How a Sweet Southern Belle Built a Successful Makeup Brand with $100

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BarbFBPicThe moment Barb Huffman sold her first piece of makeup, she jumped up and down and went running down the stairs to her husband, screaming, “I sold a jar of foundation! Honey, I sold a jar of foundation!”

“I felt like I’d won the jackpot,” says Barb, telling the story with as much joy as if it had happened 10 minutes ago. That was 2004, shortly after she’d invested $100 to start her business. Her first sales were through eBay.

In the early days, Barb literally made each jar of mineral makeup one by one. She would order half an ounce of raw materials at a time and mix tablespoons of each ingredient using a little coffee bean grinder from Walmart. Once she sold one item, the profit would go toward making the next item. And that’s how Barb grew her business—one jar at a time.

“It was so tiny to begin with,” says Barb, the 47-year-old creator of Southern Magnolia Minerals. “It’s been so incredible. Now we’re ordering 10,000 jars at a time instead of 12.”

Today, Southern Magnolia Minerals offers a full line of gluten-free, toxin-free makeup and skincare products. Barb and her husband Todd run the family business from a 1,300 square foot facility a few steps from their North Carolina home. Her husband, a carpenter, built the facility on their property.

It’s hard to believe that Barb had gone so many years ignoring her passion for makeup. In her previous career, she taught independent living skills to the developmentally disabled. Once she had her mind set on starting her own cosmetics company, she quit her job and never looked back.

“I went at it with such fervor,” Barb says. “I had that much faith in myself.”

How did you come up with the idea for Southern Magnolia Minerals?

As a teen growing up in Kentucky, I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup. So when I went to college, I started wearing makeup. All the money that I got, I spent on Cover Girl. But that’s when the breakouts and skin problems started. So I began doing a lot of research on natural skincare products.

When I met my husband in 1999, he was selling antiques on eBay. Todd grew up doing yard sales, and his father had a store in town that sold antiques, so he grew up business-minded and knew what was what. When I met him, I was still working in the mental health field and he had talked me into selling on eBay. So we just started going around to Goodwill and Salvation Army, looking for shoes and clothes to sell.me and Todd

Bare Minerals got big at that time, and expanded that market at the right time. That’s how we built our clientele. Everybody was looking on eBay for an affordable alternative to Bare Minerals. By then, I had already built up my eBay business and thought it was a good opportunity to branch out into makeup.

What makes this different from other mineral makeup brands on the market?

'92599_91549_8pcF_L.jpg'To me, it’s my customer service. I’m plainspoken. I’m just like the person buying my makeup. I don’t try to pretend. I don’t do business speak very well. I’m just your average, everyday person, so I can connect and communicate with my customers.

That’s one thing they love about me the most: I’m an everyday person. I’ve struggled. I’ve been a single mother, a sexual abuse survivor, a domestic violence survivor. I understand my customers—that’s what sets me apart.

Can you tell me how you went about developing the product?

I experimented and did all my own research. Everything I read was online. I even bought a couple of people’s little manuals on how to make mineral makeup.

I would order various ingredients, just trying to get started. I looked for wholesale sites where I could get some of the oxides, buy little bits and just mix. I would buy some of the top mineral makeup products just to see if I could match the colors.

I messed up a lot of carpet.

What have been some of your greatest successes so far?

My tenacity. I worked 24/7, constantly moving our business forward and taking everything to the next level.

When we first started, everything was done in our home. We turned one of the kids’ bedrooms into an office. As we grew, we needed more space. So my husband built a two-story building that’s about 1,300 square feet. I’ve got two girls that work part-time, and my 19-year-old son also works for me.

We have customers from all over. We ship packages all the way to Australia, Estonia, Russia—all over. I think we’ve done business with every state in the U.S.

What have been the biggest challenges to growing your business?

I always look at everything as an opportunity. I never look at it as a challenge.

Personally, if I were to pick something, it’s being self-conscious of my Southern accent and the perception of people in the South. That’s been a personal challenge for me. I don’t have the business speak. I’m plainspoken. Sometimes, I get nervous thinking they’re going to laugh at me. I don’t know—that’s just me. Sometimes, it’s better to be yourself.

Has the product line evolved since you first started?

Yes. We’ve got two lines of foundation. I learned as I went, listening to the ladies when they would e-mail me about their skin tone.PumpkinMaskProfessional

Do you have plans to expand the brand? How so?

I would love to develop more colors. I have so many dreams to expand, but I don’t want to spread myself too thin that my customers quit hearing from me or stop getting my products two days after they order it.

There’s so much that I’d love to do to build and to grow. I just have to take it one day at a time. It’s so hard to compete with the national brands. I’m nothing compared to Bare Minerals, but then again, I’m more than that. I feel like I’m more than the national brands because of what I give them on a personal level.

Do you have tips to your customers on the best way to get the most out of your products?

If a customer buys a jar of foundation that’s not quite the right color, they can e-mail me. I’ll send them some makeup that will alter the color and make a suggestion about what shade to get next time. Or I could send a starter jar to mix with the product, so that they don’t waste what they already have.

Makeup is so versatile. You don’t have to waste your money when you buy colors that don’t work for you. My customers know that they can reach out to me and get a fix for it.

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