Start-ups

This small business pivoted from selling lip gloss to sanitizer: We'll probably 'blow away' last year's sales

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Garb2Art: Cosmetics company shifts production efforts to hand sanitizer...

Dawn Andrews can't keep up with demand.

A mother of five who graduated from the school of hard knocks, Andrews built a successful cosmetics business in Columbus, Ind., called Garb2ART.

The company grew from a mere $10,000 in revenues in 2013 to $400,000 last year. 

But this year's sales are exploding as she pivots her production from lip gloss to hand sanitizer. 

"I can tell you in the first quarter of this year ... considering everything we're doing now, we're probably going to blow away [all of] last year," Andrews tells CNBC.

Indiana entrepreneur pivots from lip gloss to hand sanitizer
Courtesy of Garb2ART

There is so much demand for Andrews' product that she's hiring out-of-work bartenders and waitresses to help. 

Garb2ART sold 50,000 bottles of the new sanitizer during the first week of operations on March 18. This week she expects to sell 100,000 bottles, all charging normal retail prices. 

Side hustle to main hustle 

Andrews says she left school after the eighth grade. "I grew up in abuse and poverty and have always had an extreme desire to make a difference." 

She earned her GED and ended up working in a variety of industries before landing in marketing at a bank. "I just worked extremely hard," she says.

Divorced with two kids at 21, Andrews later remarried and had more children. "I had three children in diapers and two teenagers," she says. "Three couldn't live without me, and two couldn't stand the look of me."

While on a vacation to Florida in the spring of 2013, Andrews found a lip gloss product with a mirror and light attached.

"I was completely obsessed with it and I thought, 'Oh, I can make better gloss that this,'" she says.

So Andrews started making lip gloss in her garage and selling it on the side, eventually expanding to body butter and nail polish. She named the company Garb2ART. (The name was inspired by a hobby Andrews had of melting down old records to create art. "It really was garbage in a sense, and I would make art out of it in my garage," she says.)

Andrews' father, who was dying after seven-way bypass surgery, encouraged her to pursue her business full-time, telling her, "The only thing that keeps people from doing what their dreams are is that they're afraid to do it."

Six months after her father died, Andrews learned she had thyroid cancer, followed by a collapsed lung during a biopsy.

"It was just a lot of stuff," she says, smiling. "This is the truth: I was afraid if it was storming. I did not want to go outside. I knew a house was going to fall on me." 

When Andrews recovered, she quit her banking job in 2014 and threw herself into the cosmetics business.

"A lot of people really thought that I had just gone crazy at this point," she says.

Andrews worked at night while her family slept, so she could take care of the kids during the day.

"I thought if I could cut out a daycare expense, then that could kind of supplement the income a little bit," she says.

From lip gloss to hand sanitizer

Garb2ART eventually graduated to an 1,800-square-foot production facility, and Andrews hired four people.

Three years ago, the business did a one-off product line making hand sanitizer for local hospitals and Roche's subscription diabetes kits. Then, two weeks ago, a sales rep for her cosmetics company asked Andrews if she could make hand sanitizer again.

"Customers were begging for it," she says.

Another sales rep also asked, and Andrews suggested she could probably make 1,000 bottles. She wondered if they could sell that many. The sales rep laughed.

"She said, 'I think you're going to need a lot more.'"

So Andrews went to work, completely changing over her production process. 

"Many people ask me, 'Do you have a chemistry degree?' Clearly I do not," says Andrews. But she says she has a natural talent for figuring out how to make things.

"You can look up recipes for hand sanitizer. There are a lot of FDA guidelines you have to follow, you have to apply," she says, "but if you take the time to do it, you can make yourself very valuable."    

A rocky start to sanitizer

However, Andrews had a rough start.

After spending $20,000 of her savings to order alcohol and bottles, "we started getting cancellations." Many of the stores that had wanted to buy the product were being forced to close.

Andrews moved forward because her sales rep told her not to worry and that it would work out. Then, an order of alcohol amounting to more than 300 gallons never came through. 

"That was a pretty intimidating few days," Andrews says.

But new customers started calling — including jails and law enforcement agencies — and Andrews said she made her $20,000 investment back in one day.

Indiana entrepreneur pivots from lip gloss to hand sanitizer
Courtesy of Garb2ART

"We have just huge orders that are pending, people wanting 20,000 and 30,000 pieces."

How these new customers found her is a mystery.

"I think they're probably just like, 'There's this crazy lady in Indiana making a hand sanitizer ... Let's call her,'" she says. 

Importantly, Andrews says the price point is what she would charge in a normal environment, with 1-ounce, 150-use bottles retailing for $5.50.

In addition to providing sanitizer to her institutional customers, Garb2ART will also start selling direct to consumers on its website on March 30.

Hiring ... but staying healthy

To keep up with demand, Garb2Art has expanded its staff from five to 25, adding a lot of people who've lost their jobs as the virus forced local businesses to close. (Indiana issued a stay-at-home order Monday, but now that Andrews is making sanitizer, her business is considered essential.) 

However, Andrews has staggered shifts so that no more than 10 workers at a time are inside her production facility.

Indiana entrepreneur pivots from lip gloss to hand sanitizer
Courtesy of Garb2ART

"We have people that continue to beg for a job," she says. "I can't let any more in, because I have to keep the people that have been here this far safe." 

Perhaps the most amazing thing to Andrews is how the community has pulled together to help. Andrews had 200 gallons of alcohol available in Indianapolis 45 miles away, but she couldn't find a trucking company to go get it. She put out a call for help on Facebook, and a local family with a truck went to pick up the order. Her landlord used his forklift to unload it.

"What are the odds of somebody just having a forklift you can use at 9 o'clock at night?" she says.

Dawn Andrews considers herself a spiritual person, and she hopes Americans will continue to help each other and put aside their differences during this pandemic.

"We are stronger together," she says. 

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