Health Care and Small Business & Startups

Chemist remodels skincare business

Amy Furman pares back retail and manufacturing sister companies to serve smaller, startup clients.

July 19, 2019
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Amy Furman
Amy Furman operates MH Labs, which manufactures private-label products for other companies and branded products for her second business, Momma’s Home. Courtesy Michael Buck

Family skin sensitivities led a local chemist to plunge into handcrafted soapmaking almost a decade ago, and her efforts have since solidified into a pair of businesses.

Amy Furman founded Zeeland-based Momma’s Home, an all-natural soap and body care company that makes products for people with sensitive skin, in 2010.

At the time, she was a stay-at-home parent with a background in chemistry looking to transition back into the workforce, but she was finding it difficult. Then, an idea came to her.

“I have sensitive skin, and my youngest son has sensitive skin. It crossed my mind that I could make soap that we could both use,” she said.

“But I didn’t move on that inclination until my eldest son came downstairs one day; he had used an Axe body wash, and he was covered, head to toe, in little red dots. I was like, ‘OK, I guess I should do something about that.’ And it grew from there.”

Through Momma’s Home, Furman began producing and selling soaps free of artificial colors and scents, that incorporated essential oils and natural exfoliants such as pumice, coarse-ground coffee beans, cornmeal and cinnamon.

Since then, the retail shop at mommashome.com/store has added more product lines, including serums, masks, bath salt soaks, essential oils and essential oil rollers, floral waters, gift sets, soap lifts and more — all of which Furman said are “all natural and affordable.”

In the beginning, Momma’s Home was operating solely under a direct-sales model. Over time, it built a small brick-and-mortar footprint and currently has products in Michigan Pantry in Holland and Dutton General in Dutton, with goals to expand that.

The skincare enterprise really took off when Furman was “in the right place at the right time” several years ago.

“I had a friend who was consulting with a company in California, and he was having trouble finding a lab that would make what he needed. I happened to overhear the conversation, and I mentioned an oil that might help them make a better product,” Furman said. “He came back in two months and asked if I would be interested in manufacturing the product for this company. When I said ‘yes,’ I had no idea how big it was going to get.”

Furman ended up manufacturing a total of six products for the California company, which attracted business from other companies.

She decided to spin off a new business, MH Labs, which would manufacture private-label products for other companies and branded products for Momma’s Home, while Momma’s Home operated as the retail arm for the existing branded skincare lines.

By 2015, MH Labs had grown into a multimillion-dollar company producing soap and other products for four major clients outside Michigan.

As the business grew, Furman began hiring women who, much like she had been, were moms returning to the workforce after a stretch of stay-at-home parenting. She found MH Labs could provide benefits such as a 401(k) plan and profit-sharing while also offering the flexible, part-time schedules they needed.

“If you drop your kid off and then come to work, then have to leave at 2:30 to go pick your kid up from school, that’s something that we can work around. We’ve worked around school holidays, we’ve worked around sick children,” she said.

After a few years of running MH Labs, Furman said she realized she either needed to scale up in a big way or divest part of the business.

Since she wanted herself and her employees to be able to work part time and not all of the time, she chose the latter, selling off the California client list to another company and laying off eight employees last August.

“We were sad about it, but they were all offered a six-month severance package, which again, is something that’s unusual for a part-time position,” Furman said.

The MH Labs employees who remain continue to work part time, and Furman is preparing to hire a sales rep to cover the e-commerce operation for Momma’s Home.

MH Labs is now looking to work with other companies that need a manufacturer that will do smaller run sizes “and not charge an arm and a leg,” Furman said.

“We prefer startups. They’re fun to work with. … Nothing ever goes right when you’re first launching. We enjoy those challenges. We’re very happy to do runs of 2,000 or 3,000.”

Furman said she projects the business will do under $1 million in sales this year after scaling back.

The evolution of the company has been a learning experience for Furman, but she said she is happy with the direction things are headed.

“I’m pleased I learned I’m very good at what I do. I make very good products,” she said, adding the restructuring is allowing her to make and sell her products at a lower and fairer price point.

She said she also is proud her company has lower waste rates than some competitors.

“We aren’t using boxes. There’s less to recycle. You can recycle the products or the packaging,” she said.

Furman also is focusing on sourcing raw materials from socially responsible suppliers with environmentally sustainable harvesting techniques.

Last fall, MH Labs produced for Momma’s Home a full new line of body care products, including body, hair, face and night serums, of which the latter two have been the most popular so far, according to Furman.

The next steps for MH Labs in its reorientation as a company will be to grow its sales and marketing capabilities, which it never had to handle before when it was making private-label products for other companies.

“We have good products now. We’re trying to figure out how to package and educate and get them into the hands of the people,” Furman said.

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