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Handcrafted smells that sell from a former dairy farm


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BLUE MOUNDS, Wis. (AP) — Kyle LaFond began his career as a wildlife biologist, studying bear, elk and whitetail deer for the state Department of Natural Resources.

But the motivation for LaFond's new livelihood came from the perspiration of a different type of creature, one that can be oblivious to its odor and effect on those nearby.

Two years teaching science in a pungent classroom environment populated with middle school boys turned out to be the basis of a business model for LaFond's American Provenance, the Wisconsin State Journal (http://bit.ly/231Ho0k ) reported.

The business has transformed part of his family's idle dairy farm into a production facility for deodorants, body sprays, aftershaves and other body and hair care products for men and women.

Coupled with sales experience at Capital Brewery in Middleton, LaFond has his products in over 60 retail locations around the Midwest and an online business taking orders from around the country. Sales could double this year to $500,000, and it likely won't be long before the business outgrows the 1,000-square-foot space that used to be his grandfather's machine shop.

"Everything led me to where I am now," said LaFond, 37. "The science background at both the DNR and teaching helped me come up with this whole project, and then my sales background helped me go out and pitch the product."

The name of the company comes from its roots in rural America as provenance means "the place of origin." Products are also creatively named to evoke a rugged American theme. The scents in the company's men's line include Fastballs & Fisticuffs, Brass Knuckles & Branding Irons, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades and Firepits & Flannels. For the women's line there are names like Virtues & Vices, Daggers & Diamonds and Pinups & Paramours. The proceeds from the men's line Gridiron Greats benefit former NFL players in need of assistance.

The brand is aimed at consumers looking for locally made products with all-natural ingredients. Like other craft products, whether it's be beer, soda, cheese or pasta, it comes with a higher price than those that are mass produced by international corporations.

The men's deodorant, for example, is $7.75 per stick and is made with coconut oil, beeswax, shea butter, arrowroot powder, aluminum-free baking soda and a blend of lemongrass, bergamot and marjoram oils. The aftershave, $10.50 per 100-milliliter bottle, includes aloe vera, witch hazel and vegetable glycerin while hair pomades are $18.50 for a 120-gram jar and include jojoba oil, vitamin E oil and argan oil.

The artwork on the labels of all of the lines is by Andrew Holdorf, a high school classmate of LaFond and owner of Six Roses Tattoo in Middleton.

"I've always admired his artwork and I wanted to give him a platform as a local artist to show off more of his breadth and depth," LaFond said. "To Andrew's credit, I came to him with these names and these products ... and I gave him free rein. He came back in a month with renderings and I was completely blown away."

But the collaborations go beyond names and artwork. LaFond has partnered with the Oil & Ash Soap Co. in Milwaukee to create a line of bar soaps that can include olive and coconut oils and shea butter.

A line of candles with American Provenance scents are produced with the help of Katie Doescher of NatureWorks Candle Shop in Blue Mounds. Retail display cases are made from reclaimed barn boards by Steve Acker at Born of a Barn furniture and cabinet shop in Verona.

There is virtually no automation at American Provenance. Production can include mixing ingredients in 2-quart glass Mason jars, hand-filling each container with squeeze bottles and pouring melted deodorant from a glass pitcher into plastic holders. Labeling is typically done by hand. All of this occurs 100 feet from an old chicken coop and 250 yards from where LaFond bagged a 14-point buck in 2012.

The mount hangs in the shop near vintage beer trays and a stringer of walleye caught in Canada. LaFond had converted his grandfather's shop into a hunting camp but transformed the space into a production area after launching his business last spring.

A small, homemade bar is now used as work space for labeling products, while the bunk beds have been turned into shelving to hold bulk containers of ingredients.

Greta Geiger worked with LaFond at Capital Brewery but is now one of four employees at American Provenance. Her day can include mixing products, labeling and packaging.

"I have the same outlook on the products as him," Geiger said of LaFond while filling bottles with Fastballs & Fisticuffs Aftershave. "With his sales background and his drive, I didn't have any doubts about this."

The 120-acre farm in southwestern Dane County was purchased by LaFond's great-grandfather and later farmed by LaFond's grandfather, Delmar Zentner. He quit farming in the mid-1980s and died in 2014 just a week after his 91st birthday.

LaFond's mother purchased the property about 20 years ago, and LaFond has warm and inspirational memories of his grandfather, who milked 40 cows a day. They had names like Debbie and Patsy, their name plates still affixed above the worn empty stanchions in the lower level of the classic red barn on a ridge overlooking the headwaters of the Sugar River.

"This is part of my family legacy," LaFond said. "Being out here and having a business out here is a great way for me to carry forward my grandfather's legacy."

After graduating from Middleton High School in 1996, LaFond attended UW-Madison, where he studied wildlife management. That led to a job after graduating in 2000 with the DNR in Madison. In 2007, he enrolled at UW-Platteville to become a science teacher and spent two years teaching in New Glarus and Belleville.

"Middle school boys smell awful," LaFond said. "When they come back from lunch and recess, it just wafts in the room, the stench of BO."

LaFond kept a supply of deodorant in his desk that he would pass around to his students, but after reading the labels and noticing the amount of chemicals they contained, he began making deodorant with natural ingredients in his kitchen. Six years later, after several trials and eventually positive reviews from family and friends, LaFond used $30,000 in savings, borrowed $30,000 from the Small Business Administration and had family members invest another $30,000 to help him launch his company in May 2015.

LaFond worked part time at Capital Brewery beginning in 1999 but in 2011 was named director of business development, a position that had him calling on distributors around the Upper Midwest. His sales skills have helped him quickly grow his list of retailers that include natural food stores and co-ops like Willy Street, Viroqua Food and Milwaukee based Outpost. Products are also available at Community Pharmacy, 13 Hometown Pharmacies, Metcalfe's Market and in 20 Hy-Vee stores. LaFond is working to get his products in all of Hy-Vee's 250 stores, a move that would force him to quickly expand.

"I think a lot of folks are looking for products they can have a relationship or an experience with," LaFond said. "We're going to listen to customers. We're going to let our customers dictate our business and the products we make. We solicit information and feedback at every opportunity we have."

___

Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Wisconsin State Journal

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Barry Adams

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