The company may be called Lazy Daisy Soap Co., but owner Nichole Croteau Baker is anything but. As the founder, owner, and sole employee of the Montana-based natural handmade soap company, Nichole is constantly working on and thinking about her business. “The biggest challenge with owning a business like this, and one that’s primarily out of my home, is that there’s never an end,” she says. “I do everything—I do the accounting, I do the production, I do the sales. So there’s a never-ending to-do list and I don’t clock in and clock out.”
Baker says she often works until 11pm, with just a dinner break, producing, packaging, marketing, shipping and experimenting for her company. Her long days and hard work seem to be paying off though—Nichole says the business is growing every month since she “officially” started the company last October. And by “officially” she means working on Lazy Daisy as her main focus, even though she’d been building the basics of the company for years.
Nichole grew up in rural Montana, in a household that was largely self-sustaining. “My mom…grew all of our vegetables, and my dad hunted all of our meat,” she says. “[My mom] was always pretty focused on healthful food, and so I think that was always a part of me.” Then, as a pre-teen, Nichole developed a fragrance allergy, which meant she could no longer use most commercially-made products, like shampoos and lotions. And so, her focus on organic grew to encompass both food and personal care products.
The emphasis on natural products was part of her life for awhile, but it wasn’t until her early twenties that Nichole really started researching and experimenting with homemade products. At age 22, Nichole was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “It sucked!” she says. “I can’t think of a more eloquent word. I was in college and working full time. I pretended it wasn’t happening. I didn’t really cope. Looking back now, I think that is why I recovered. It was just easier to keep pushing through than it was to be sick.” Eventually, Nichole did recover—only to be diagnosed again at age 28. This time, she had her entire thyroid removed.
Without her thyroid, Nichole was able to recover completely and has been cancer-free for over six years. The thyroid, though, is an integral part of the body’s natural balancing system and without it, Nichole says, she has no natural metabolism, that she quickly put on extra weight and feels that she is still adjusting, emotionally and physically, even years later. She’s not alone here. “I think that lots of women struggle when their body changes, whether from sickness or age. I am very lucky to have such a supportive husband who loves me regardless of size and weight, but it is still hard for me to look in the mirror and see a larger woman. It has meant changing my idea of beauty and learning to focus on health and the things that I can control.”
This idea of control extends beyond just Nichole’s focus on healthy eating and living an active lifestyle in order to counteract her changed metabolism. “I think that one of the hardest things when you get an illness is that you lose all control and there’s not that much that you can do about it. And so I became more interested in what I could control. They don’t necessarily know why one gets thyroid cancer—they suspect environment. So I started thinking more heavily about ingredients and the chemicals that I was using in my everyday life.”
And that, Nichole says, was the unofficial start of Lazy Daisy. Over the next few years, Nichole continued to experiment with natural and organic products. She taught herself how to make cleaning supplies, soaps and lotions, and began passing products out to friends and family for trials. At the time, she and her husband were living in Seattle on what she describes as an “urban farm.” They owned a farm house and a bit of land in the middle of the city which allowed Nichole to garden and grow her own vegetables and herbs, which were often used in infusions to give the soaps natural scent and color. She also had two rescue goats which provided the milk she needed for her lotions.
She was working in sales, in jobs, she says, that “paid the bills.” She could only pursue her true passions—gardening, experimenting, working with her hands—on evenings and weekends, but she wasted none of that time. “I would come home and drop my purse on the back porch and head out to my garden in my suit and my heels. That was always my love, I guess, was sort of doing what I can to be self-sustainable.”
Then, last year, the chance came to pursue her soap business further, when her husband’s job transferred them back to Montana. They packed up their goats and bought a small one-bedroom cabin that came with a huge barn which they’ve wasted no time in filling up with more goats, chickens, turkeys and a handful of dogs and cats. The cabin is so remote, though—a 40-mile trip to the nearest town, that it didn’t make financial sense for both Nichole and her husband to commute for work. “It would put a pretty big strain on the animals here,” she says. “They wouldn’t get the attention they need, my female goats have to be milked between 10 and 12 hours apart, and I spend a lot of time with them, so Lazy Daisy sort of started from almost necessity. I’d already had the recipes, I’d already been making products, so I restarted, and it’s been awesome.”
Lazy Daisy has grown into all-natural body care products company, with a wide range of products from soaps and goats-milk lotions to lip balms and bath salts. Nichole makes each and every product herself, using her own recipes that she’s perfected over the years, and all-natural ingredients. All of the scents and colors come from essential oils, herbs and other botanicals, or clay, and Nichole has spent uncountable hours researching natural preservatives in order avoid chemicals like parabens. “Once you start making a few of your products, you start to realize how unnecessary most of the chemicals are,” she says. “I hear this a lot from my customers that my products work better than a commercial product. So you start to realize that [chemicals] don’t really have a necessary place in our world. Hopefully, as consumers get more and more aware of what they’re using and putting in their bodies it will become easier to find products that are healthful. I think we’re moving in that direction.”
In addition to fun soaps like her Pink Margarita Salt and Man in the Mint, Nichole also creates custom orders and products to treat specific skin conditions. Her High Desert soap, for instance, has seen great success in treating eczema, psoriasis and rosacea, and she has turned this product into a body cream as well. She’s also teaching herself the rules of liquid soap, which she says will open up a whole other world of products like body washes and shampoos.
This expansion into new products obviously means great potential for business growth—even more than Nichole has already experienced. In the last year, her operation has outgrown her kitchen, and she’s in the process of converting her garage into a dedicated production space. But Nichole has dreams even bigger than that for Lazy Daisy, including a retail store and onsite production facility.
In addition to focusing on Lazy Daisy, Nichole also spends summer days working at an organic farm down the road, so this past year has been an exercise in balance. “This last summer has been hectic because I sold more than I anticipated, so I’ve been making product and farming. My biggest goal is just to get ahead a little bit more, so that I can have more of a work-life balance.” The retail store would help this goal, allowing Nichole to spend fewer long days at farmer’s markets selling product and more time working with customers and building inventory.
“If I were to take a day off here, Lazy Daisy would suffer quite a bit,” she says, “and it’s challenging to go like that for as long as I have. We used to travel, a lot”—Nichole studied abroad in Morocco and was married on an island in Belize—“and I miss the adventuring so much.”
As a one-woman operation, though, this balance can be difficult to achieve. Work, running a business, kids (in this case goat-kids)—many of us know the struggles of finding balance. That’s why Nichole encourages would-be business owners to start a business only when they’re very passionate. “If somebody has something that they’re truly passionate about, then it’s worth it to open your own business. I think it would be horrible to spend this much time and energy on something you’re going to later resent, or you’re not going to love,” she says.
Passion is obviously not in short supply in Nichole’s case. Despite the pressures of running a business and the years of struggle battling cancer, the love she holds for her business and life is evident in every word she speaks. “I feel like I do have it all. I have a great marriage and great friends. I live in a beautiful place. And I own my own company that feeds my desire to be creative and create products that are better for the body and for the environment. It’s funny that in the end, it really was cancer that was the first step to where I am now. I probably wouldn’t have a small company of my own if I hadn’t gotten cancer at 22 years old. It’s funny how seemingly the worst things can lead you down the perfect path.”