Woodstock couples determination sustains business
By Christian Avard
Staff Writer | May 06,2013
Photo by Len Emery
Kirsten Connor of Flourish in West Woodstock explains the ingredients that make her products unique at her new manufacturing facility. Flourish was completely destroyed during Tropical Storm Irene and is just now back in full production after losing most of its customer base after the flood of 2011.
WOODSTOCK — Determination was what drove Kirsten Connor and Darren McCullough of Woodstock to open a start-up business. That same determination was what sustained them after their business took a major blow from Tropical Storm Irene two years ago.
In January 2010, Connor and McCullough opened Flourish Natural Body Care, a retail company selling all-natural Vermont-made soaps, shampoos, conditioners and various health and beauty aid products. Business was growing as co-ops across Vermont began carrying their products and the mail-order portion of their sales also began to thrive, all from their home on East Woodstock Road.
Business slowed down as the economic recession hit Woodstock. Tourism was slow and visitors were spending less.
So the couple tightened their money belts and were prepared to ride out the economic downturn. Then came Irene.
Connor was in the garden on the morning of Aug. 28, 2011, when the Ottauquechee River rose over the riverbanks and flooded their yard. Connor and McCullough’s home and business is 250 yards from the Ottauquechee River.
“It started to back up and the water was flowing backwards toward our house,” Connor said. “Suddenly we saw propane tanks and kayaks and barbecue grills floating down the river. We said, ‘Wow, this is really getting dangerous.’”
In a matter of hours, the flooding waters reached their newly refurbished home and business. Connor and McCullough and their five children rushed to save any precious items they could find and then it got worse.
According to Connor, their home and business was under 5 and a half feet of water for 10 hours. When the water was gone, they had lost personal belongings, filling equipment, jars, bottles, labels and up to 400 pounds of soap.
“Everything we had was a complete loss,” Connor said.
Connor and McCullough had a $50,000 home equity loan and flood insurance, but it still didn’t cover the costs of rebuilding. Extended family members pitched in with labor and Connor and McCullough were approved for a Vermont Economic Development Authority loan.
Months later, Connor and McCullough’s family moved back into their home, but their business was relocated to a former Bible book bindery building on West Woodstock Road. They reopened in January 2012 when their business was dealt another blow.
“All of our accounts knew we were back up and running, but more than half of them said, ‘We don’t have any shelf space for you.’ That was devastating,” Connor said.
Connor and McCullough handled the tough times until business took a turn for the better last fall.
They regained most of their accounts that were lost after Tropical Storm Irene and they added 25 new accounts since January. Fifty-four more accounts are still pending, she added.
Flourish Natural Body Care products are now in almost every co-op in New England and in Whole Food locations. Their soaps, shampoos and conditioners can be found in eight different states, including Alaska, and one of their loyal customers, the Brattleboro Food Co-op, named them producers of the month, a recognition generally reserved for local farms and food products.
“It’s really amazing they were able to fight back (from Irene,),” Casey Nelson, assistant wellness manager at the Brattleboro Co-op, said. “We have a community that wants to support local producers. Our customers have connected with them and they’re wonderful people.”
To learn more, visit www.flourishbodycare.com.