Business a family affair for Anchor Point woman
Her business Alpenglow Skin Care, is dedicated to producing 100 percent natural and made in Alaska lotions, soaps and even shampoos.
She grows her own calendula and mint, harvests cottonwood buds and wild Alaskan Rose petals during the peak seasons and gets goat milk from a neighboring farm for her homespun goods.
“Our products are deliciously — not overly — scented, feel wonderful on the skin and hair, and work incredibly well, in addition to being the healthiest products available,” Susan said.
And that’s something Susan will personally vouch for. She uses her own Cottonwood Balm and says she can’t live without the Alaskan Herbal Hair Rinse.
Susan is passionate about health and educating customers about harmful ingredients in most corporate formulas.
“Unfortunately, the skin and hair care industry does not have the same level of regulation that the food industry does, so it’s very easy for companies to mislead the customer into believing a product is safe,” she said. “Toxic ingredients that are carcinogenic, hormone disrupting and create problem skin are omnipresent.”
A natural beginning
The gardener, wife, mother and businesswoman, began making her own skin care products after trying everything in her 20s for her acne-prone “problem skin.”
“My bathroom cabinet was full of products that didn’t work for me and that had labels I couldn’t understand,” Susan said. “I didn’t trust they were as healthy as proclaimed.”
So she started researching ingredients and got a “how to” book on natural products.
A self-proclaimed “crafty person,” she made face creams, balms and soaps for herself.
“I just wanted to make products with simple, healthy ingredients,” she said, “and to my delight, my skin began to improve.”
After sharing her creations with family and friends, her business started in 1999 with help from her husband, Patrick Houlihan
“Alpenglow began in our small cabin without running water or a driveway and a small garden for growing food and botanicals for our products,” she said. “We had one table in the cabin so I had to make a batch of soap between lunch and dinner or we’d end up eating dinner on the couch.”
After her husband built them a house with modern amenities, the cabin became the dedicated space for the business.
More than 10 years after her first sale of six soap bars to her neighbor, Susan’s company — and family— has grown.
“We now have larger scale equipment like a 50-gallon and 25-gallon fancy heated kettle on hydraulic lifts,” Susan said, “compared with my 10-gallon kettle that requires muscle to move from stove top to table top to dispense from.”
The garden has also expanded from a little botanical plot to a 20- by 60-foot hoop greenhouse to extend the growing season, she said.
Alpenglow Skin Care creates some 60 different products and can be found in more than 50 stores statewide. She sells her products at farmer’s markets and other fairs but does not have a brick and mortar storefront.
“I credit a lot of our growth to listening to our customers,” she said. “It has allowed steady growth through these rough economic times. We are very practical and run a tight ship. There is very little waste of money, resources or time. Efficiency is imperative for profit.”
Susan’s husband and their two kids, Liam, 8, and Alana, 6, make up the majority of the work force.
Liam and Alana put caps on cream jars, count change in the farmer’s market cash box, precisely weigh ingredients on scales and help harvest the wild botanicals, Susan said.
“They know more about gardening and botany at 6 and 8 than I knew at 30,” she said. The business has even outgrown the small cabin and Susan is moving the operation into a 1,600 square foot workshop on their property.
“Alpenglow has experienced steady growth since inception but our goal has never been to become huge,” she said. “Quality of life is priority, so I balance being a mother and wife, with a businesswoman in a way that works for us.”
And that seems to be the key to Susan’s success — her passion, keeping things and perspective and making things work for her family.
Business advice? Quality of life
Her advice for other entrepreneurs?
“Beginning entrepreneurs often attempt to tackle everything themselves to get their business started and to keep costs down,” she said. “I think this is OK at the very beginning, while you fine tune the product and narrow down your customer demographics. Shortly after you have a product to sell, it’s time to do what it is you are good at, and admit where you need help and hire that out. A good accountant, graphic designer or consultant is worth their weight in gold.”
Also, always keep your vision in view, Houlihan said.
“If you are starting to feel overworked and underpaid or there isn’t much joy in your work, re-prioritize,” she said. “Keep quality of life in mind through all decision making processes … We only get one life to live, make sure it’s filled with meaning, a sense of right livelihood and deep connection with your loved ones. That’s what’s most important.”
Apenglow Skin Care:
CONTACT: (907) 235-1412, or email firstname.lastname@example.org