Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, shoppers and dinners would be hard-pressed to find an empty storefront in downtown South Haven this summer.
More than a dozen new shops and restaurants set up shop downtown this year. Although some replaced businesses that decided to close, most have located in spaces that were vacant.
One of the new shops is 42N Naturals, which is already attracting attention outside of the local market.
Rachel Leins opened 42N Naturals in May at 203 Center St. What started out as her desire to help a family member find a non-irritating skin care product has not only turned into a new business venture - but a chance for Leins win up to $50,000 in an upcoming competition for small business owners.
Leins will be among 10 enterprising small businesses in Southwestern Michigan that have been selected to be part of Cornerstone Alliance's "Small Fish, Big Pitch" competition. Based on the hit TV show, "Shark Tank," the 10 businesses will showcase their enterprise, its potential and its local impact to a panel of celebrity judges and a live audience for a chance to win a total of $100,000 in marketing services from Holt Bosse marketing agency in St. Joseph.
The Small Fish, Big Pitch contest, organized by Cornerstone Alliance's Women's Business Center, will take place from 5-7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 29 at the Shadowland on Silver Beach event center, 333 Broad St., in St. Joseph.
"Leins is the only contestant from South Haven to be selected and will represent our small business community and the entrepreneurial spirit of South Haven and will uniquely showcase our community," said Suzanne Sutherland Loafman, co-owner of ThinkBar Coworking Space for independent contractors in South Haven.
The contest judges will select the top two prize winners, while the audience will select the People's Choice Award winner.
The competition will be hosted by Zack East, vice president of customer success for Midwest Family Broadcasting. Celebrity sharks include Pat Moody, founder of Moody on the Market; Sandra Cochrane, assistant dean of Western Michigan University School of Medicine Innovation Center; Marci Taylor, general manager of WSMK Radio; Joe Zwiller, chair of the business department at Lake Michigan College and Dave Holt, principle of Holt Bosse.
The other Southwest Michigan business contestants include Cameron Metheney, president of Palermo Design Corp.; Chandra Williams, owner of Lunch Money Designs; Christine Velasco, owner of I Heart Spanish; Kristin Bivens, owner of Wicked Pop Candle Co.; Lauren Kniebes, co-owner of Lazy Ballerina Winery; Lisa Miller, owner of Forever Clean Soap Works Inc.; Richard Plangger, president of Plangger's Furniture Inc.; Sarah Forrest, founder of Guardian; and Tynish Murphy, owner of The Blessed Noah's Ark Daycare and Learning Center.
Leins opened 42N Naturals in May. The all-natural products in the store are handmade by Leins and her staff who use plant-based ingredients such as shea butter, sugars, lavender, coffee beans, dried flowers, blueberry powder and eucalyptus from local growers.
After a successful first summer season, Leins said she plans to add new products and services to the lineup of organic skincare products.
"Consumers are desperate to to find skin and body care products without harsh chemicals, dyes or synthetic materials," she said. "After three months, we've been able to establish a repeat customer base and expand into the wholesale market."
This month she is introducing the concept of a "Make Your Own" lotion bar where customers will have the chance to create their own lotion fragrance using Leins' house lotion base blend, custom-created labels make from recycled cereal boxes and a wide selection of oils and fragrances.
With a background in sustainability, Leins said she makes it a priority to practice sustainable business practices.
"As an advocate for sustainability, I source most ingredients and packaging locally to reduce transportation, support local businesses and use recycled packaging to minimize local waste and plastics near the Great Lakes," she said.
Leins spent 23 years in the energy sector working with commercial and industrial buildings to achieve energy savings by implementing sustainability efforts.
She first began making homemade skincare products for her family after a family member's autoimmune condition made it difficult to find store-bought products that wouldn't create skin irritation.
Leins began devising soap recipes using only natural ingredients. Her line now includes homemade soap, shampoo bars, lotion, sugar scrubs, body butter, lip balm, beard balm and beard oils.