From its humble beginnings in Cynthia and Arthur DeVore’s former Fauquier County kitchen, Valley Green Naturals has spread from Maine and Japan — and now into Amissville as well.
The company, which produces a line of all-natural skincare products, started almost by accident in 2010, as Cynthia DeVore said it grew out of a desire she and her husband shared to be be more self-sustaining. “We were growing our own vegetables and plants,” DeVore explains, “and eventually I started using some of the plants to make soaps.”
At the time, DeVore was working at a veterinary clinic, and brought her new creations in for her co-workers to try. “We put them up at the front for people on their way out . . . and they smelled nice, so I think that’s why people bought them,” DeVore laughs.
Her soaps proved to be so popular, in fact, that several co-workers suggested she consider selling them. DeVore took their advice and put her soaps — as well as lotions, which she had just started making — up for sale on Etsy, an online marketplace focusing on handmade items and supplies.
From Etsy, DeVore’s products were picked up by Abe’s Market, a Chicago-based company specializing in discovering and distributing all-natural products — including food, drink and skincare products. “We were all over the world very quickly,” DeVore says, as her homemade creations were being sold in Singapore and Japan.
The only problem was that Valley Green products were only available online. On the advice of an acquaintance from Florida, DeVore began the long process of registering her products to appear in Whole Foods stores.
Whole Foods divides itself into 11 different “regions” throughout the U.S. (and another region encompassing the United Kingdom). Every product on store shelves must be approved on a regional basis — and then, as DeVore discovered, also pitched to individual stores.
“Once you’re in the system, you’ve got it made,” DeVore says, “but the category reviews are just brutal,” as every product, label, ingredient list and more is subjected to a thorough approval process. “Marketing everything store-to-store is a very long and tiring process.”
DeVore laughs as she adds that all her labels were recently redesigned to reflect the “INCI (International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients — aka Latin) nomenclature” of the ingredients. “We used to just refer to them as ‘vitamin E’ and such, but not anymore.”
DeVore was approved for the Mid-Atlantic region (Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and Kentucky) in 2011; in 2012, she was approved for the North Atlantic region (Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Massachusetts).
Another thing DeVore admits she learned on-the-fly? How expensive it is to launch a product. “A lot of people might not know this, but the first batch is free to Whole Foods,” she says. All told, launching her product in the North Atlantic region cost $17,000 just to get on store shelves.
“Neither [me or my husband] really has a background in business,” DeVore admits. “But I feel like the entrepreneurial spirit is something you either have or you don’t. I wouldn’t be doing anything else.”
Currently, Valley Green Naturals’ 30 products are carried in 42 different Whole Foods stores, but DeVore admits she’s got her eyes on expanding further: She plans to expand into the Southern Pacific region (parts of California and Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii) shortly.
Those expansion now include the old post office building in Amissville, which DeVore plans to use as a production facility. Last summer, DeVore applied for a special-use permit from the county allowing her to make everything in her home; while she was eventually granted the permit, she soon found her kitchen wasn’t the ideal place.
“The house on Seven Ponds [Road] was just too small,” DeVore says. “We had two part-time employees who would work with me in the kitchen and we just started tripping over each other . . . I’d driven by the old post office quite a few times and always wondered who owned it . . . Eventually I found out who the owner was and leased it [and the space next to it, which housed an old motorcycle shop], and so far everything has been great!”
All Valley Green products also utilize as many locally sourced products as possible, DeVore says, and the company’s expansion plans include a wider selection of home-grown botanicals starting this spring — and on-site beekeeping to help meet with their products’ honey requirements.
Recently, Valley Green signed a contract with Truly Natural Marketing — the same company that made the once-humble Burt’s Bees line into an international name. “We’ve been growing at a very measured pace . . . but now we’re up against the really big boys [on store shelves].”
Though she’s no longer the only hand in the kitchen, DeVore still helps develop new products — both because she finds it entertaining, and because Valley Green is constantly developing new products. Their newest, which launches March 1, is dubbed “Twig & Berries Manscaping Balm.”
“We have some fun with the names,” DeVore laughs, noting that one of their biggest sellers is Beautiful Betty Lou’s Bikini Bump Balm. Valley Green products still consistently rank among the bestsellers on Abe’s Market.
“We’re a kitchen-grown company,” she says, proudly. “And I think people really resonate with that story.”