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As a high school history teacher, Karen Tappin spent the summer of 2003 mastering the art of making natural soaps, lotions, and haircare products.
Her healthy and inexpensive hobby kept her busy. “I had done research on what ingredients were used in most personal care products and, unfortunately, many of them were carcinogens that could potentially create problems for people,” she says. When co-workers and friends started buying her products, she realized she could profit from inspiring this healthier path to beauty. In February 2004, Karen’s Body Beautiful (www.karensbodybeautiful.com; 800-628-2210) opened its doors.
To obtain the $50,000 needed to open the Brooklyn, New York-based body and bath boutique in the borough’s trendy Clinton Hill neighborhood, Tappin and her husband Damani Saunderson, tapped their savings. “I was always good at saving money,” the 34-year-old says proudly. Rent for the store at the time was $1,500 a month.
The transition from hobby to business was bumpy. As the sole employee (Saunderson worked full time as a teacher), Tappin started her days at the crack of dawn in her kitchen, mixing and boiling herbs to put into her lotions. Then she had to package the products and transport them in her car to the store and open for business.
Though the boutique was attracting more and more customers, Tappin had only that morning window to make additional products since she had to mind the store. The customer base threatened to outpace production.
Since Tappin couldn’t get to her kitchen to make products during the day, she brought the kitchen to her. In the summer of 2004, she invested $15,000 to build one in the store. “It streamlined production so while I was at work, I could be working and not just sitting and waiting,” she says. “I’d say the kitchen increased business by about 25%.”
Since then, the seven-employee company has continued to grow. Karen’s Body Beautiful ended 2009 with approximately $725,000 in revenues. Ninety-five percent of the company’s Internet orders are for its natural haircare products. The couple also finished the year with a plan for further expansion and mass production. “Often people would come in and say, ‘Can I have a menu of your services?’” Tappin remembers. “We’d be like, ‘We’re not a spa.’ Eventually, my husband and I thought, ‘Let’s give the people what they want!’” A section of the store was built out to accommodate spa services. With the spa open in January, the company will also unveil new product packaging and a brand redesign later in the year.
Tappin is excited about giving customers products that meet as many needs as possible, “We’ll appeal to the senses of the woman who wants to be trendy, glamorous, and chic. You can be all those things and still use natural products.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.