By Tony Adams
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) It’s been about three years since Misty Reed launched Rebel Belle a company that makes and sells bath and body products. Her journey to female business ownership started out in her home, creating remedies for family members’ skin problems. Eventually she made the leap into a retail setting inside a small shopping center and since then, things have taken off!
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.
Misty Reed readily admits that she marches somewhat to a different drum. After all, the name she chose for her shop that makes and sells men’s and women’s bath and body products is Rebel Belle.
“If there’s a difficult way, I’ll usually find it and take that route,” she says with a big laugh.
And don’t get her started by referring to the products she makes by hand at her 7801 Fortson Road store, in north Columbus, as “crafting.”
“I hate that word. It diminishes it; it does,” says the Columbus native, 41, preferring to call her talent artistic and creative.
It’s been about three years that Reed launched Rebel Belle out of her home because of family members’ skin problems. She eventually made the leap into a retail setting inside a small shopping center near the intersection of Veterans Parkway and Double Churches Road, and things have taken off.
The Ledger-Enquirer visited with Reed recently at Rebel Belle — with a little Waylon Jennings outlaw country playing in the background — to talk about her job, what it takes to make a good bath bomb, and to get her thoughts on small businesses in Columbus. This interview is edited a bit for length and clarity.
Q: How long have you been at this location?
A: I signed my lease in January, going into my third year. I did it for a year at home, by total accident. I never set out in a million years to do this. They say you won’t find your calling, it will find you. That’s 100 percent accurate.
Q: How did things start?
A: My mom and my sister had this weird place on their hands and any time they used commercial cleaners or something like that, it completely (turned their hands into) hamburger meat. They both are medicine takers and they go to the doctor a lot and I’m just not a big fan of that. I was always on them … telling them that’s probably a reaction from something you take. Then I started looking up natural remedies for skin ailments and I kept coming across the same eight or 10 ingredients. So I went and bought all of them and, kind of being a science nerd, I thought maybe I could put all of those together and make a (moisturizing) bomb. I did and it worked on both of them.
Q: You found lots of good resources online?
A: I did, but I also found a lot of bad resources online. You have a lot of — not being ugly — but stay-at-home mothers that have decided, oh, I’ll use something on this (ailment or problem) and now I’m at expert on it. So you can get a lot of misinformation that way, too.
Q: What’s been the response to your retail presence?
A: I would have to say fairly good. I would never have gone retail until I started having customers knock on my door at 9 or 10 o’clock at night. I was like, I have to set boundaries in some way. I figured the best way to set boundaries and make myself available at the same time was to go retail.
Q: How did you decide on the name Rebel Belle?
A: Anybody that knows me, I’m painfully Southern, and I’ve never been one to walk a taut line. So if there’s a difficult way, I’ll usually find it and take that route. (laughs) It’s not always a good thing. In trying to come up with a good name, it just kept popping back up. I didn’t want anything cheesy or that had to do with soap, because I didn’t want to put off male clientele. I do a lot of men’s and women’s products and I didn’t want anything that would put off anyone.
Q: What all do you make?
A: My main product is body butter, (with the names) Butter My Butt and Call Me Biscuit. Everything has mostly Southern names. The bath bombs and the cupcakes, those have taken off tremendously and I make a batch just about every day. It’s a bath bomb that goes in your bath. The icing on it is a butter base, so it’s got some natural butters in it and some natural oils. The whole thing dissolves and it’s definitely a treat. My men’s products are wildly popular. The beard conditioner is huge. I can barely keep up with making it. It just kind of softens the hair and makes it a little more manageable.
Q: What is the toughest thing to make, either time wise or getting the recipe right?
A: It varies. Anything with essential oils I’m super careful with because there are skin-safe percentages and that varies by product, whether it’s in a soap that’s going to rinse off the skin or it’s in a lotion that’s going to stay on the skin. What your base is changes it. It also just depends on how decorative it is. I have some soaps I do that are incredibly time consuming because of the decorative aspect.
Q: How long does it typically take to make a batch of something?
A: There are some that are three- and four-stage processes, so it may take an entire afternoon to get one just in the mold cooling and ready for the next day to cut.
Q: You’re juggling a lot?
A: I juggle the retail end and the making of everything and cleaning the bathroom. My 19-year-old works with me most of the time. He has another job with his dad also, so for the past three weeks he hasn’t been here. It’s definitely a balancing act because you have to keep up with inventory and keep up with shelf life and dates and making products. And not just inventory out there on the floor, but stock inventory. It can be overwhelming.
Q: What are your busier times?
A: Christmas, obviously. Valentine’s is usually a big gift-giving holiday. I do a lot of gift baskets at Valentine’s. And we’re really pushing Mother’s Day this year.
Q: Are you in any other retail shops or stores?
A: A few. I do some custom work for the Springer Opera House gift shop, and I also do some things that are show specific for them. We did some really nice stuff for “Sweeney Todd.” That was fun. I got to be a little gruesome. I’m a little off from center anyway, so that was right up my alley. I also do some things for Robin’s Nest boutique. I do some things for Patricia’s Pearls in Pine Mountain. She’s one of my bigger wholesalers. We actually do a bath bomb for her that has a real pearl on top. They’re very pretty when they’re done.
Q: Is it hard to keep from taking on too much?
A: It’s that fine line between overwhelming myself and wanting to get as much out as I can. We are hoping by early summer to have a website launched. So we will start with the basic products that I always have, the facial bar, and I make a hemp seed oil soap. It’s great and a little different looking, but it catches the attention and is a really good seller. So we’re hoping to have some of the essentials on the website that are easier to keep up with.
Q: Do you make new products often?
A: I am constantly inspired in some way to do something nutty and different. I find myself thinking alot: I wonder if that would work. I try not to get too crazy with it, because like I said, I geek out on things and I’m afraid that sometimes with things that are completely new, if you focus on that too much, you let the things that are already successful fail. I try hard to balance that and not let that happen.
Q: What’s the hardest thing about your job?
A: Production. Keeping up with production. We make everything. We make our own labels here; we don’t order preprinted labels. My background is in graphic design so I’ve done all of the labeling and designed the logo and everything. It’s a matter of if I do a new product, then I have to follow FDA standards to put all of the ingredients on the label. I have to make sure I have packaging for it and make sure the label will fit the packaging. Again, it can be quite the undertaking. It is very detailed oriented.
Q: Are you regulated by the Federal Department of Agriculture, the FDA?
A: The proper way to word that is, for a business that’s putting things on people’s skin, on their body, it’s best to be FDA compliant. They don’t regulate us too harshly unless they start getting reports about a particular business or unless something jumps up (into public) that’s made a claim. There are women who claim, oh, this soap is good for eczema, and that’s a medication.
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Of course, the FDA goes right after them.
Q: But a customer can say something works on an ailment, perhaps on Facebook, and it’s OK?
A: They can say whatever they want. That has nothing to do with me. I can even put in my shop a list of ingredients that are known to be good for eczema. I just can’t say that my product is good for it. We can’t make any claims about healing anything or whatever. I’m very careful when someone comes in and they say, hey, my friend’s little girl has eczema and they used the body butter and they don’t have eczema anymore. She’s not having a breakout anymore. I have to tell them, that’s great. I’m glad to hear that. That’s wonderful.
Q: But you cut if off at that point?
A: I have people come in all the time and say, what do you recommend for eczema. Of course, I recommend the body butter. Anything that will moisturize eczema is going to make it more comfortable. So that is usually the route that I take with customers. I try very hard not to false represent anything.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your work?
A: It would have to be that it appeals to the artsy part of me, and it appeals to the nerdy science part of me. There’s a lot of chemistry, there’s a lot of science, a lot of formulation.
Q: The website Pinterest seems to have a lot of recipes on it?
A: Pinterest is great if you want to learn how to make a casserole. It’s not so much if you’re going to try to be an entrepreneur. Pinterest is not the place to start your business. Plenty of people have been in the shop and said, I’m not paying that kind of money for that. I saw a recipe for that on Pinterest the other day. I tell them no you didn’t. All of my formulas are mine. It’s not something I got off of Pinterest. That’s been my hesitation in hiring help as well. But even my bath bombs are not a standard bath bomb recipe. When you get out of the bathtub you don’t have to put lotion on, and that’s not typical with a bath bomb. That’s something I worked very hard at and am very proud of. When people say I found something like that on Pinterest, it’s disheartening.
Q: So this is your life’s calling?
A: I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I go to bed every night with my fingers crossed that we’ll make it through another day. Small businesses struggle and Columbus is famous for not supporting small business, whether it be Columbus government, whether it be Columbus as whole. Columbus went for so long without the big commercial stores, like Bath and Body Works and all of the things that other cities had. When we finally get it, everybody latches onto it with both hands. What happens is your small businesses suffer.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: I just think consumer beware is a big one (for people seeking out bath and body products). Support small business, definitely, and that’s restaurants and boutiques, that’s everything. That’s what gives every town their flavor. That’s what gives every city their particular personality.
Hometown: Born and raised in Columbus
Current residence: Midland area of Columbus
Education: Attended Kendrick High School, but left in her junior year and obtained a General Education Diploma (GED) to help the family when her father was diagnosed with cancer; she also has taken science courses at Columbus Technical College
Previous jobs: Have worked in graphic design, including with a screen printer; was hairdresser and makeup artist for a few years; worked for a bait company that made scented dyes for plastic lures
Family: Son, Connor Reed, 19, mother, Delane Berdine, and sister, Phyllis Greer
Leisure time: Enjoys cooking; does a lot of charity work, including serving as membership coordinator for the local chapter of American Bikers Active Toward Education, which promotes motorcycling safety and education