MT Pioneer Interview with GroVia founder
Kim Ormsby of Bozeman transformed a desire to take better care of her babies' backsides into a multi-million dollar business, one that has made her Montana's 2010 Small Business Person of the Year.
The award, given by the U.S. government's Small Business Administration, had Ormsby in Washington, D.C., the last week of May being honored for her unique brand of GroVia diapers and other baby care products. She calls her business The Natural Baby Company, selling her products from a Bozeman storefront and via the Internet—and business is booming.
“The award was certainly a surprise…” Ormsby told the Pioneer the day after she returned from her D.C. trip, “…nothing we had planned on. It's very nice to be recognized for our work, and we're thrilled.”
Ormsby's success is one of those stories that small business dreams are made of. But her path has had some unexpected twists along the way. Ormsby graduated from college in Jamestown, North Dakota, with a bachelors degree in biology. She was living in Denver, Colorado, with her name on a waiting list for attendance at Colorado State University's veterinarian school, when she had her first baby in 2000. She instead took a job with the telecommunications company Qwest, headquartered in Denver, and moved to Bozeman in 2001 to work for Qwest here. But when the telecommunications bubble burst that same year, tech stocks tumbled, and so did Ormsby's job with Qwest. She found herself unemployed, but still keeping busy as a mother, and diapers had already made their entrance into Ormsby's life.
“My kids were definitely an inspiration for GroVia diapers,” Ormsby explained. Months before her job ended with Qwest, Ormsby had started to use cloth diapers for her daughter: the youngster has eczema, which causes her skin to become inflamed or irritated. Ormsby found that her daughter's eczema was exacerbated by the chemicals found in disposable diapers, and in the way the disposables tended to hold in liquid rather than absorb it. After having her second baby in 2003, Ormsby started selling her favorite brands of cloth diapers online, and soon found that her venture was viable.
“We started [the business] in the laundry room,“ Ormsby joked. Soon the business expanded beyond the website, the laundry room, and the closet in her home she used to keep stock on hand. Ormsby moved to a storage unit, then on to warehouses that continued to get bigger every year.
By the time a third baby joined the Ormsby household, Ormsby had tried every type of cloth diaper on the market, and decided it was time to design her own brand. She hired a Bozeman seamstress, and the two women started producing their own diapers in 2006, adding them to Ormsby's website. The Natural Baby Company was on its way. Ormsby's husband Duane became her first employee, producing organic diaper balm-on-a-stick (to keep parents' hands clean when balming their babies' butts) known as Magic Sticks. Duane began production in his kitchen after their children were in bed, and still assembles as many as 1,000 Magic Sticks a month to keep up with demand.
Ormsby said, “we decided we were going to go big” in 2008, by introducing a new line of diapers as well.
“We assembled a great team to launch GroBaby (now GroVia) diapers,” she said. “We've gone from 4 employees in 2008, to 13 in 2009, and we plan to add five more employees this year.”
Ormsby worked with a Bozeman seamstress and a local clothing designer who had worked for Patagonia to come up with the new diaper design, one that incorporates a waterproof outer shell and an organic cotton liner that simply snaps into the shell. When the diaper is soiled, the liner is taken out and replaced in the same outer shell. A disposable liner unique to the GroVia line, which does not contain any chlorine, plastics, fragrances or dyes, and biodegrades in about 90 days, is also available for the GroVia diaper system.
“Sales have gone from $600,000 in 2004…to $1.7 million last year,” said Ormsby. “We're on target for $3.7 million this year. I can't say enough about our team…locally we have an amazing staff…it made all the difference for our company. ” That kind of success led to Ormsby's recognition from the SBA.
“Washington was pretty great,” said Ormsby. “After two and a half days of functions…from luncheons to awards ceremonies…I learned a lot about the SBA and what they're doing for small businesses right now. I think learning that small businesses all go through growing pains was important. Small business is the lifeline of the American economy today…we must take care of them.” And Ormsby's small business is helping her and Duane take care of their ever-increasing family—they now have four children.
Ormsby told the Pioneer that GroVia's success has also resulted in the company moving manufacturing operations overseas to China, where Ormsby was headed a few days after returning from Washington, D.C. She said the United States does not have textile mills large enough to handle her GroVia volume. The company buys raw organic cotton from Turkey that is woven into cloth according to Ormsby's specifications.
“China's the place for textiles,” Ormsby said. “They're good at it. Both quality control and quality workers can be had there [in China] if you want it.” Ormsby said her current China visit was, in part, in order to keep tabs on quality in GroVia's operations there, adding that the company also has an independent third party audit GroVia's Chinese manufacturing operations every six months.
“We have to be hands-on with our overseas operations,” Ormsby stressed. “We want our products made ethically…we want our products made well.”
The Natural Baby Company also features three made-in-Montana products in their line: Duane's ever-popular Magic Sticks, Tiny Bubbles baby detergent, now offered online at costco.com, and the company's high-end Kiwi-Pie diaper line, 800 or so of which are hand-sewn by a work-at-home seamstress in Winston, Montana.
“We were a mom-and-pop for years,” Ormsby said. “Now we have retail space, corporate offices next door, as well as our online store. We attribute our success to both the SBA and our great people. We want our products to be good for the earth as well as the consumer. GroVia offers a way to diaper for every family.”
The Natural Baby Company’s retail store and business offices are located at 1203 N. Rouse Ave. in Bozeman.
BY PAT HILL