It all started with good intentions and a Martha Stewart recipe for bath bombs. Inside each was to be hidden a sweet – or in Kim Williams’ case – snarky message printed on waterproof paper. They were going to be the perfect Valentine’s Day gifts for her friends and family.
Hundreds of dollars and some failed attempts later, those bath bombs were a hit with family and friends that today, have parlayed into a bustling business with a storefront in downtown Lakeland.
In February 2010, Kim started Rafa Natural, a line of organic and natural home and body care products that look beautiful, smell amazing and are packaged in phthalate-free and BPA-free packaging. Kim’s customers are people who know they need to switch to more natural products, but are convinced it will cost too much.
“There is a perception that if a product is natural and works, it has to be expensive,” says Kim. “That’s because when you have manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor and retailer, each has to mark the price up just a bit to make a profit. I cut out the middleman and pass the savings to my customer. No one should have to take out a mortgage to be naturally beautiful.”
But how did this marketing major go from a pharmaceutical rep stocking the shelves in doctors’ offices with prescriptions, to healing faces, bodies and hearts with healthy, affordable products and proven ingredients?
Recipes for Success
With the excitement of having made those Martha Stewart bath bombs fresh on her mind, Kim wondered what else she could make from home. An impromptu Google quest revealed recipes for face lotions, body washes, bath soaks, herbal facial steams and more. The possibilities seemed endless. Kim was stoked.
More exciting to Kim than finding the recipes themselves was discovering the power of each natural ingredient. She was hooked when she researched things like green tea, vitamin C and charcoal and realized the multitude of benefits – healthy, natural benefits. With every research article she read, Kim’s passion for natural and organic healing welled up inside her.
Kim’s laundry room transformed into a workshop overrun with cocoa butter, wax, sweet almond oil and essential oils overnight. She made all of her own skincare and continued creating chic gifts for friends, too. Soon she had a long list of friends requesting custom concoctions and beauty regimens of their own. But it wasn’t until a special yard sale that Kim realized what a hot commodity she had.
“I had a yard sale and my homemade beauty items actually sold better than my regular yard sale items,” says Kim. “They would just look at it, smell it and then buy it. I thought to myself, ‘This hobby might actually be profitable.’”
Rafa Natural Goes Retail
Still, Kim never intended to sell Rafa Natural products in a retail space. The opportunity just sort of presented itself. There was a small 100 square foot space one block from her home that she could rent obligation-free, which was important to her since she had made it a point to not acquire any debt from her new hobby. Plus, she had her husband’s support.
“It could have been because he was intrigued by the idea of recouping the costs or it could have been – and I like to think it was – the way I would light up when I would learn about the healing powers of something like tea tree oil,” says Kim.
On Rafa Natural’s first day, Kim totaled $287 in sales.
“I was ecstatic,” she says.
Customers initially purchased Kim’s products based on the way they looked and smelled. This was great, but not much of a surprise for the University of South Florida marketing major who claims marketing is 90 percent of what she does. The most exciting part for Kim was when customers began dragging their friends to her counter to try products because they worked!
In six months, Kim had a tried and true product line that was in demand. This was really happening. But before she could think about the next step, it once again just sort of presented itself:
Moving Up in Downtown Lakeland
In January 2011, the Black Swan Bazaar asked Kim if she would like to move Rafa Natural into a shared space in downtown Lakeland.
Kim was caught off guard by the rate of her success but thought, “Lakeland is nice, I have demand, I’m happy, this might actually work.” So she said, “yes.” And that brings us to today.
Rafa Natural offers everything from anti-aging eye serums to delightful room sprays. You’ve probably heard of every ingredient listed on the backs of her products labels, but had no idea that in the right amounts, combination and application, you could live, look and feel better. Smell better, too.
The Science Behind Rafa Natural
Kim knows she doesn’t have the funding for extensive research and development, so she leaves it to the big guys, companies like Aveda, Origins and Juice Beauty.
“If they have spent countless dollars researching the effectiveness of a specific ingredient, I’ll see if I can pass those benefits along to my customers,” says Kim.
Although this means Kim won’t get recognition for discovering the next acne cure that only exists deep in the heart of the Amazon, it doesn’t mean she isn’t developing her own recipes for healing products.
The impetus for Rafa Natural’s popular overnight facial oil was actually a customer with a skin condition that had been unresponsive to every product he had tried. Kim did some research and found essential fatty acids help feed the skin.
“We developed an oil that had essential fatty acids, 3, 6, 7 and 9 from things like argan oil, pomegranate and coconut oil,” says Kim. “Within a week, his skin looked completely different. That’s what it’s all about.”
You Are What You Eat
Although Kim knows her products can help customers look better, she agrees that a whole body approach makes the most difference in the way you look and feel.
“I want my customers to know they can solve a lot of their problems just by changing their diet,” says Kim. “If I can give value-added advice that will allow my products to work better with their body chemistry, then we all win.”
Most of Kim’s health and beauty advice is provided via Rafa Natural’s Facebook feed. You’ll find healthy recipes and tips like how adding vitamin C or lycopene to your diet provides natural sun protection from within. Then when you add vitamin C cream topically, you will see even better results than if you used the cream alone.
“It’s a two-pronged approach,” says Kim. “It’s what you put in and what you put on your body.”
If you are ready to get naturally beautiful, you won’t be disappointed in Rafa Natural’s unique offerings and Kim’s free advice.
Take a trip to downtown Lakeland and step inside Rafa Natural’s little world of natural relaxation and rejuvenation or visit their website and take advantage of $5.95 flat rate shipping. You deserve it.
Rafa Natural’s Most Wanted
Here’s a little cheat sheet of Rafa’s most popular items so you don’t become too overwhelmed with options:
Green Tea Cleanser ($15)
Gently removes the day while green tea calms redness.
Charcoal Crème Masque ($15)
Provides a cooling effect with essential oils of peppermint, lavender and tea tree. Charcoal removes skin impurities while rooibos tea extract reduces redness and organic extra virgin olive oil and jojoba oil add hydration.
Alpha Hydroxy Acid Scrub ($15)
Dissolves dead skin cells, making the skin appear instantly smoother and fresher. A slight tingling effect calms your skin while you take in the refreshing scent of citrus essential oils.
Vitamin C Crème ($20; best seller)
Brightens and protects skin from physical and environmental aging with the help of a powerful and proven antioxidant.
100 Percent Soy Candles and Tarts ($6 – $15)
Rafa Natural’s candles and tarts make the perfect gift and help your house smell like a home. The Beach and White Tea & Ginger are the most popular scents among customers.
*Help Kim with her green efforts by recycling your used Rafa Natural candle container and get one-dollar credit toward your next purchase.
Rafa Natural and the Black Swan Bazaar share space at 229 N. Kentucky Ave. Hours are: Mondays – Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Like Rafa Natural on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rafa-Natural/150988608249610 for healthy recipes and tips on living a naturally healthier lifestyle. Call 863-604-2315 or email [email protected] for more information. Visit www.rafanatural.com to find unique organic products and gifts – flat rate shipping of $5.95.