WINTHROP — When Kristin Mutchler opened her shop last year on Main Street in Winthrop, she was bucking a national trend.

In the months since the COVID-19 pandemic had been declared in 2020, millions of people had turned to online shopping for items they sought to avoid in-person contact.

As founder of Pickle’s Potions & Lotions, Mutchler, who was already selling her natural skin care products through her website and an Etsy store, decided to convert space she was renting on Main Street into a retail space.

Jennifer Lindquist, left, chats with company founder Kristin Mutchler while shopping for holiday gifts Thursday at Pickle’s Potions & Lotions in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“This was never intended to be a shop,” Mutchler, 42, said while standing in mid-December among displays of her balms, serums, rubs and oils.

Outside, the roads around Winthrop were messy with a mix of sleet and snow. But inside the cozy space at 130 Main St., products were being labeled and orders were being prepared for pre-holiday shipping at a steady pace.

Mutchler needed the space after online demand for her products went through the roof, but her husband suggested using the former retail space as a shop.

She hesitated, because having a store was an additional commitment for her growing business. She had sought out the Main Street space because the location she was using in Wayne had become unavailable.

“We tried it,” she said, “and it’s been really successful.”

Now that that hurdle has been passed, Pickle’s Potions is opening a lab in a portion the former Foshay-Carlton building up the street, expanding her business that also includes a small farm in Wayne, where she grows some of the ingredients used in her products.

But in the retail rush before Christmas, Mutchler did not have time to move into the space.

“It’s hard sometimes to remember that this all came out of me,” she said. “It’s like when your child succeeds, and you’re like: ‘Oh, my gosh! Where did you come from?’ It feels like that.”

Even with the awards and recognition she has earned, including having her Hoof Healer foot balm featured on recommended product lists by digital media company Buzzfeed and a record of strong sales, Mutchler said she never envisioned herself becoming an entrepreneur and business owner.

About a decade ago, the confessed skin care junkie began making salves and balms for friends and family. When her daughter was born with a case of eczema, Mutchler began searching for alternatives to the steroid creams her doctor had prescribed.

“I went hardcore into learning all about herbalism and oils,” she said, “and started reading scientific papers about what works on eczema and natural products.”

About that time, clean beauty — skin care and cosmetic products made with ingredients that generally are derived naturally — was not yet a mainstream thing. But as Mutchler, a mother of two, looked around for good products that worked, she could not find much that was not some combination of shea butter and beeswax.

Founder Kristin Mutchler last Thursday at Pickle’s Potions & Lotions in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

She pursued education through a series of online classes for botany and herbalism, and earned an advanced certification in organic cosmetic science. Now, she is part of a global natural skin care product market that was estimated by Grandview Research to be worth $10.8 billion in 2019 and expected to grow over the next decade.

“So after that,” Mutchler said, “I am able to formulate things that are high performance but still natural.”

Mutchler, who had studied nursing and was then a teacher at Winthrop Grade School, dipped her toe into the retail pool when a friend suggested she sell her products at the Wayne Holiday Stroll, an annual event showcasing local businesses, crafters and artists.

At the time, Mutchler did not have a brand or logo, but her husband, Gary Hunt, designed something. She sold everything she had made and found people liked the idea of natural products.

“After that, I just kept pursuing it, because it was like the little seed of the business,” she said. “I was just incredibly passionate about it.”

From that point, Mutchler began expanding her product line, which she sold through a shop on Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade and vintage items and through her own website. Hunt pitched in, staffing booths at craft shows and makers markets across the region.

But by 2019, it was clear she could no longer split her time between teaching and her business. She was spending her time after school making, packaging and shipping her products. She figured she could always go back to teaching if the business did not work out, but if she lost the momentum in her business, she would never be able to get it back.

It was a big step. Mutchler’s salary was the primary source of income for her family. Hunt, who is English and is not able to work in this country, is a stay-at-home father.

In June 2019, at the end of the school year, Mutchler left the known world of her job and ventured into the unknown world of working for herself full time.

“I was like: ‘Oh, my God. Nobody better break any bones!” she said, laughing. “Please don’t hurt yourself!”

WINTHROP, ME – DECEMBER 16: This Thursday December 16, 2021 shows the displays at PickleÕs Potions and Lotions in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

At her core, Mutchler is a problem solver. Just like the original Eczema Elixer, most of her products have been developed at the request of someone looking for a solution.

That is when Mutchler goes into her research mode, seeking out science articles on natural ingredients and putting together and refining formulations. When done, she turns to her willing volunteers, who try the products and provide feedback. Mutchler then tweaks the products, if needed.

This part of the process can take a while. When she was developing her willow bark pain salve, she conferred with a homeopathic doctor for six months, talking about recipes, formulations and what ought to be in the salve.

She chooses ingredients that do not have high reactivity, because she wants her products to be safe enough that someone with sensitive skin could use them without fear.

“It’s like a secret mystery thing I’m uncovering when I created this awesome moisturizer that people rave about,” Mutchler said.

And when that happens, all time spent in intensive research and perfecting the product just falls away.

If the research and development is her joy, the business side of her business is not.

“That’s the hard stuff,” she said. “The taxes and the business things, that’s not so fun.”

The exterior of Pickle’s Potions & Lotions in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The notion that she has employees still surprises Mutchler. On that December day, Andi Webb stood at the rear of the store’s back counter, applying labels to containers in an easy rhythm, while Heidi Benavides stood at the front counter working her way through other labeling tasks and helping customers as they popped in to pick up a few things.

Mutchler said her goal was to have one employee by 2021. Instead, she had three.

Benavides has been a customer for a long time, and began working for Pickle’s Potions in June.

“I love everything about the job,” she said.

Webb, an herbalist who has had her own small business as a holistic wellness counselor for five years, said she has been enjoying being a part of small business and watching it grow. Among her duties are managing social media and business management.

“We have so much just amazing stuff coming,” Webb said, adding “2022 is going to be amazing.”

Mutchler said product development continues and she plans to debut some CBD products during the year and a chest and neck cream and a line of products targeted to very sensitive skin with no fragrances added.

What will not be among them is actual pickles.

“I do get people coming in here looking for pickles,” she said.

The name comes from her childhood nickname, Pickle. Because Mutchler had started making products for her family, they always referred to them as Pickle’s body butter.

“Because it grew so organically — there never was any business plan or branding thing — the name just kind of stuck,” she said. “And now I feel like it’s too late to change it.”


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