By Katie Cantrell. Photo by Mandy Mohler of Field Guide Designs.
Michael Johnson maneuvers his red truck into a makeshift parking spot on the edge of the forest service road. Two small boys with shaggy white-blonde hair scramble out of the extended cab and head straight for the nearest slushy puddle to stomp while their parents, Maranda and Michael (better known as MJ), get organized.
On this particular late-winter day they’re headed into the woods to tap a birch tree, but a similar scene plays out each season as they journey out to gather what nature provides. A March day might mean birch water to drink and birch bark for baskets and crafts, while July finds them foraging for arnica flowers, a key ingredient in their Cottonwood Creek salve. The Johnson family, including five-year-old Everest and two-year-old Finn, are the hearts, minds, and sweat behind The Good Stuff Botanicals, a line of skin care products made entirely from natural ingredients that has caught the attention of everyone from local farmers market shoppers to dermatology clinics around the country.
Maranda and MJ didn’t have business in mind when they began looking for a non-steroid treatment option for MJ’s psoriasis nearly 10 years ago.
“We couldn’t find a product out there that did what we wanted it to do without the steroids, the parabens, the extra gunk in it,” MJ remembers.
So they immersed themselves in PubMed, a gargantuan database of medical research literature maintained by the National Institutes of Health, and also looked for wisdom in old books of non-traditional medicine. The end result was Gypsy Cream, a nourishing moisturizer based on a Romanian gypsy recipe that soothed MJ’s symptoms. It worked so well for MJ that they shared it with friends and family, who also reported that their skin looked and felt healthier.
“When we realized we had something that helped people without all the extra toxins, we wanted to bring it to the public,” MJ explains. “Something that could actually help people and work with their body and with nature, instead of trying to control it.”
Two weeks after quitting their day jobs and launching The Good Stuff Botanicals, Maranda found out she was pregnant with their first child. The Good Stuff needed to become a viable business, and quickly. They threw themselves into making it work, trusting that the quality of their products and their dedication would overcome their lack of knowledge about the skincare industry.
MJ laughs as he remembers walking into Rosauers with a box of Gypsy Cream, “not having any idea of what I was doing.” The buyer was interested, but mentioned a couple things the fledgling business needed first, like insurance. And UPC codes on their jars. Once they got those minor details straightened out, Rosauers put Gypsy Cream on shelves across the northwest in Huckleberry’s Natural Market, an in-store division of the grocery chain that stocks organic and natural products. The Johnsons also built a local client base by working every Flathead Valley farmers market, every single week. They became familiar faces around the valley, which sometimes made for interesting interactions.
“We couldn’t go grocery shopping without someone pulling up their shirt and saying, ‘Hey, what do you think of this rash?’ Well . . . I was thinking about dinner,” Maranda laughs. But the community – even its eccentric moments – is one of the things they love most about living and working in the Flathead.
The Johnsons worked the markets throughout Maranda’s pregnancy and after Everest’s arrival. He assimilated seamlessly into the routine, first sleeping in a basket under the table and then growing into a natural salesman who greeted strangers with smiles and handed them jars of creams to try.
Then Finn came along. Like most parents of multiple children, the Johnsons realized that what worked with the first child wasn’t going to fly with the second – this baby wouldn’t nap anywhere and didn’t want to spend hours hanging out at markets. They had to change gears. “I like to say that Everest let us do what we needed to do to get going, and Finn encouraged us to expand,” Maranda says.
That expansion – growing their online and in-store sales – actually got its jump start the moment that Finn arrived. While Maranda was still on mandatory bed rest after an emergency C-section, online orders suddenly started flooding in, seemingly out of nowhere. They discovered that the Associated Press had reprinted a local story on their business in newspapers across the northwest. Maranda called out orders from her bed while MJ sat on the floor, filling boxes and packaging them to ship.
The Good Stuff’s profile has only grown since then, with Gypsy Cream garnering mentions in national magazines including Allure, Harper’s Bazaar, and Vogue. From their start with the Rosauers buyer, their products are now on the shelves of more than 100 retailers nationwide. The producers of “Shark Tank,” an entrepreneurial-themed reality show, have approached the Johnsons twice, but they have absolutely no interest in selling out to investors. “Part of the reason we do this is so we don’t have to answer to anyone,” MJ says.
“This is a family business,” Maranda concurs, adding “and this business rides on MJ’s back.” Maranda and MJ are The Good Stuff Botanicals, doing every single job from mixing products and printing jar labels to advertising and accounting. Adding in the significant work of two preschool-age children, the Johnsons find themselves constantly tag-teaming business and family. Maranda starts her mornings early, answering emails and compiling orders, then puts her “mom hat” on for the rest of the day while MJ mixes creams and oils and prepares orders to ship. Every day is a full day, but the Johnsons don’t mind.
“This isn’t just our business, it’s our lifestyle,” MJ says, transitioning seamlessly from explaining the carbon chain structure of cumin oil to having a snowball fight with Finn. It’s clear that the Johnsons’ days are packed, but they are exactly where they want to be: raising children, exploring the outdoors, and working hard to ensure that their products and their lives are full of the good stuff.
The Good Stuff Botanicals can be found in local stores across the Flathead, including Bigfork Drug, Sage & Cedar, Withey’s Health Foods, Sunlife Health Foods, and more. Check out their online store at thegoodstuffbotanicals.com, and on Facebook and Instagram.
About the Author: Katie Cantrell is a local writer and the author of Have Stroller, Will Travel: Exploring Italy with Two Small Children and Other Ridiculous Moments in Parenting. Follow her commentary on the parenting life on Facebook and Instagram @katiecantrellwrites or her blog, www.KatieCantrellWrites.com.