If you happen to visit a farmers market in the Inland Northwest this spring or summer, chances are a handcrafted soap company called Bees to Bubbles will have a presence there.
If you have trouble finding the booth, just follow the fragrance that resembles a blend of lilac, tree tea oil, vanilla, huckleberry, honey and other natural scents.
Butch and Tina Rich of Spangle started Bees to Bubbles in 2010 and now distribute their products at seasonal outdoor venues throughout the region. The list of farmers markets this year will include Coeur d’Alene, Perry Street, Hayden, Liberty Lake and Spokane. The soaps also recently began appearing on the shelves at the Main Market in downtown Spokane.
While Bees to Bubbles may have its hub at a home in a rural town 20 miles south of Spokane, the demand for the unique soap reaches well beyond local boundaries. This winter, Tina received an inquiry from Texas for a dozen bars. A resident of the Lone Star State had made a purchase at the Coeur d’Alene Farmers Market while on vacation and wanted to order more.
“It’s always a surprise to us to hear the accolades that people throw out to our soap,” Tina said.
Butch and Tina reside in the Manito Ward of the Spokane Stake with their seven children, all of whom help with the family enterprise. The two exceptions in the Rich household currently are eldest son, Jaimeson, 21, who is serving a full-time LDS mission in Kentucky and Coulson, 20, who is in the Chicago area on a Spanish-speaking mission.
Tina said working together under the same roof can be a learning experience.
“We appreciate each other more since we see what everyone brings to the table and we try to involve each one in the family as much as they are able to do different tasks,” she said. “Most of the challenges deal with time and timing. We are a very busy family with seven kids, two in the mission field and five in school. Most of them play sports and there seems to be a lot of traveling involved.”
Tina discovered soap making five years ago when she attended a class taught by Sydney Kearnes of the Spokane Valley Stake. Kearnes launched her own homemade soap company called Liberty Lake Soap in 2007. Tina had picked the class after one of her teachers at Gonzaga University challenged students to discover a new topic and report on it.
With degrees in finance and economics as well as an MBA, Butch was familiar with the requirements of starting and marketing a business. The family already had a honey and beekeeping operations in place (overseen by daughter Leishalyn) and soon combined it with the soap side to produce Bees to Bubbles.
The company experienced a breakthrough last year with the move to a stylish, boxed version of the soap. Previously, the product had simply been sold in plain bar form. The bars sell for $5 each or four for $20. There are now around 30 fragrances.
“This really opens the door for retail,” said Tina. “We wanted the soap to look more like a gift and now we have that.”
Butch said the branding push “has moved the company’s timeline up two or three years.” Spokane-based marketing company Bassett and Brush helped with the design of the box while another local company, Sonderen Packaging, was responsible for the manufacturing.
Depending on the temperature and humidity, it can take up to four weeks before soap is ready for market. On a good day, the living room production line at the Rich home can churn out 400 bars in around six hours. In addition to the scented soaps, the company produces natural soaps with no fragrance, clay soap and goats’ milk soap.
Tina said while Bees to Bubbles has taken flight in recent years, she and Butch want to make sure to keep things in perspective.
“It is really a sideline business for us, and we might keep it at just that for many years, but we have been told on various occasions that we have the right product to take it to a much higher level,” she said. “We just don’t want to be driven by the business.”
For now, the company will be happy occupying the best-smelling booth at a farmers market near you.
“Even without much advertising, our sales have gone up every year,” Tina said. “It’s a good product. I believe in it. Some customers have a little sticker-shock when they see soap is five dollars a bar, but over a year’s worth of family budgeting it really isn’t that much in total dollars and cents. For a few dollars a month you can upgrade to fantastic soap.”