

"Is there a problem?" I asked the four guards, thinking maybe the tin from the facial bar set something off.

The guards smiled and said, "No, we just had to see who this belonged to because we never have anyone go thru without a computer AND without a toiletry bag!"

After being congratulated on such a good system, I was allowed to leave. So much for saving time, but it was a great compliment!

On another airport excursion I was surprised my mother was able to go thru security without putting anything in the "2oz container bag" either.  She had a similar list as mine above but hers also included:

- a large jar of our Whipped Soap Sudz ( and
- a four ounce container of body butter ( 

I'm not sure if these items were legitimately not liquids or if they took one look at my white haired mother and deemed her not a risk, but she did swing right through.

I hope you all have Safe Travels and, if you try our toiletries strategy, a speedy trip thru Security!

Chris Untiedt
The Brown Barn Company llc

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Review of 2011 and What's to Come for the Brown Barn Bath Company

For me, with the New Year always comes the desire to take stock of the previous year. What have I learned? What do I need to do differently? What changes are to come?

When I sat down with myself this week and thought about 2011 all I could think was "Wow." The last year has been a complete blur of lotion, soap, store openings, customer faces, e-mails, phone calls and let us not forget...printing labels! We began this year with the intention of taking the first year of business slowly. Taking time to perfect our branding, recipes and store styles. Instead, we ended the year with three stores instead of one (and each one we love), fifteen employees instead of the planned two (and each one we love) and a sudden need for an overhaul of our labs, labels, recipes and spaces. We felt we needed this year because none of us had any experience in owning a retail store.

To say things spun very far away from our initial plan is putting it mildly....

What have I learned from this experience? 

1. Don't be afraid to fail. The fear of failure is what personally holds me back the most. The Brown Barn Company is not the first company I've had, I've experienced failure. In looking back now I see that the lessons learned from my failed attempts were what have pulled us thru to this point. Let go of fear of failure, if you don't try you'll always wonder what could have been.

2. Build a great support system for yourself and let them know you appreciate them.  Without our amazing team of employees we would not have the stores we have now or even have made it to Christmas and stayed open.  Each person on our team brings their own unique skills, talents and style to the mix; making us a whole. I value each person in our company for different reasons...from Erika's previous experience in a national company to Jessica's brutal honesty to Brenda's quick hug...they are each equally important to this company and my ability to do my job.

My family, providing me the support to
kayak a series of caves in Belize, 2009.

3. Take time for yourself.  This was the hardest lesson for me to learn and one I continue to struggle with. The whole premise of The Brown Barn Company is to take time for yourself, care for yourself, a minute alone.  But I have to admit I didn't follow that and now am paying the price for it. I'm pooped out! LOL. One of my New Year's resolutions is to institute me-time and self-care firmly back into my life.  I'm placing boundaries on business time vs. family time and making a point of daily down-time for myself.  Otherwise I turn into a very crazy, very crabby person!

4. Admit when you're wrong and made a mistake, ask for help where needed to fix the mistake and move on. Address and fix your mistakes quickly and with firm decisiveness. I guess that says it all!

5. Communicate. Communicate every little thing to everyone. Talk, talk, honest, open and fair but also be tough when you need to be. Have a buck-stops-here attitude. You cannot control how people are going to behave or think but you can control how you behave and think and how you react. You have the choice in how you respond to people and situations. Empower yourself. When you make decisions, stick to them and be firm about it.

And what will 2012 bring to The Brown Barn Company? 

1. Doing A Better Job: Because we fast-forwarded, we now have the luxury of focusing 100% of our energy on catering to our customer needs and improving what we've built in our Wisconsin stores.

2. Tools To Do A Better Job: While we will always be a hand-made company, there are devices and automation that will help us to meet consumer demands. We've purchased a bath bomb press and are quickly working to crank out enough bath bombs to get them back into the stores and to expand that area. A bottle filler and some larger soap making equipment is on the list to be purchased this year. This equipment will allow us to expand our product lines and make a much finer product out of our current offerings.

3. Expand to Colorado: It had been our initial intention to start out in Wisconsin, where our roots are, and then expand to Colorado, where my son is. As I write this I am sitting in the living room of an apartment/commercial work-space in Steamboat, Colorado. I'll be living here this year, making product and introducing The Brown Barn Bath Company to Colorado....a full year ahead of schedule. This was a difficult decision to make, leaving Alyssa (my business partner and daughter) in charge of our Wisconsin operation so she can institute her organic line and assist Jessica (our Director of Operations) in running the stores there; and leaving my husband for several months at a time so he can continue to run his business. On the flip side I get some precious time here with my twenty-two year old son as he finishes college. To me this is a precious gift.

My son, Tommy, at Colorado
Mountain College, Steamboat.
I'm sure any parent can relate to my desire to want an excuse to be close to my children, even if the time is split between them. Also, Colorado is a great fit to our product line. There is a big push in the Western US toward more all-natural body care, the Western US is where the movement seems to have begun. We are excited to put a toe in these waters, we think its a great fit to what we've done this year in Wisconsin with one side of the business providing support to the other financially and in production.

4. More Product, Better Product: We have already made a long list of what is to come this year, from Organics to improved Facial Care items to solid Bubble Bath to improved Lotions, we think you'll be pleased with our changes and new offerings. This is what drives Alyssa and I personally, we love to formulate!!

5. Improved Web-Site and Product Branding: This has been a real challenge area for myself. I've carved a firm block of time into my schedule each week for work in these areas. Hopefully soon you will see positive changes in our web-site. We are also working to bring a more professional image to our products and hope to have a solid brand established this year.

Are my dreams coming true? They just might be! Did this happen overnight or easily? No! High Hopes? Lofty Goals? I think so, but without our dreams, where would we be?

What are your dreams? Do you think they are unrealistic? My advice is to pick one thing you'd like to work on this year, break it down into miniscule, tiny steps and take that first awkward, tentative step forward.  You won't regret it!

Here's to a wonderous 2012!

Chris Untiedt, Owner
The Brown Barn Company, LLC