Ice Chips founders Beverly Vines Haines, Charlotte Clary,
in front of painting of Xylitol’s source, birch trees.
Photo: Yelm Community Blog
– Editor’s Note:
I was moved last Autumn by Ice Chips Candy® co-owner Beverly Vines-Haines invitation in a Letter to the Editor of the Nisqually Valley News, “Anyone want a tour of the new factory? Just give us a call.” Many in Yelm were surprised when founders Beverly Vines-Haines and Charlotte Clary moved their manufacturing facility from Yelm to Tumwater. I decided to take the tour myself, so after the holidays I did my due-diligence by watching their Shark Tank episode on ABC-TV and reading their delightful story in the book “Two Grannies in a Garage – How Hard-Headed Perseverance Trumped Scrapbooking.” I took the tour and was so impressed, my wife & I were granted a follow-up “on-the-record” visit to share with readers of the Yelm Community Blog.
The following is my report from the questions I asked:
– How did Beverly and Charlotte meet?
Following their employment at Southwest Airlines in Dallas, Bev wanted a different place to raise their family and had previously worked for Weyerhaeuser, was familiar with the Pacific Northwest, so she and her husband Larry moved to Yelm in 1986. Once here, she met Charlotte Clary and they made their acquaintance as two moms driving their children to church and school. The four of them (including Charlotte’s husband Bob, an area contractor, who tiled our home 12 years ago) became fast friends, where the ladies’ entrepreneurial passions found them sharing numerous ‘money making’ ideas and projects.
Bottom line, they also had an ulterior motive – to be able to make enough money for their husbands to retire, especially Bob from his physically-demanding contractor work.
Bev and Charlotte were discussing a friend’s severe toenail fungus, an Air Force pilot who had served three tours of duty in Vietnam and often had to wear heavy boots for days at a time. They have researched home remedies and studied herbal properties. Charlotte said, “You know we know how to fix that.” Bev agreed. So they formulated an anti-fungal salve, bought the ingredients and cooked-up their invention on Charlotte’s stove. They mailed it off to their friend, who responded that this topical treatment worked! Following that, their business ventures began when they founded a small skin-care company here in 2003: Healing Leaf, LLC.
That toenail fungus salve became the flagship product of their line. Next to be produced was Eye of Newt (their number one product even today) and several other products for difficult skin conditions.
– How do your skill sets dovetail?
Beverly Vines-Haines has developed writing skills as a journalist working previously for several newspapers. With her experience at Weyerhaeuser and a brief period as a Southwest Airlines reservations agent, she is an excellent communicator with an eye on people and customer service. Husband Larry is now employed on-site and was our tour-guide, explaining how he and Bev learned by example at Southwest – if you take care of your employees, they will take care of the customers. Treating employees and customers with respect is the hallmark at Ice Chips Candy®.
Charlotte Clary has the brawn of sales experience, beginning in business picking and selling green beans in her neighborhood from her family garden. In raising her children in the 1970s, she was attracted to learn about natural food. She also created a line of clothes for consignment and boutique shops and started a home delivery whole wheat bakery goods business with a neighbor, finally going more traditional becoming a Tupperware Manager. Charlotte is always looking for new opportunities. Her husband Bob was also able to retire and devote his energy to Ice Chips, too.
Both ladies and their husbands are exceptionally warm, welcoming and personable.
– How did Ice Chips Candy® evolve onto the scene?
Doing research on natural remedies, they became familiar with Xylitol, a natural ingredient which comes from the wood of birch trees and is healthy, safe for diabetics, and does not promote tooth decay [many dentists distribute Ice Chips Candy® samples to their patients]. Ice Chips Candy® promotes in their marketing, “Xylitol is a low Glycemic Index sweetener.” Eight years ago, they formulated a batch in Charlotte’s kitchen with all natural flavorings and manufactured with a specific flavor for each batch. When they broke-up the candy sheets into small chips, they said these little pieces looked like ice chips, hence the name they chose. In less than a month, they realized they had stumbled upon a million dollar idea. While they had several initial challenges, they developed a snazzy package, catchy name and qualities that attracted interest from investors, sales personnel, manufacturers, retail giants and ABC TV’s Shark Tank.
As I shared with them, differentiating your product always garners marketing power – that what makes their candy unique!
Bev and Charlotte acknowledged theirs was a “fortuitous combination of timing, preparedness, perseverance, and hard won know-how to make this work in the face of competition, opposition and a negative economy,” overcoming the potentially perceived downside of their seasoned ages with humor, as their motto “Grannie Approved” reflects. The wisdom from years of experience, raising families, and developing patience and practicality has served them exceeding well.
While they had a wonderful experience and accepted a deal with ABC-TV’s Shark Tank investors Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran, the Grannies eventually pulled-out, deciding to use their own resources without divesting any of their company ownership and control of decisions. They got a nice marketing boost and met some grand people with whom they have stayed in contact.
Beverly’s husband Larry proudly served as our tour-guide,
demonstrating the berry flavored racks of candy sheets curing
Photo: Yelm Community Blog
– What is their current volume?
Larry said they produced 112,000 tins in March, then 131,000 in April, which equated to 1,300 more tins in April over March and new by-the-pallet orders have driven this exponential growth. They currently produce Ice Chips in 21 current flavors in tins and new ones are constantly being explored. They use large stainless steel steam kettles to mix and cook their ingredients, allowing their product to cure overnight. Once the candy cures into a hard sheet, the racks of trays are wheeled into the production room where the candy is broken into small chips, the chips go through a sifter, then a metal detector, before being packaged and sealed in the individual tins, boxed and made ready for shipment. Given their needs for an uninterrupted manufacturing process, they employ a maintenance person on-site to insure smooth flow of machine operations, many they designed and/or fabricated themselves, yet due to volume, have had to buy larger equipment to be able to produce more volume.
Ice Chips Candy® is required to undergo and FDA inspection, and their recent score was a 98, an exceptionally high number, which reflects the high caliber and quality of this operation, noted in every aspect of our tour. The next milestone is they are soon to be Kosher certified, opening up an entirely new segment of customers, especially in New York, L. A., Miami, and overseas.
– How many do you employ in your Tumwater manufacturing facility?
They currently have around 30 employees, most were retained from their Yelm location, as they love working there even with a longer drive. Like Southwest Airlines, they operate as a family. Larry introduced us to several employees who all were enthusiastic to share their appreciation for these owners and their jobs. That sincerity is wonderful to witness. Most all of the staff live in the Yelm area and said they drive about 20 miles or less to get to work and enjoy the rural roads without traffic, the scenery, the quiet contemplation time, and the fabulous facility in Tumwater. There was just no building in Yelm with large, open warehouse space and accompanying offices to accommodate the needs associated with their massive growth.
– What’s next on the horizon from your creative talents?
* Ice Chips Candy® is now available in smaller sizes via resealable pouches.
* Healing Leaf LLC was our initial business in Yelm, however with the legalization of marijuana, people are mistaking this for a “pot shop,” so that company’s successor name will be Naked Newts, from Shakespeare’s “eye of newt.” This division of the company will remain in Yelm.
* Innovation and diversification into other areas are coming including the “energice” products, also made with Xylitol.
– In closing, what would you like Yelm Community Blog readers to know?
In unison, they said, “We love Yelm!”
Bev said, “The new restaurants and interest here attracting visitors that come from all over. Our roots, our homes and our hearts are firmly settled in Yelm. Now, I am proud to take visitors to dinner here to showcase our new restaurants by owners that are investing here.”
Charlotte stated, “This is our home, this is our foundation – we love coming home out in the “country” of Yelm. This is where we rejuvenate, relax and immerse ourselves in the beauty of this area.”
The staff and owners of Ice Chips Candy® love participating in Yelm Prairie Days Parade and other community events. This is their home and their first customers are here, so they will be a part of the fabric of our community well into the future.
As I looked across the street from their gleaming, stylish offices towards Olympia Regional Airport, I couldn’t help but think and remark that someday I will be there photographing Bev and Charlotte with Larry & Bob boarding a big silver bird to wherever their dreams may take them, for with their focus and determination, the world IS their oyster!
Ice Chips Candy® manufacturing facility history wall
Photo: Yelm Community Blog
Ice Chips Candy LLC
818A 79th Ave SE
Olympia, WA 98501
360-232-1106 or Toll Free 866-202-6623