To Buhbli Organics founders Michelle Gojkovich and John Rody, less is definitely more. In light of this, they’ve carefully curated a limited selection of organic personal care products that work beautifully in their own right or mixed together into potent concoctions. This sort of versatility reduces packaging and transportation, which is gentler on the planet, and frees up cupboard and drawer space. In case you’re unsure about what products to combine, Buhbli offers monthly DIY recipes on their website. Rody developed his chops in the cosmetics industry while Gojkovich earned a science degree in molecular biology and genetics in addition to studying yoga and Buddhism. Their combined knowhow earned them the coveted MADE SAFE certification as well as cruelty-free and vegan approval by PETA. And they prioritize offering their quality products at extremely reasonable prices so everyone can access clean practices for health, beauty and home care while remaining mindful of the planet.
Tell us about the inception of Buhbli.
Buhbli was created by my partner Michelle Gojkovich in 2014. She was making hand-crafted artisanal soap and selling them at a local farmers market. When I met Michelle, I was impressed and inspired by her passion for all things organic, for her commitment to sustainability, and her minimalist lifestyle. We became partners in life and in business.
Our goal is to make a positive difference in the world that supports and enhances our own well-being, the well-being of others and the Earth. We all have tremendous power to affect positive change through the small things we do and the simple, cumulative choices we make every single day, right down to the basics.
We share a goal of making organic products that are affordable and accessible to the mass market. In doing so, we know we are providing consumers with high-quality essential oil alternatives and exceptional value. Our efforts also support thousands of organic agricultural workers around the world, and encourage others to follow this growing movement.
You left behind a thriving career in the cosmetics industry. What did you learn from that experience that you’ve carried over to Buhbli?
My career started with J&J and Cheeseborough Ponds. They gave me an insider’s view at large corporations driven by profits. When I started my own company 30 years ago, I tried to only bring the positive lessons learned from the major companies. The corporate experience was transformed to entrepreneurial skills when blended with our basic core business philosophy:
• Always be honest.
• Work harder than your competition.
• Respect your customers, suppliers and co-workers.
• Never be complacent.
• Be patient.
• Keep it simple.
• Exceed your customers expectations (shared with Sam Walton).
• Do not ask anyone to do anything you would not do yourself.
The mechanics of what we do can be attributed to Michelle. Whenever my suggestions for creating a company leaned too much on my past experiences, she would say, “Find another way.” It seemed like everyday I would be told to “find another way.” So much of my previous experience building a company from the ground up got put on a shelf. I found another way. The Buhbli Way.
How are you able to keep your prices so low? So often organic products are prohibitively expensive.
The reality is that organic products cost more for the farmers to produce. Sustainable agriculture has higher input cost, certification expenses, increased administration for traceability and potentially smaller yields. We usually pay close to twice the price for organic oils versus those conventionally grown. And these prices can fluctuate dramatically from crop to crop, season to season. Our challenge was to create a system that allowed us to pay more for organic raw materials and remain competitive with non-organic products.
First and foremost, we have no fixed overheads. No buildings or equipment. No employees or leases or VP’s or sales brokers. All direct contact with our customers and raw material suppliers is handled by Michelle and I. We have surrounded ourselves with an amazing team of raw material suppliers, contract packaging companies, third party logistics providers, business planners, and finance and administrative support. This allows us to focus on getting the absolute best organic products at the best price to our customers while providing an excellent level of service.
Well over 95% of our products are purchased directly from the growers/distillers. Eliminating middlemen not only saves money but it allows us to form friendships with likeminded individuals who share our passion for product excellence and sustainability.
We focus on providing only the top-selling items to our customers. We avoid the more obscure, exotic and expensive oils. This strategy is much easier to manage and allows us to improve our inventory turnover and reduce carrying costs while still shipping all orders on time and in full.
Our customer base is now over 8,500 retail stores and this provides significant buying power which translates into better prices, improved service from our suppliers and extended terms of payment. We also benefit from the ongoing production efficiencies realized with larger orders.
What made you want to sell your products at Walmart?
We chose Walmart in Canada to launch Buhbli Organics essential oils and skin oils because they were judged the best retailer in Canada to achieve our objective of making organic products affordable and accessible to the masses. I have also spent over 20 years doing business with Walmart in the USA, Canada, England, Germany and China. During this time I visited 100’s of stores and met 1,000’s of employees.
At the farmers market, our organic lavender sold for $20 which was a very fair and competitive price for organic lavender. Today, it sells at Walmart for $10. We have used large volume purchasing savings and turned it into a significant cost reduction. Those savings were passed directly to consumers.
If you ask most consumer-packaged goods companies who the best retailer in Canada is to do business with, the answer is most often Walmart.
Companies are continuously adding new products, but your philosophy encourages the opposite. Is it possible to grow a healthy company without growing your product line?
Generally speaking, most manufacturing companies measure success based on top and bottom line growth. Entire marketing departments are dedicated to maintain the sales of current items as they come up with a new fragrance, color, flavor, widget or celebrity endorsement that fuel growth. Out with the old, in with the new. This ‘consumption is king’ model is not healthy and is definitely not sustainable.
Buhbli’s growth comes primarily from expanded distribution, not from endlessly adding new products. In March of this year, we expanded our distribution with Walmart Canada from 200 to 400 stores and our SKU count increased from 16 to 26. In May, we began shipping 10 private label organic essential oils under the Radiance brand to 8,000+ CVS stores. 2020 will see the SKU count at CVS grow to 16+ items. We are also considering expansion of our distribution to another likeminded retailer in 2020. But we will be very careful in assessing growth opportunities. All future plans must be sustainable and must consider the finite nature of the raw materials we purchase. We will not compromise on quality or ethics to grow our top or bottom line. We believe that makes Buhbli a healthy company.
It’s easy to feel that the problems the planet is facing today are far beyond making cleaning solutions from essential oils and vinegar instead of buying chemical-based ones at the store. Can these sorts of small changes really make a difference? How?
In an ideal world, sure they can be a small part of the solution. All you need is enough people making small change in their consumption and lifestyle choices. When I see the Greta Thunberg effect, I am even more hopeful. However, we do not live in an ideal world. We need the government to protect us from ourselves.
Humans essentially have difficulty making changes that require increased effort. They need incentives and because we can pretend we live in an ideal world for the moment, we can rewrite some rules. The new household cleaning rule is that all products sold require a complete list of all the chemical ingredients. If any of the ingredients are known carcinogens or linked to other health related issues, they must be shouted out on the front panel for all to see.
I do believe most humans can be encouraged to make better choices if monetary penalties and rewards are in place. Electric vehicle purchase incentives and charging deposits of $1.00 on all plastic beverage containers are obvious examples of altering consumer behavior.
If you want people to eat healthier food, remove the incentives to grow GMO corn, sugar beets, soya and grains. These incentives keep the ingredients of most processed junk foods and animal feed artificially low. If you remove those incentives prices for junk food and meat increases. Prices go up, demand comes down. Take the incentive money that was going towards BIG AGRA and redirect it to smaller sustainable farms that can provide healthier alternatives.
Use the same imaginary scenarios with the elimination of single use plastics, disposable coffee cups, plastic and paper shopping bags, etc. These are the real easy ones to solve today and yet our governments seem to be lacking the courage. We need the leaders of the world to actually listen to their constituents and act as if the planet depends on their responsible actions regarding sustainability. We need them to become part of the solution with life-sustaining legislation.
Who do you think your typical customer is? What do they value?
I think we cast a big net. The bigger question is why are they buying our essential oils and on this, we are limited to speculation based on our industry knowledge.
- The EO market has been built by multi-level marketing companies like Doterra and Young Living. Their efforts have resulted in a massive increase in the awareness of the benefits of essential oils. Unfortunately the MLM model results in prohibitively high prices on essential oils. You now have a large number of reasonably well-informed consumers who are open to lower-priced alternative essential oils.
- Most of us who have been diagnosed with a disease like cancer or know someone very close who has been diagnosed, has done some research only to find that consumer products, household cleaning products, food additives and more may have contributed to the illness. This epiphany can lead to lifestyle changes that eschew man-made chemicals and processed foods, and embrace a more holistic lifestyle.
What sets Buhbli apart from other brands on the market?
Buhbli is the only brand to offer USDA Organic, Made Safe-certified and PETA-approved as well as each batch being Independent 3rd Party Lab Tested with traceability of each bottle. All of our essential oils are line-priced for mass market consumption at $10.
No other brand even attempts to match this level of consumer value. Buhbli’s investment in highly-visible, consumer-trusted seals helps assure consumers they can trust what’s in the bottle.