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The Sanpete Messenger

Spring City mom has the right stuff

Lee Bennion of Spring City harvests from her 200 linear feet of comfrey plants, which are an ingredient in the handcrafted salve she created and turned into a home business. - Steve Olpin / Messenger photo
Lee Bennion of Spring City harvests from her 200 linear feet of comfrey plants, which are an ingredient in the handcrafted salve she created and turned into a home business. – Steve Olpin / Messenger photo

 

Spring City mom has the right stuff
Family business blooms from the “power of handcraft”

 

Robert Stevens

Managing editor

12-8-2016

 

SPRING CITY — A Spring City mom proved she has the right stuff by turning her handcrafted skin salve into a burgeoning family business.

In the early 1990s, Lee Bennion and her husband Joe badly needed a way to reverse the damage being done to their hands. They had very active lifestyles and, along with other outdoor activities, were frequent river rafters that spent long periods of time thrashing their waterlogged hands on river runs. Joe was also a potter, and his work took a toll on his hands as well.

“The salve was never meant to be a business. it started out as a need,” Lee said. “Our hands were constantly chapped, and lotion wasn’t cutting it.”

While searching for a good treatment for their hurting hands, Lee came across an ointment in a specialty store. It was expensive and only had a few ingredients, but it worked better than anything else she had tried yet.

But the cost added up, and when Lee saw the ingredients list, she began to think she could just make it herself.

“I told myself, ‘I have to figure out how to make this,'” Lee said. So she began the long process of making a salve that would suit her family’s needs for less money.

It took her five years to finalize her recipe. She experimented with different ingredients and said she took advice and input from a number of people, including the suggestion of a man who lived on a Navajo Indian reservation.

The man suggested Lee add pinon pine pitch, a traditional Navajo medicinal treatment. When she did, Lee said it drastically improved the therapeutic qualities of the salve.

“Even my early results were ok,” Lee said. “We used everything I made, but it was only for my family and friends. I never really thought of selling it for real yet.”

Lee’s salve accomplished for her and her family what she had set out to—craft a treatment which successfully reversed and prevented further damage to skin caused by active and often watery lifestyles.

Often sourcing ingredients from her own garden and local agribusinesses, Lee says she tries hard to keep it local whenever she can.  Three vital ingredients — pinon pine pitch, beeswax and comfrey — are sourced directly in Sanpete, with the Comfrey coming from Lee’s 200 linear feet of Comfrey plants.

When she is forced to look outside Central Utah for some of the ingredients, such as extra virgin organic olive oil and tea tree oil, Lee says she just looks for the best quality, turning to California and Australia, respectively, for those two.

By the time Lee had gotten close to finalizing her recipe, her family and friends were already using the salve regularly. Although she didn’t have immediate aspirations to turn her salve into a full-blown business, Lee decided it might be time to sell some after one of her daughters took the salve on a rafting trip.

Joe and Lee’s daughter, Louisa Bennion, an avid river rafter as well, went on a river run with friends.  Her companions’ hands had permanent sore fissures from the watery damage taken while rafting, but hers did not. Louisa’s friends asked her how she avoided the painful cracks. She shared her salve with them throughout the trip.

By the time the companions had finished their river run, the salve Louisa had shared with them had already begun repairing the painful fissures in their hands. When they went their separate ways at the end of the trip, Louisa’s companions asked her to please bring back more of her “mom’s stuff.”

And so the salve got its name — Mom’s Stuff — and Lee began to sell her salve locally and sometimes through the mail to those who wrote to her for it.

“This was pre-internet when I was still putting it in baby food jars,” Lee said, “but that was how I got nudged into selling them and how it got its name. For a while, we only sold it out of Joe’s pottery shop, but we only sold a few hundred jars a year then.”

As word spread among family, friends and the rafting community, sales began building. Lee could see the potential in the business, but other obligations prevented her from committing the time to take it further.

In 2010, Lee became free of her obligations and decided to grow her Mom’s Stuff business. She had a website built and began a mail-order operation that “exponentially” increased sales.

“Once I got the product online, it began selling very steadily,” Lee said. “Although, even with the website up to buy from, word spread mostly by word of mouth. We didn’t have any money for real advertising.”

From that point on Lee was working on her salve business daily. She was sourcing, harvesting or planting ingredients, making the salve itself and fulfilling and shipping orders. Her primary career as a painter made up most of her income, but the salve business was catching up and was very time intensive. She decided to bring in help.

“I always prefer to hire family when I can,” Lee said.

In 2014, her daughter Zina Bennion took over the mail-order operation and marketing and also regularly pitched in on the exhausting process of making the salve.

“It was a one-woman operation until Zina came in,” Lee said.

With mother and daughter working together, business continued to grow. Orders poured in from across the entire world, with customers based in not only the U.S. but Australia, Canada, Tanzania and other places. The Bennions purchased some equipment to assist with making large batches in a more convenient manner.

Now Lee and Zina sell more than 4,000 jars of Mom’s Stuff annually, and although they intend to grow the business further, they say they are hesitant to scale it up too far.

“My parents believe in the power of the handmade,” Zina said. “I think we could see tripling or quadrupling our business, but beyond that, it would lose that handcrafted element. I have always said that love was the secret ingredient in Mom’s Stuff.”

Zina said she and her mother have no interest in corporatizing things, and even with business booming her mother is having fun with it because she is a creative person.

“I get the same kind of feeling making my salve as I do when I paint,” Lee said. “It’s creating something, and it’s a very positive feeling.”

The creative aspect is only one of the rewards Lee says she has gained from this business venture.

Three of her friends received radiation treatment to combat medical conditions that threatened their lives. The radiation treatment is known to cause marks on the body similar to burned skin.

Lee said her friends substituted her salve for the ointment prescribed with the radiation treatment, and when the doctors saw the marked improvement in their skin condition in comparison to the prescribed ointment, they were surprised.

Many positive feedback stories are posted on the momsstuffsalve.com website, along with an ingredients listing and a list of many different conditions that the salve has been known to soothe.

“Once we started selling online to this larger market we started getting a ton of feedback from all these people using the salve successfully on a number of thing like psoriasis and other skin conditions,” Zina said.

She said she and her mother learned from all the feedback that because several of the ingredients have antifungal and antibacterial properties, their customers were using the salve for many different problems and it was helping them.

The Bennions continue to expand. They are preparing to release two new products: a facial cream for day use and one for night use.

“I’ve been working on these two for three years,” Lee said. “I keep pushing it back as I perfect them further, but they will be out in February.”

 

 

Zina (left) and Lee Bennion display a case of the handcrafted skin salve that Lee developed and the two have marketed into a blossoming family business from home on their Spring City property. - Steve Olpin / Messenger photo
Zina (left) and Lee Bennion display a case of the handcrafted skin salve that Lee developed and the two have marketed into a blossoming family business from home on their Spring City property. – Steve Olpin / Messenger photo