This is Small Business Weekly, a recurring feature in which we’ll spotlight a small, independently owned business in Bethesda or Chevy Chase. Got a business you think we should check out? Drop us a line at desk[at]bethesdanow[dot]com.
Rochel Roland describes her Bethesda-based Joyful Bath Co. as the classic story of a personal hobby turned business idea.
But her approach to selling a variety of all-natural, organic bath salts, soaps and gifts isn’t following the typical small business playbook.
It started in 2008. After friends and family members told Roland how much they liked her scented soaps and salts, the Kensington resident (who pursued a Masters Degree in agronomy in her spare time) decided to put her love for mixing and matching bath products to the test.
Her first sale was at a school holiday sale in Potomac. She started selling her products at farmers markets and eventually got picked up by area Whole Foods stores and drugstore.com after a successful display at a trade show.
“For a couple years, those are the types of things that I did as I was trying to figure out supply chains and how to run a product company,” Roland said. “We kind of jumped from the farmers market and school events, right up to the big stuff. We didn’t have a lot of time in between. I had a lot to learn really fast.”
In February, Roland opened a kiosk at Westfield Montgomery Mall in the Nordstrom wing near the Brookstone store, a local business in a sea of well-known national chains.
“We’re hoping that it can be a business model for other malls as well,” Roland said.
Roland’s pitch is her ingredients. She uses honey, green tea, mustard seed and other herbal and botanical items “in a totally different way,” than what’s on the market. Joyful Bath Co.’s salts and soaps use real vanilla, something Roland claimed no one else does.
Her products don’t leave rings or residue in bath tubs, something she calls the “bath buzzkill.”
One of the things that I’m excited about and proud of is the uniqueness of the formulas,” Roland said. “We’re real purists in terms of our ingredients.”
Thanks to a connection with Honest Tea co-founder and Bethesda resident Seth Goldman, she joined the Bethesda Green Business Incubator in October 2012. In her previous business, she shared a St Elmo Avenue office with Goldman (before Honest Tea moved to its existing headquarters on Bethesda Avenue) and remembers her employees helping Honest Tea unload boxes of tea in the middle of Woodmont Triangle.
Goldman, one of the main organizers of the Bethesda Green nonprofit, suggested she bring her product and business idea to the incubator.
She’s selling the products directly to customers at the mall, online through the company’s website and through wholesalers. And it’s working.
She’s getting ready to sign a lease for a new warehouse office — a light manufacturing space nearby in North Bethesda.