Tameka Linnell of Fort Lauderdale had always been health-conscious, but it wasn’t until her son, Andros, was born in 2005 that she started to read product labels.
It was that experience, seeking out natural products to put on her baby’s skin, that led Tameka and her husband, Gary Linnell, to launch an all-natural skin care line for tween girls. Called "Joon," the nine-product line has been available online since Nov. 1. In the coming months, it will be sold in 16 Whole Food Markets in Florida.
Here’s how she got started.
The big idea
Natural bath and body products for girls age 6 to 12, with lotions, body washes and lip balms that replace controversial ingredients with natural or naturally-derived alternatives.
"You see natural products for babies, but then those babies grow up, and they don’t want to use baby products anymore," Tameka Linnell said. "Tweens want something of their own."
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The parents of two children, Andros, 5, and Bimini, 1, Gary was self-employed in real estate and Tameka had worked in advertising, developing youth-oriented marketing strategies for companies such as Adidas, Coca-Cola and Fruitopia.
Tired of the travel and the stress, Tameka left her marketing job in 2007. Then the couple came up with the idea for Joon.
The Linnells conducted focus group studies to explore the marketability. Then for 2 1/2 years, they worked with Prime Enterprises in Miami, a contract manufacturer, to develop a formula, prototypes and samples. Products were tested on potential customers.
"We went through five or six versions of each product before we found one we liked," Tameka said.
Finally, clinical tests were conducted to determine safety and stability.
To name the products, the Linnells tweaked the name of their favorite month, June, to symbolize the outdoorsy, playful and summery feeling it embodies.
They set the products' retail prices at $5.99 to $8.99.
Tameka estimates they spent about $400,000 from their savings before the first product was out. That included research and development costs, such as focus groups and product testing, and brand imaging, such as developing logos and packaging.
"We tried to get the best of the best for our brand imaging," Tameka said, including paying top dollar for a designer from tween fashion brand Limited II to design their label.
"We could have done it on the cheap, but you get what you pay for," she said.
The Linnells have yet to draw a salary.
The Linnells are relying on social media, such as Social Moms, Facebook and a blog to build the brand's image. They also participate in local events geared to moms.
Where can you buy it?
At ItsJoon.com; MyPumpkinDoodle.com, a site for natural products; and OpenSky.com and BrightZoo.com, ecommerce sites for bloggers. Some Whole Foods markets in Florida will start carrying it soon.
The biggest challenge?
"It’s a new consumer category for retailers, because for young girls, it’s only fashion and accessories. There’s not really a personal care items," Tameka said. "We’re working with retailers to create the category."
Getting the line into big retailers also is a challenge, Tameka said, because it’s often who you know that gets you in the door for that first meeting.
The next step?
Look for more buyers and continue retail distribution. Tameka said a long-term strategy is to “build a brand to a point where a big manufacturer would acquire it.”
Balancing business and family
Tameka said she and Gary, who both work from home, employ a full-time nanny to mind Bimini while Andros is at school. Tameka drops Andros off at 8 a.m., then heads home to check emails, make calls and handle meetings before pickup at 3 or 3:30 p.m. Then it’s after-school activities and errands, before everyone convenes for family time and dinner. After 8 p.m., when the kids are asleep, Tameka heads back to the computer for another hour or two.
"It’s hard. I still haven’t figured out how to balance everything," Tameka said. "Sometimes I feel really guilty if my son wants me to read a bedtime story, and I have a presentation to prepare for."
Advice for other moms?
"Talk to other people about your idea. Seek people who know more than you do," Tameka said. "There are people out there who want to give you free advice. Allow those people to help you."