Why keeping business in the family created a small business sensation.
Kim and Ben Bercaw, parents of Da Bomb Bath Fizzers co-founders Caroline and Isabel, didn’t plan to raise teenage business moguls — it just worked out that way.
It wasn’t all luck, however. In fact, the Bercaws nurtured their daughters’ entrepreneurial spirit from an early age.
The proud parents explain below how a little hobby turned into a thriving business and morphed their entire family into business partners.
Longitudes: Where did Isabel’s and Caroline’s entrepreneurial passion come from?
Kim: Isabel and Caroline have a long history of entrepreneurial pursuits. They would do lemonade stands, sell art to their grandmother and have yard sales. So, the bath bomb success actually came after a lifetime of much smaller pursuits that some people would call failures.
Their entrepreneurial spirit probably came from boredom. Before Snapchat and Vine videos became so popular, they would sit around during the summer looking for something to do with their hands.
We had an art room in the basement with only one rule: If you make a mess, clean it up. They would go down there and sculpt things out of clay, build fairy houses, turn scraps of fabric into clothes for dolls.
They were always creating, so when they said they wanted to sell bath bombs at an arts festival, we weren’t surprised. Our response was, “Great!” We viewed anything creative as a quality way for them to spend their time.
“Any successful business will talk about luck as an important factor.”
Longitudes: How did Da Bomb Bath grow so quickly?
Kim: Entering the children’s division of an arts festival seemed relatively low risk at $25 for a little table, but we didn’t anticipate the effort required to participate. The girls sat on the basement floor all summer with a steel mixing bowl to finally make 150 bath bombs for the fair.
Much to our surprise (the girls might’ve been more confident than we were) the bath bombs sold like crazy. Initially we thought, that was fun, but we didn’t really think of it as anything more than a hobby.
But the following year they decided to do the same art fair again with more items to sell.
A local retailer in our area bought a few bath bombs and then asked if he could sell them in his stores. In April 2015, we formed an LLC, launched the website and Da Bomb Fizzers was officially underway.
Longitudes: What were those early days like?
Kim: Isabel and Caroline had some success getting into more local gift stores. As these stores began reordering, the business took off and within a few months, it became too much for the girls to handle by themselves.
They spent a lot of time in the basement making bath bombs after school and during weekends. We knew that we needed to pull the plug or just dive in because it was taking over our lives.
By August, Ben and I both dove in and started making bath bombs with the girls.
The bombs were in 30 to 40 stores by then, and we decided to open a retail cart at a local mall that ended up being a huge success. A few weeks later, we opened the second cart.
In January 2016, when we had about 70 accounts, Target contacted us. We tried to find a contract manufacturer to make the bombs so we could focus on growing the brand but, after some challenges, we ultimately decided to continue doing it ourselves.
That ended up being a good decision because it allowed us to learn so many aspects of packaging and formula, and it gave us control over production.
At the busiest time of the year we were producing 20,000 bath bombs a month out of our home with no loading dock so no one could deliver raw material to our house.
We would drive the SUV to the local company that supplied baking ingredients and pick up 50-pound bags of baking soda and citric acid almost every day. We had a shrink wrap machine on our dining room table and hundreds of shipping boxes in our living room.
We joked that every day looked like moving day in our house.
So we started thinking about growing revenue, hiring employees and acquiring space. In April 2016, we signed a lease on a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in our hometown, and we were firing on all cylinders.
Longitudes: How have you managed this tremendous growth?
Ben: One of our biggest challenges was managing our rapid growth. We were very fortunate that we didn’t have a hard time getting orders, and we were growing exponentially.
But meeting the demands of this growth proved very challenging. We had to make sure we didn’t bite off more than we could chew.
Should we take an order five-times our normal volume? Should we bring on a large retailer right now?
We didn’t say yes to every opportunity because we knew in some cases that could be detrimental to the health of our business. We had to make sure we could deliver to the people we were already committed to. That’s a good problem to have.
Since we had always talked about managing growth, our business plan had some flexibility built in to support opportunities that came our way. It included expansion plans such as signing a lease for more space or adding more mixers.
So we knew we could scale but executing in a proper way became the challenge. Overall it was a lot of luck. Any successful business will talk about luck as an important factor, so we planned to get lucky.
Longitudes: What have you learned from your family’s entrepreneurial journey?
Age doesn’t have to be a barrier.
It’s easier than ever to start something at any age. Isabel and Caroline never had an understanding that they couldn’t start a business, so they just went with their passion.
Their youth made them fearless, and the stakes didn’t seem as high for them; they were just having fun. And when really cool opportunities arose, they were fortunate enough to be able to say yes.
“It’s easier than ever to start a business at any age.”
Stay open to learning.
Even though we had a foundation that supported what they were doing, none of us knew everything. We weren’t fully prepared for the success of the company.
We had a lot of help from people in our community that gave us a lot of information we didn’t know, and we reached out to smart people. You can email somebody you don’t even know about starting a business and invite them for coffee to discuss, and they’ll do it. They’ll share wisdom.
Trust your gut.
In the beginning, we often felt like we had to say yes to every opportunity that came our way. It’s really hard as a startup to say no because you want to seize every opportunity because they might not come along again.
But sometimes it’s just not the right time to take advantage of an opportunity. Maybe it will be in a year or two. So, trust your gut because nobody knows your business better than you.
Longitudes: Your packaging is so nicely done. How do your ensure your products arrive safely?
Kim: Not everybody will treat your products as well as you do, and we wanted to make sure they can survive the journey.
Ben’s experience as a consultant in the logistics side helped us understand how to get things from Point A to Point B, but it didn’t prepare us to pack boxes. We took a lot of pride in preparing and packaging products and wanted to make sure they arrived in pristine condition.
It wouldn’t have made sense for us to develop our own proprietary boxes with our own labels because we didn’t have the volume to support the design and development. Now we do have the volume.
We started off hand delivering and working with local couriers. When we went national about nine months in, we reached out to a couple of vendors and logistics providers like UPS.
They talked to us about creating a program with our volume, scheduling pickups daily or a couple of times a week. It’s worked out well.
Every time the girls appeared on the local news the website would be flooded with orders. The response was crazy. For two to three weeks, we would have 75 boxes on our front porch, watching the UPS guy make two to three trips, climbing steps with his hand truck to get them all.
Our UPS man was awesome! He did it with a good spirit.
We also noticed that our products were handled better. And we knew that when we grew UPS could handle that growth no matter what that looked like.
Longitudes: How have you balanced family and business?
Ben: It’s been a family affair, including our 12-year-old son, Harry, who pitches in ideas and even names some of our products. Fortunately, we work well together as a family, following up or jumping in as needed and sharing good ideas. But there were sacrifices made by all of us.
The growth had quickly taken over, and our social lives were nonexistent as we devoted virtually every waking hour to the business. At times, we would all be up at midnight trying to pack boxes for shipping the next day.
We would send the girls to bed, but we would stay up with a tape gun, taping boxes shut (to this day if we hear a tape gun, we cringe).
We tried to strike a balance for the girls, recognizing that they were still young teenagers. We wanted them to reap some of the rewards of the business decisions they made and have fun along the way.
They gave up competitive figure skating because of the demand on their time. Although they had to make choices and sacrifices, they maintained relatively normal social experiences with friends and enjoying school.
Their high school also found some creative ways to help them succeed academically while focusing on their business such as online courses and On-the-Job (OTJ) credit for coming to work each day.
They take core classes at the school, get out around noon and spend the second half at the office so they’re fully integrated in what’s going on. The book they wrote last year was counted as their thesis for OTJ credit.
Longitudes: After such an incredible entrepreneurial journey, where does your family go from here?
Kim: It’s been extraordinary, and we never in our wildest dreams thought this would happen.
The girls have experienced many aspects of owning a business, and now that we have a leadership team in place so they can pick and choose what they enjoy doing and concentrate on those areas.
They also recently expanded the product line with body scrubs, bath salts and tiny versions, called Fizzlets. They’re even thinking about makeup. And there’s always the allure of taking the business international because of the vast global opportunity.
“Once you’ve had a taste of entrepreneurship, you can’t imagine working for anyone else.”
As parents, we’re very fortunate for this experience because we’ve been able to spend so much time together as a family. We work together, we travel together. It’s brought our family together and we’re very grateful and proud.
The girls have written a book, they can run a meeting and speak in public better than we can. To see our daughters develop these real-world skills and thrive in an environment that’s dominated by adults is wonderful.
Isabel will attend college about 20 minutes away to remain close to the business. Caroline has expressed interest in going to the West Coast next year when she graduates. We’ve got to let them fly away and see if they come back.
But now that they’ve had a taste of entrepreneurship, they can’t imagine working for anyone else. Being your own boss is unparalleled.
Editor’s note: In celebration of National Small Business Week (May 5-11), we invited UPS customers and suppliers to share their entrepreneurial journeys and lessons learned along the way. You can find our most recent small business stories here.
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