HATTIE: (In the Studio) Hi. I'm Hattie Bryant. This series is about how to start, run and grow a business. Every week, we take you inside a growing business and you have the opportunity to meet a person who is happy to tell you about their successes and failures.
Out of more all the businesses we've studied here, Cowgirl Enterprises is one of the youngest and smallest.
Donna Baase, the founder, has fresh memories of her start-up, and she'll tell you how her virtual corporation is living with growing pains. Step into our Master Class.
We're going to the Rocky Mountains. Boulder, Colorado.
It's Saturday morning, but the staff of Cowgirl Enterprises is at work.
DONNA BAASE: We want to bring this in at a wholesale price of about $8.
HATTIE: Founder Donna Baase meets with her employees to discuss a new promotion.
DONNA: We want to sell our big sizes. Now we're ready to do a trail kit. And if you notice, it's just the I-A reversed. Not a trial kit, a trail kit, 'cause it's more than just trying; it's really an opportunity to take it on your next ride or wherever you're going and use it.
HATTIE:`Cowgirl'--what does cowgirl mean?
DONNA: It's about the archetype of a cowgirl. And to me, it has to do with independence, resourcefulness, staying in the saddle, taking the reins, all the things -- making use of the natural resources around us.
I meet cowgirls of all walks of life.
And I thought a cowgirl was somebody in boots on a horse, and I found out I'm a cowgirl. I know you're a cowgirl.
It's about really driving your own life.
KATHY CAPINARA: I'm the head rustler.
HATTIE: Kathy Capinara handles the finances. So you get the numbers together?
KATHY CAPINARA: Yes.
HATTIE: You make sure the money's coming in?
TREE BERNSTEIN: So what I'm thinking is maybe using the broadside idea, you know, the old wanted posters, those kind of borders and that.
HATTIE: Trie Bernstein creates the cowgirl look by designing the packaging and marketing materials.
DONNA: I'm thinking stick with the blue.
TREE: Yeah, we could do navy, like, a paler shade of this craft color with the bright blue on it.
TREE: We have this little joke that she dreams what she needs and she channels it to me and I come back with it, because we've got a really good groove with that.
DONNA: What do you--what kind of feedback are you getting?
JENNIFER BILLER: Good. Everyone...
HATTIE: Jennifer Biller calls on customers.
JENNIFER: A lot of people are wanting this now. They want pure products and they want the natural ingredients. Donna doesn't use any fillers or synthetic chemicals. It's all natural and very concentrated.
HATTIE: So what do you do in the enterprise?
PAULA GARDNER: Well, I work as a wrangler.
HATTIE: Donna's sister, Paula Gardner, does customer service.
PAULA: Donna has great ideas and she believes in herself. We all believe in her. We believe in the product. And we've seen the success because she's motivated, she has tenacity, she just keeps on going.
HATTIE: The mission?
DONNA: The mission of the business? . . . that's inspired by the cowgirl.
And the mission is truly to bring awareness about natural skin-care products to people through education and through the joy of using them, let people understand what plants really can do for their bodies.
HATTIE: OK. You have been studying what plants can do for our bodies for a long time.
When was there a light bulb that went on in your head and said, `The product isn't there, I need to make it'?
DONNA: Well, I like to say to people that my whole life ended up in a two-ounce bottle of Cowgirl Cream. A lot of things I did from early on, from just keeping a little garden with my family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and growing up with a lot of beauty.
My mother was very inspiring and we had a lot of flowers. She was always framing covers of magazines, another Renoir or, `This is a Monet.' I just had a lot of beauty around me.
I ended up taking off in the early '70s, and went to Europe and ended up in India.
And, that was a first light bulb in my head.
I started to understand how people used the very plants that grow around them as their medicine and for beauty. I watched women comb coconut oil into their hair. Pretty soon we were doing that. And I stayed there for over a year studying, learning and did a lot of the paths of teachers and dance and whatever. But traveled to other countries, ended up in South America and, again, saw the same thing.
People use what grows very close to them for their medicine, of course, their food, which many people say is the same thing, and for their beauty.
And then I ended up back in Miami, Florida. I had family there and I got there and needed a job. I needed to dig back into real life. And I worked for a plastic surgeon in Miami, who turned out to be a wonderful mentor to me. He was the brother I never had in my life, taught me, really allowed me to grow as a person.
I probably was the first paramedical makeup artist in Miami in the early '70s.
HATTIE: What's a paramedical makeup artist?
DONNA: Well, paramedical makeup is makeup which enhances bad medical conditions, basically. People who've had burns, who've had terrible scarring from accidents, and you use makeup as a way to alleviate that.
And so I learned about the body now. I learned about how the body healed. So when we moved to Boulder, Colorado, from Miami, it was a totally different life. Boulder is very much--people used to call it `the granola city.' It's come a long way since I first got here. You can actually paint your nails and wear lipstick here now.
It was different then.
Yes. But, you know, it's the aging of women of my age, sort of a transition over the last 20-something years. And when I got here, I was raising two small children, wanted to get back into studying again, and I found some fabulous teachers.
One thing Boulder has is a wonderful network of people who are in alternative therapies. So I started teaching classes in how to make your own cosmetics . . . how to take some yogurt and put in egg yolk and drop in a couple of drops of lavender and you have a mask. It is really using food for the skin. The whole skin-care industry and beauty business, so to speak, started in the kitchen. After women made their candles, their soaps, their cough syrups and put up their preserves for the winter, they might have some time left over to take chamomile and infuse it in some olive oil.
Here in Colorado, they would've found some horsetail (or bottle brush) and infused that even in lard.
HATTIE: What do you get when you put bottle brush in oil?
DONNA: Well, it extracts the silicas and the constituents and that is really good for wound healing. You could take aloe vera and or sunflower oil and you might add a little bit of the lavender from your garden, and then you have a beautiful, natural oil for the skin. So, at one time, this is what people did in their kitchens.
HATTIE: You said, `My whole life is in this two-ounce bottle that I'm making today,' and I couldn't agree with you more. I mean, that's absolutely right. And we all are that way. When did you day to yourself, `I'm going to be a business person. I'm going to start a business. I'm going to make a product. I'm going for it.' When was that?
DONNA: Well, a lightbulb went off when we were taking a family vacation and we were driving back from Oregon. And I started really saying to myself, `What the heck did people put on their skin?'
And I thought a lot about native people, the indigenous women, the pioneer women, cowgirls riding those horses, getting out in the bleak winters and also just those rough summers. What did they do? And I thought a lot about the plants grow in the West.
And I thought, `You know, they are really things that heal the skin.'
And a lightbulb went off in my head. And I thought, `Cowgirl Cream.'
HATTIE: (Voiceover) Donna's daughter Alexis was the first person to hear the Cowgirl Cream idea.
Alexis, you're driving in the car with your Mom and she says, `Oh, I've got an idea. I'm going to make Cowgirl Cream.' Did you say, `Oh this is just another one of my mother's wacky ideas'?
ALEXIS: No, it sounded cool to us just because --I don't know, my Mom has a way -- if she's enthusiastic about something, everybody else is enthusiastic about it.
HATTIE: (Voiceover) Donna's first product was Cowgirl Cream. And now there are four other items: Extreme Cream, Trail Boss Bar, Ranchhand Cream and the Cowgirl Lip Balm.
DONNA: The truth is, I started it in my kitchen. This was a home-based business for about the first six months.
HATTIE: OK. You stirred up in your kitchen...
HATTIE: ...the literal first product that you sold.
HATTIE: When did you move out of your house?
DONNA: After about six to nine months. We moved right up here in that section over there.
HATTIE: Did that feel different?
DONNA: That was a huge jump. Well, I knew I had to get out of my home. You can't really run a business out of your home. Cathy would come in twice a week and do the books. And Michelle, who was the student wrapper at the time, would sit at the kitchen table and wrap and it was nutty. It--just more packing boxes and peanut bags. And my house was just being taken over. But I knew I had a business. We moved up here. It felt frightening because it was a commitment to pay the rent. But I also really see this happening all the time. I mean, as soon as we got here, business increased.
HATTIE: Where did the idea for the cake -- the bar come from?
DONNA: Well, actually, a really good friend of mine brought me something similar from Italy and said, `This is cool. Look at this.' It was olive oil, and that was it, in a little cake in beeswax. I said, `This is brilliant. You know how brilliant this is?' Because the truth is, every product for hand and body care, hand creams particularly, are pump bottles, as we describe them.
HATTIE: Right. DONNA: Just more liquid, more lotions. I said, `I know I could make that cake.' And I came up with a formula. I worked--beeswax is difficult to work with, because if you spill it, it immediately dries, horrible to get off your floor. It's messy. So you need a place where you can really be sloppy with beeswax, which isn't your kitchen.
HATTIE: Do you have beeswax on your kitchen floor?
DONNA: I do. I always will. And that's where I had to start to find people to make the product. So I'm thinking about the cleanser, how we could do a cleanser that would fit the Cowgirl Cream and also Extreme, certainly an aloe base.
HATTIE: (Voiceover) Donna consults with Ben Fuchs, a pharmacist and owner of the Rocky Mountain Natural Laboratories, which produces her liquid products.
BEN: I develop a very strong personal bond with all my customers. I get to know them personally. I need to know what her needs are, not just as a businesswoman, but also from a personal standpoint, so I can provide the best service. And also, I love my customers. I love working with people who are creative and...
HATTIE: But she couldn't afford you. She could not afford to have you on her payroll.
BEN: Right. She doesn't need to. She can just pay a fee. She can have a product developed for her and then she can pay us to manufacture it and bottle it.