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PJ Jonas: The 'Goat Milk Stuff' story
From a tub of soap to the Today Show, this family keeps it real.
Editor’s note: I’ve asked PJ Jonas of Goat Milk Stuff to share her family’s story with our Brunette Gardens readers as part of our summer giveaway featuring their goat-milk soap products. When I first read the Jonas family origin story and watched the clip of this lovely family featured in the Today Show, I have to say I teared up… It’s just been so long since I’ve seen such a powerful example of a solid family business. Here’s PJ with more. - Lisa
By PJ Jonas
We seek to honor Jesus in all that we do, and that plays a big role in our family and our business. Our children (all eight of them!) are homeschooled and taught “Everything is a God issue,” including making and selling goat-milk soap. We believe these values come through in the goodness of our products and the excellence of our customer service, and we hope our customers will agree.
Our adventures in soap-making began in 2005 out of my desire to not use chemicals on the children’s skin. I had all the children in the bathtub one day, just letting them splash around, when I picked up the baby wash I had always used and really looked at the ingredient list. I was shocked to discover that it was full of both petroleum-based chemicals and other chemicals I didn’t even recognize. I couldn’t believe that I had trusted my children’s skin to this company and their baby wash.
I had spent years trying to make sure the children were eating healthy food, and I was upset with myself that I’d never before considered what I was using on their skin. I knew that the skin is the largest organ in the body, and I decided right then and there that I was going to learn how to make soap with only ingredients that I could trust.
So I started doing some research and found some water-based soap recipes. I had the dairy goats and knew how good the raw goat milk was to drink, so I decided to put the goat milk instead of water into the soap and see what happened.
After making my first batch of goat-milk soap, I put a bar in the shower. My husband, Jim’s, fingers soon stopped cracking and splitting. Since this was a problem he had suffered with for years, I knew I had something special. But I wasn’t yet ready to turn it into a business, so I set about perfecting my soap-making and spent the next two years or so creating the “most-perfect” bar of goat milk soap I could.
In January 2008, we filled up our Sprinter (a large 12-passenger vehicle) with diesel. Only it turned out that there was gasoline in the diesel pump, and that did $9,000 worth of damage to the engine. As a large family (ten of us) living on one income, that was an enormous hit to our budget. I decided that we would make some extra soap and sell it so that we could relieve some of the financial pressure on Jim.
I had no idea what was going to happen next.
This was back in 2008, when there weren’t any easy e-commerce sites like there are available today. So in the midst of homeschooling, homesteading, and making soap, I taught myself to code and put up the first-ever Goat Milk Stuff website. In hindsight, it was kinda pathetic, but I was so proud of that website.
Jim designed a logo (which I hated), but you’ve got to start somewhere.
So we had a website, and we had awesome soap. But that wasn’t enough. We had to make people aware of our goat-milk soap. So the children and I started carrying it with us and and telling everybody we met (at the grocery store, the doctor’s office, wherever!) about our soap.
We sold some, but it still wasn’t much, and nobody visited the website.
Then we decided to sell our soap at the local Apple Festival. We bought a tent and put together a pathetic display (we really had no clue what we were doing) and set out to sell some soap.
We did manage to sell some bars at the festival, but more importantly, we gave out free goat-milk soap samples, with our business card.
For each of our giveaways, we purchase both our sample products and our giveaway items and send them out to each winner ourselves. Help support our work to recognize unique businesses like this one by becoming a paid subscriber.
And that was when we started to see answers to all the prayers we had been making.
The weeks following the Apple Festival were full of customers contacting us. It seems there was this skin condition called eczema. I’d never dealt with eczema before, but I started hearing the stories of the misery it caused. I heard from moms who had to tape gloves to their toddlers’ hands to keep them from scratching to the point they were bleeding. And of other moms who were putting their babies on steroids or giving them bleach baths to try to relieve their symptoms.
And the most amazing thing happened—our soap relieved their eczema symptoms.
Now, you have to remember that I didn’t make the goat-milk soap for eczema. I made it so my family wouldn’t have to deal with chemical ingredients that were unhealthy for our bodies. But I was praying that God would help us sell our soap to people who really needed it and would be benefited by it. And He answered that prayer in a mighty way.
That little Apple Festival in October 2008 was what launched the success of Goat Milk Stuff. In 2009, we did 30 festivals, and in 2010, we did 50 festivals. To do that many, we had multiple-selling sets, and we would be at several locations on the same day while still managing to come back to the farm to milk twice a day.
A lot of publicity quickly followed.
In 2009, we did our first television appearance with our local ABC news station.
After that, we outgrew my homemade website and had a new logo and website designed and implemented.
In the summer of 2010, we were guests on the Today Show.
We were featured in the January 2012 edition of O, the Oprah magazine.
We were on the television show The Doctors in autumn 2012.
And we were on the The Huckabee Show in the summer of 2014.
While we still do a lot of local television, radio, podcast, newspaper, and magazine stories, at this point, the farm has grown to the point where we are needed here and don’t do as much traveling for publicity.
You see, from the very beginning, the children have always said that they want to work at Goat Milk Stuff when they are adults. But when they were children, I didn’t really believe them and figured it was just because Goat Milk Stuff was their comfort zone and what they knew.
But the children aren’t little anymore. And they are still so enthusiastic about Goat Milk Stuff that so far they all want to continue to work on the farm as adults.
And so in 2015 we made a huge change in strategy. Up to this point, Goat Milk Stuff was primarily a goat-milk-soap Internet company, which was perfect for our family when the children were all little. But that wasn't going to be enough if all eight of the children wanted to work on the farm as adults and support their own families.
In order to make Goat Milk Stuff a viable option for them as adults, we knew we’d have to expand (so the children wouldn’t be tripping over each other), and in 2015 we made the decision to become a “destination” and allow people to come and experience our lives here on the farm.
A big part of this strategic change was to expand into goat-milk food items. So after much prayer, in 2015 we became the first-and-only Grade A goat dairy in the state of Indiana.
We had always planned to make more than just goat-milk soap. That’s why we named the business Goat Milk Stuff—because we wanted to make lots of different ‘stuff’ from goat milk to help convince people of the milk’s goodness. But our goat-milk soap helped so many people and grew so quickly, we spent the first years in business focusing solely on goat-milk soap and bath-and-body products because it was all we could do to keep up with it!
Now, as a Grade-A goat dairy, in addition to all of our goat-milk soaps, we are able to share milk, yogurt, gelato, cheese, fudge, caramel, and lots of other goat-milk goodies with people. With all of the goats we are now milking and with all of the stuff we are now making and with all of the visitors to the farm we are entertaining, there is plenty of work for all the children, their potential spouses, and even their children if it works out that way!
It’s hard to believe how God has blessed our family and our business. In 2008, when Goat Milk Stuff was born, and I drafted the entire family into my adventures, I never envisioned what it would become. I remember struggling to learn how to to code a website and struggling to learn how to effectively sell at craft fairs.
We still have lots of struggles, but I know that with each struggle we overcome, we are continuing to build on the strong foundation that has been laid.
We all agree that getting to work together as a family (despite occasional squabbles) is the best part of Goat Milk Stuff. And we do work hard. From the initial milking of the goats to the final bagging of the soap, each member of our family participates in producing our handmade goat-milk soaps and all the other goat-milk products we make.
Goat Milk Stuff allows us to not only work together but is a great vehicle to teach our family what we feel is important. Knowing that we are providing people with a product that is healthy for their skin and may relieve many of their skin issues keeps us enthusiastic about what we do.
We truly feel that we are beyond blessed to be able to run Goat Milk Stuff in a way that honors Jesus, supports our family, and blesses our customers.
Read more about the giveaway here.