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Archive for Friday, April 6, 2001

Firms with Lawrence roots bloom elsewhere

April 6, 2001

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Margot Wells sells her traveling gift sets at Sephora in New York, her shower mist at Nordstrom's in Seattle and her Energy moisturizer at Fred Segal in Los Angeles.

But none of the displays at 2,000 retail outlets across the country can match the stock inside her small shop on Massachusetts Street and she plans to keep it that way.

"It's my baby," said Wells, who co-founded Bloom Bath & Body seven years ago at 704 Mass. "It's my little Lawrence store."

Wells' expanding company, now called Archive, is among a handful of Lawrence-grown businesses taking their specialty products outside the city and into larger markets bolstered by a creative drive fed by years of experience and nurtured by the city's committed consumers.

Among those to spread out are the owners of Waxman Candles, Rudy's Pizzeria, Yello Sub and Johnny's Tavern. They moved their concepts to metropolitan Kansas City or to the farther reaches, in Chicago, Denver or Bellingham, Wash.

It just so happens that Wells and her partner Paul Burlew, a fellow Baker University graduate are among the most prolific of the group.

The co-owners of Archive, now based in Denver, sit atop a cozy retail operation and sprawling wholesale and mail-order business that together generated an estimated $10 million in sales last year.

Their handmade and hand-cut soaps, scented sprays and soothing lotions have landed placements in some of the country's most exclusive stores.

The company has made shower gels, bubble bath and mists for sale under the Disney brand in theme parks.

The personal-care products also have graced the pages of Self, Mademoiselle and In Style magazines.

Even though the company's headquarters now rest inside a 17,000-square-foot building in Littleton, Colo., it cannot shake its humble Lawrence roots.

The Bloom shop that the pair opened in 1994 on Massachusetts Street they rented the place without stepping inside remains the company's best consumer laboratory. Its sales rise 30 percent a year, Wells said, built on a lineup of committed customers that won't settle for mediocrity.

"It really is a great test market for us," Wells said. "That's where we learn what our customers like. I can't thank Lawrence and our beginnings enough."

Candles hit Windy City

Bob Werts built upon his own Lawrence connections when he opened his first out-of-town shop five years ago.

Werts had determined that Chicago would be the logical place to extend his Waxman Candles operation. He'd already relocated to a bigger store in Lawrence, and had received such a warm welcome that moving into a big city made sense.

Helping make the decision easier was the huge presence of Kansas University graduates in the Chicago area, many of whom now notice the familiar Lakeview shop and can't help but wax nostalgic while buying votives, Funk Chunks and accessories.

Call it the KU effect.

"It's immense," Werts said.

Werts knows he's come a long way since founding Waxman 30 years ago inside a 150-square-foot shop near 14th and Massachusetts streets.

Today, his 14,000-square-foot shop at 609 Mass. rings up sales of about $500,000 a year. Lawrence customers especially like the eclectic mix of silhouette candles and other unique offerings, he said.

The Chicago store, which Werts co-owns with former Lawrence resident and KU graduate Steve Traxler, generates about the same amount. Much of the tally comes from traditional candles sold to restaurants and clubs.

Like Wells, Werts relies on dedicated customers to keep Waxman afloat when the economy cools. A ready pool of student employees also comes in handy, as does the expertise of many Lawrence residents.

When it came time to make one of his first candle molds, for example, Werts turned to a chemist friend of his to suck the air bubbles from a pot of liquid rubber.

"People stick together," Werts said. "I've gotten a lot of support."

Rudy's heads west

Such Lawrence-born dedication moved across the country for Steve and Sharon Scoggins, two KU graduates who opened their own Rudy's Pizzeria late last year in Bellingham, Wash., 88 miles north of Seattle.

Steve Scoggins had spent nearly seven years working at Rudy's, 704 Mass., and he knew the business' spicy red-wine sauce would play well elsewhere.

Bellingham offered a familiar recipe, being home to a major college (Western Washington University) with a tight-knit central business district surrounded by strong, established neighborhoods.

"It has a lot of the same attitudes as Lawrence," Steve Scoggins said. "I see a lot of the same orders. Chicken and cashews people here are ordering that. That's something we would make back in Lawrence. Or shrimp and bleu cheese. That happens here.

"We saw a niche that needed to be filled, and the community's been very supportive."

It was the first time that the Rudy's name had moved outside of Lawrence, joining the ranks of other Lawrence eateries that have expanded elsewhere. Papa Keno's Pizzeria and Johnny's Tavern each have restaurants in the Kansas City area, where Yello Sub has four Planet Sub locations; a fifth Planet Sub opened in January outside of Denver. Pyramid Pizza, which got its start under the Wagon Wheel Cafe, also has shops in the Kansas City area, Emporia and Manhattan.

The original Rudy's opened about 15 years ago behind the Crossing, a bar just off the KU campus.

The new western edition has 10 employees, a group that includes two Patrick Scally and Ben Brown who more or less are on loan from the Lawrence shop. They made the trip to help get the new place open and make sure it's running smoothly.

The help is invaluable, Steve Scoggins said, as well as an indication of what makes Lawrence such a "special place" to build a successful business.

But he said he wasn't ready to go through it all again. He already spent nearly three months in Bellingham renovating a building that opened a century ago as a hotel but until recently was an all-ages nightclub.

"With all the work you have to do to run just one, I don't see myself being able to devote my time and energy to open another one of these," he said. "But I certainly would lend a hand for another one. There's certainly the potential for other people to go and do what we've done."

Back home in Lawrence, Wells is preparing to give her downtown shop a makeover.

By summer, the Bloom moniker is expected to give way to Nixie, a "spa-to-go" concept intended to differentiate from the wholesale side of the business. The first Nixie shop opened earlier this year on Pearl Street in downtown Boulder, Colo.

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