Local Business

A Natural Approach

Healing Bliss Botanicals offers a healthy alternative with their herbal body, bath and pet products

“I have very loyal clients, <a href=

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whose product line includes 100 per cent natural Rescue Salve, try
lotions, oils, lip balm, baby and pet care and more. “Once people start using my products they don’t usually stop.” Photo by Boomer Jerritt” src=”https://www.infocusmagazine.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/dana-hook-602×903.jpg” width=”602″ height=”903″ /> “I have very loyal clients,” says Dana Hook, whose product line includes 100 per cent natural Rescue Salve, lotions, oils, lip balm, baby and pet care and more. “Once people start using my products they don’t usually stop.” Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Dana Hook likes to use the not-yet-in-the-dictionary word “co-opetition” to describe her business strategy. There’s no doubt she gets top points for being competitive: as the founder and proprietor of Healing Bliss Botanicals, Hook has taken her business from a kitchen-sink hobby to a Comox Valley success story to a specialty brand that is poised to move into major outlets across Canada.

Much of this success is based on co-operation. When Hook tells the story of her business, she invokes a broad cast of characters including a Golden Retriever called Jacksun, bee-keepers, lavender-growers and other farmers from the Valley, local retail outlets, her children, the BC small-business training program Community Futures, her fellow vendors at the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market, and pretty much everyone who attended MusicFest in 2006.

“The whole idea is to be a community-based business,” says Hook, whose glowing skin and clear eyes could be taken as compelling proof of her products’ effectiveness.
The mission of Healing Bliss Botanicals is to “heal the world—one body at a time.” The company produces herbal body, bath and pet products made from natural ingredients, most of them locally-grown or wild-crafted. The ever-growing product line includes 100 per cent natural Rescue Salve, Sore Muscle Rub, Organic Face Lotion, bath and massage oil, lip balm, baby products, pet products and yoga mat sprays.

Hook says there’s a burgeoning interest throughout North America in herbal-based, chemical-free skin products. People like how they smell and feel, but even more importantly, they value their purity.

“There’s a basic axiom that you shouldn’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t put in your mouth,” explains Hook. “Our skin is our largest organ. In fact, we absorb things faster through our skin than through our mouth. Whatever we put on our skin is absorbed into our bodies in 22 seconds. Digestion includes a sophisticated process of filtration, whereas what we put on our skin goes straight to our bloodstream.” Pharmaceutical medicine makes use of this with products such as subdermal hormone therapy and patches for quitting smoking.

Mainstream skin and body care products often include a range of chemical additives to create the right texture, color and scent, and to act as preservatives. These all absorb into the bloodstream, potentially causing side-effects and generally adding to the toxic load of the body.

“A typical North American is exposed to 18,000 different chemicals every week,” says Hook, 41. “There are chemicals in our air, in our food and water, in our clothes and our couch—all around us. Our body is designed to deal with toxins, but not at the level we are exposed to.” As well, chemical ingredients can cause adverse reactions, sometimes very serious.

“People use steroid creams for inflammatory issues on their skin, and they might work for those symptoms, but the steroids wreak havoc on other levels of the body,” Hook says. She points out that the statistics on how many people die annually from pharmaceuticals, even used properly, are shocking. Of course, there are many times when pharmaceutical treatments are appropriate, but she wants to be sure there are more natural alternatives available.

It was the desire for a natural, zinc-free alternative for her daughter’s diaper rash that motivated her to start making body products. She couldn’t find what she was looking for, so she decided to make it.

This was a new project for Hook, but it was one that was well-qualified to carry out. She had a passionate interest in natural healing dating back more than 15 years and including extensive education and work experience.

The story of Hook’s pathway to becoming the successful operator of Healing Bliss Botanicals offers a lively and eventful narrative that could be organized under colorful chapter headings, such as Two Years on a Broken Ankle, What My Dog Taught Me, A Yard Full of Comfrey, The Alchemist Goes to Business School, Cute Boys in the Mist, and more—each chapter describing a key moment that propelled her forward.

“I started my journey with herbs and healing through an accident I had,” says Hook, who broke her ankle in 1995. “I received very poor care. I basically got completely overlooked. I had a broken ankle that was not correctly diagnosed—I spent two years walking on it.” Those two years, and the aftermath of damaged alignment, propelled her to learn how to support her own healing. She became a Level I and II certified Reiki practitioner, and studied aromatherapy, Ayurveda, Bach Flower therapy and other healing modalities.

Eventually Hook decided to focus on herbal healing and completed a three-year certification program offered by Langara College in 2001. She graduated as a Certified Herbal Practitioner and Consultant. Her next move took her to Portland (following a love interest—now her husband) where she worked in a health food store as the manager of the health department, which gave her valuable experience in retail marketing and taught her about the supplement business.

Enter Jacksun, her husband’s Golden Retriever. This itchy, runty, flea-bitten, cataract-ridden and big-hearted dog presented quite a health-care challenge. When Hook took this challenge on, she took the next step in her own evolution as a natural product developer.

“I guinea-pigged Jacksun,” explains Hook. This involved a process of experimentation with various products and formulas. The result was something Hook called Jacksun’s Skin Oil.
“Poor Jacksun would chew himself raw—he was chewing at himself all the time. When I first rubbed the skin oil all over him, he let out a great big sigh and fell asleep for four solid hours. He never had to use steroids again,” says Hook.

Fast-forward a few years and Hook was back in BC, in the Comox Valley, wanting a chemical-free herbal salve for her baby. She found she was able to work from the Jacksun’s Oil formula to develop an product for human use. The resulting cream gradually evolved to become Healing Bliss Rescue Salve, Hook’s most popular product.

“It took six years of playing around to get just the right blend of herbs and just the right consistency,” explains Hook. “It’s become our biggest-selling product. It is designed to heal all seven levels of skin, using comfrey, chickweed, plantain, lavender, calendula and neem leaf, in a base of beeswax and grapeseed oil.”

For a number of years Hook worked as a server at the Atlas Cafe, and in her spare time made salves and creams for her family and friends (and their pets). After the birth of their second child, Hook’s husband made a suggestion that in retrospect seems like a no-brainer—he suggested she attend the Community Futures small-business training program to launch a line of natural body care.

Hook was hesitant at first. “I thought, ‘No, I’m the alchemist, mixing, making, creating,’” she says, making a stirring motion with her hands. “I love that side of it.”

But she also loves getting the results of these alchemical processes out in the world, and with this goal in mind she successfully applied for and completed the program, which she says gave her an excellent foundation of business skills. She got started by placing her products at Edible Island and Wagz natural pet product store, both of which she credits with getting Healing Bliss off to a great start.

The next key moment for Hook came one hot summer in 2006, when she set up as a vendor as Comox Valley MusicFest. “That first MusicFest was the launching point for my business. People still talk about it. It was so hot. I actually had my husband and his good-looking friend outside my booth misting people. They had their shirts off and were going up to people and asking, ‘Do you want a cooling tranquility mist?’ Everyone seemed to be buying, and whatever they were spraying we were selling. People still come up to and ask, ‘Who was that cute boy misting me at MusicFest?’”

 Hook’s most popular product is Healing Bliss Rescue Salve.   “It took six years of playing around to get just the right blend of herbs and just the right consistency,” says Hook. “It is designed to heal all seven levels of skin.”  Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Hook’s most popular product is Healing Bliss Rescue Salve. “It took six years of playing around to get just the right blend of herbs and just the right consistency,” says Hook. “It is designed to heal all seven levels of skin.” Photo by Boomer Jerritt

In the way that one good thing leads to another, a couple of fellow vendors from MusicFest suggested to Hook that she set up at the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market. This year marks her eighth season as a Farmers’ Market stalwart and she is full of enthusiasm for the many ways this venue has boosted her business.

“I’d say the number one thing I appreciate is how much my business has grown because of the market. Part of this is that I’m there to represent myself. It’s been so great to become a solid member of that community,” she says. Another benefit is certainly the impact on sales.

“Every year my sales and customer base at the Market increases 50 to 100 per cent. And another fantastic thing about the Market is that I get a lot of what seems like random website orders from all over the place—the Yukon, Finland, Germany, places where I don’t know anyone. When I ask how they found me, often it’s because they visited Courtenay and discovered me at the Market.

“Also the Farmers’ Market has connected me to so many local producers. I now have enough local contacts that I don’t have to buy my ingredients from anywhere else, except for lemon grass and neem oil, which don’t grow here. I get my calendula from Freedom Farms, my beeswax from Big D’s Bees, and my lavender from Eat More Sprouts.”

Sourcing products locally helps Hook ensure that her ingredients are fresh and pure. It also keeps her carbon footprint low and connects her business to a network of local community relationships, which fits with her core values. She also grows and wild-crafts many of her materials. She chose her South Courtenay house, she says, partly because it had a yard full of comfrey, and she makes trips to various spots around the Valley to harvest plantain, chickweed and nettles.

The steady growth of the business means constant change for Hook. At one point it became clear that making products in her kitchen was no longer sustainable, so she renovated her garage and partnered with a local soap maker to share premises. She’s now looking into renting space at a professional facility with a Good Manufacturing Practice certification. This spring, for the first time, she’s hired two staff members to help with production and Farmers’ Market sales.

Earlier this year she engaged a distributor who has helped get her products into outlets further afield such as John’s Independent Grocer in Saskatchewan. This meant changing all her labels so that they include French. She is also planning for an upcoming meeting in Vancouver with a representative from the grocery chain Whole Foods. If this goes well, it would give her a giant step forward. As with every step forward, this one won’t happen without hard work.

“I’m busy checking through Whole Foods’ list of organic standards to make sure my products comply. Also, to sell my natural sunblock, I need a Natural Product Number from Health Canada, which means I have to get all the testing done. This is going to cost $20,000 to $40,000—but I learned from the folks at Tree Island Yogurt that they received a micro-loan from Whole Foods to help them with this kind of thing. Once we get this number we can go all across Canada.”

Along with all this, Hook still manages to find time for product development. “I’m coming out with a dog shampoo and a head-to-toe baby wash. My sunblock is my next product. My goals were that it won’t turn your skin white, it won’t be sticky, and of course it will protect you from the sun. There’s a 15 SPF, a 30 and a 45. And my deodorant just came out in April and has had really great reviews on Facebook.

“I have very loyal clients,” Hook adds. “Once people start using my products they don’t usually stop.”

It doesn’t sound like Hook is going to be stopping either. Clearly, co-opetition is working well for her.

Healing Bliss Botanicals can be found at the Comox Valley Farmer’s Market Saturday mornings at the Fairgrounds, and Wednesdays this summer in Downtown Courtenay. For more information visit www.healingblissbotanicals.com