Anna’s Potions and Lotions’ Debbie Miller Creates Organic, All-Natural Products

May 19, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome to another edition of Green is Good, and we’re so excited to have with us today Debbie Miller. She’s the owner of Anna’s Potions and Lotions. Welcome to Green is Good, Debbie. DEBBIE MILLER: Hi. I’m glad to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re happy to have you, and before we get talking about your great brand, Anna’s Potions and Lotions, Debbie, talk a little bit about the Debbie Miller story, your journey leading up to founding this wonderful company and how you even got here. DEBBIE MILLER: Well, I’ve done a lot of things in my short life. Many of them have led up to Anna’s. I’ve been a lifelong environmentalist and herbal gardener and organic gardener. I’ve even done performing, writing, playwriting, monologues. Currently, one of my little day jobs is teaching English to immigrants, but all of these things have led up to my business and I use all of those skills in Anna’s. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That is wonderful and for our listeners out there that want to follow along, please go to www.annaspotionsandlotions.com. I’m on the site now. It’s a beautiful website. Talk a little bit about the idea. How did you have the idea and when did you have the idea for making Anna’s Potions and Lotions? DEBBIE MILLER: Okay, it probably started before I moved to New York. I lived in Tennessee for a few years. I’m not from there, but I lived in East Tennessee, and I was a gardener and I belonged to an herbal society where people grew herbs, and I learned a lot, and one of the members had made a rose cream that was wonderful. She distilled the oil from rose bushes in her backyard and I bought some of it and I wanted to buy more and she moved away so this kind of stayed in my mind, and this was probably in the mid-90s, and after I moved to New York in 1997, I kept that in mind and I got the idea probably 10 years ago for Anna’s and I wanted to replicate that rose cream. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And then when did you actually start the company? DEBBIE MILLER: The business officially launched on a small scale in 2006 and I’ve done everything myself. I’ve self-financed. I started the business out of my apartment and I do everything. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You’re the CEO and you also are the creator of Anna’s and so what kind of products? I’m on the site now. Again, for our listeners, it’s www.annaspotionsandlotions.com. What kind of products do you manufacture? DEBBIE MILLER: I make what can be called I guess skincare and beauty products. I make organic moisturizing creams, lip balms, and perfume potions. JOHN SHEGERIAN: As an entrepreneur, did you have to go find a source of small-batch producers that would make it to your specifications and your quality? DEBBIE MILLER: I haven’t done that, no, I make everything myself. It’s handcrafted in small batches. JOHN SHEGERIAN: No kidding! It’s all handcrafted, so talk about what makes your products so special. Instead of going to a big store and buying products that are made en masse, since these are really handcrafted products, what makes them special? DEBBIE MILLER: What makes them special, one thing is my signature product, which is Anna’s Sweet Rose Cream, which is that rose cream I was talking about that I’ve replicated and I use all organic ingredients, including Bulgarian rose oil, which is a little bit expensive but it’s the best rose oil in the world and everybody, I think, knows the benefits of rose oil and rosehip seed oil for the skin is one of the best things you could use so in addition to that, my products are almost 100% organic. I can’t say completely organic but they’re as organic as they can be. Most of my ingredients are sourced organically. My products are also vegan and I don’t even use beeswax so they’re vegan and cruelty free and the handcrafter nature, small batches. I don’t use chemical preservatives or any artificial colorings. JOHN SHEGERIAN: When did you launch your website? If you started the business in 2006, when did the website follow? DEBBIE MILLER: The website was probably three years later. I started out with a general website and then I made it into an ecommerce website and started an Etsy store a couple years after that and that’s where that is. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And how did you get the word out? It’s so interesting. For three years, you did it without a website. How did you get the word out? And then once you’ve had the website, how has that increased your scale of sales? How does that work? DEBBIE MILLER: The search engine optimization is a factor. We always work on that. I’ve expanded into other social media, like I have a Pinterest site. I have a blog. I send out an e-newsletter. I’m on Twitter. I’m on LinkedIn so that’s one component. I also reach out to local stores in the community. I’ve started to do that and expanding my media presence is on my plan right now. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so interesting but before you even had the website, when you first started the company in ‘06, how did you get the word out? Where did you first make your first sales? DEBBIE MILLER: It started out, you know, word of mouth, some friends and family, and it’s just really, I believe that a business like mine that starts out small with handcrafted products is really word of mouth. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Talk a little bit about the product. You’ve talked about the rose oil and other nice things you put in your products. What don’t you put in your products? What do you make sure you don’t put in so it doesn’t affect people’s health and wellness? DEBBIE MILLER: Okay. No artificial dyes, no detergents, no sodium lauryl sulfate, no sorbates, which are artificial preservatives. I don’t have any animal byproducts, petroleum byproducts, phthalates, what else? That’s about it. None of that stuff, just natural essential oils, different vegetable butters and vegetable waxes. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And you’re able to keep up with the demand even out of your house? You’re still handcrafting everything pretty much out of your home still? DEBBIE MILLER: Yes, but I’m going to be exhibiting in the Green Festival this weekend and I anticipate that that exposure is going to take my business to the next level. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Is this the first time you’ve ever had exposure at the Green Festival? DEBBIE MILLER: Yes, this is the first Green Festival that I’ve exhibited at. I’ve attended; I think this is the third one in New York City. I attended before but I’ve never exhibited, and the whole experience has been really great. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What made you decided that this is the right place for your products right now? DEBBIE MILLER: One thing is that one of the sponsors of the Green Festival is Green America, which is an organization that many years ago was called Coop America, and I’ve actually been a member for probably 20 years, so I’m very familiar with that organization and I respect them totally. They’re involved in fair trade as well as environmental issues, human rights so everything is just a really good fit for me. Everybody I’ve talked to from that organization and met with has been kind of aligned with my values. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it. I understand and for our listeners who just joined us, we’re very honored to have today the owner of Anna’s Potions and Lotions. It’s Debbie Miller and you can look her up at www.annaspotionsandlotions.com and you can buy her products online. It’s an ecommerce site and you can also check out all the great things. I’m on it right now and it is just a beautiful site. I want to go over just some of the things here. If you and I just met today for the first time on an elevator or something like that and you told me what you did, convince me on an elevator pitch why organic lip balm opposed to something that’s not organic. When we’re putting this stuff on our bodies, whether it’s lip balm or moisturizing cream or perfume potion, why important that it’s organic as opposed to other commercially available things? DEBBIE MILLER: Okay so great. One reason is my slogan for my business is Anna’s Potions and Lotions, ‘honest products from nature.’ That’s a trademark slogan. When you get my products, you know that I’m telling the truth about the ingredients, and if I say I use this ingredient, I do, and you know that my ingredients are going to be pure and are sourced from places that have pure products. The other thing is that my products are great because I have a certification through Green America. I’ve reached their gold seal status, which is kind of a rigorous process and it goes all the way back to sourcing raw materials, using materials that are good for people and that are healthy so we know that my products are going to be healthy and that’s a benefit there, knowing that I’m honestly disclosing everything. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Got it and handcraft is great. Listen, people enjoy handcrafted products in so many different segments, whether it’s wines now or beers, and to have handcrafted lip balms and creams and even candles, I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s just a wonderful idea so talk a little bit about your business headquarters. We were talking a little bit about it off the air but if you want to share, where are your business headquarters right now? DEBBIE MILLER: My business headquarters is in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. I produce things here in my apartment. My plan is to expand as my business grows. I want to keep a hand in the handmade quality. Right now, I craft everything myself but I realize that in the future, I might expand but I don’t really plan on leaving Brooklyn though. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s wonderful. Since you have a website, are orders coming in from all places around the world? Are you finding both around the United States and around the world, people are warming up to organic skin care products and other healthcare products that you produce? DEBBIE MILLER: Yes, definitely and in fact, from my website as well as my Etsy store, I’ve had orders from all over the world. I had a woman in Australia last year who wanted some of my creams to put in her bridesmaids’ gift bags. That’s the great thing about the internet. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How did she originally learn of your products or try it out? DEBBIE MILLER: She went on the internet and the keyword was handcrafted organic skin care. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And how about locally? Do you sell any of your products in to local stores in the New York metropolitan area? DEBBIE MILLER: That’s something that I’m working on. I did a little consignment early on in the business but I prefer to get my products in the stores on wholesale basis. That’s something that I’m working on. I do like to work with individuals. I think that’s more personal but I think now, especially in Brooklyn, there are a lot of stores that carry handcrafted green products and I would love to be involved. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How about the bigger stores? Do you foresee one day your products being carried by bigger chains like the Whole Foods of the world and other chains like that? DEBBIE MILLER: That’s a great question. In fact, Whole Foods opened up recently in Gowanus area of Brooklyn and a few years ago, I started to look into getting my product into Whole Foods and I had to kind of put that on hold for a while but now I’m starting to rethink that. In fact, last week I got the name of the person at the one in Park Slope that handles the Whole Body stuff so I intend to pursue that. I think Whole Foods would be another one of those cases where their values would be completely aligned with mine. I would love to get into Whole Foods. JOHN SHEGERIAN: When you were growing up, did you ever think that eventually you’d become an entrepreneur? Was this a dream of yours or is this just sort of a natural evolution in your life, becoming an entrepreneur? DEBBIE MILLER: Yeah, that’s a good question. No, I never would have thought of this. Nobody in my family has ever been an entrepreneur or in business. I started with a background. I’m also a journalist, a freelance writer. I’m a playwright. I’ve done acting, now teaching and I’ve had this lifelong interest in environmentalism so it’s kind of like just in the past few years, everything has kind of coalesced together and I see this as a natural evolution. Now I’m becoming an entrepreneur but I’m not going to lose my green values. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Are you enjoying the ability to leverage the internet? Do you think that can help take your great brand, Anna’s Potions and Lotions to the next level? Do you feel that you’re making progress online and that there’s a lot more progress you can make? DEBBIE MILLER: Yeah there is and that’s a good question and one way that I see that happening is to use my writing ability. I do have a blog and I intend to start blogging more often and doing some more marketing so I definitely see that. I really think that the internet is here and it’s not just people in their 20s and 30s who are using it. I read somewhere that one of the largest groups of people who are now buying online are people over 50 so I’m perfectly poised to be involved in that. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And since you’re so green and you’ve been green before it was ever cool to be green, Debbie, talk a little bit about your commitment to minimal packaging and putting minimal packaging on your great products. DEBBIE MILLER: My soy wax candles, for example, are either in glass containers or metal travel tins. I don’t put them into another box even though I could and the box that each one goes in could be made of recycled paper and recyclables. I just don’t believe in adding more stuff to the waste stream so you’re not going to see a very elaborate fancy display in a store if my products are in a store. I just really want to keep to that minimalist thing because to me, the packaging is not as important as what’s inside. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right, and I agree with you. What’s your number one seller out of all of your wonderful products? What sells the most? DEBBIE MILLER: I would say what sells the most, one thing that’s really popular is my lavender shea butter moisturizer. That probably is the number one seller, although the sweet rose cream is right behind. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So that’s the number one and number two, the sweet rose cream and the shea butter? DEBBIE MILLER: Lavender shea butter, yeah. Everybody seems to love lavender. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s interesting. We’re down to the last two minutes or so. Do you have any pearls of wisdom? Because this show airs both nationally and internationally and there’s lots of young entrepreneurs out there that want to become the next Debbie Miller. In the last minute and a half or so, do you have any pearls of wisdom you can share for our budding entrepreneurs out there that want to become the next Debbie Miller? DEBBIE MILLER: Well yes, and you know it’s nothing that glamorous. It’s just keep at it. One thing that I have is a really great sense of perseverance. I never give up. I just keep on keeping on and doing what I love and I truly believe that doing what you love, eventually things are going to work out for you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s true. As they say, winners never quit and quitters never win so we love that and again, for our listeners out there, please support Debbie Miller and her great brand. We need to support ecopreneurs out there both small and large and that’s what this show is about, supporting companies and people that make a difference and Debbie’s one of those great people, Anna’s Potions and Lotions, www.annaspotionsandlotions.com. Thank you, Debbie, for making honest products from nature at Anna’s Potions. You are truly living proof that green is good.