Local entrepreneurs expanding sale of specialty products

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 14, 2004

One produces gourmet honey jelly, each jar gift-wrapped in gold organza and tied with a black satin China knot cord.

The other churns out bars of all-natural soaps and lotions, all bagged in sacks bearing the lovable logo of a pig in a tub.

But Shan Miller and Greg Touchstone are both Wilk-Amite area entreprenuers who are on the verge of seriously expanding the sale of their locally-made products. &uot;Part of me is scared to death &045;&045; overwhelmed. But part of me is very excited, too,&uot; Miller said Wednesday.

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After launching Magnolia Honey Jelly from her home in Woodville last year, Miller’s products caught the eye of Charles Glover, a Jackson businessman who promotes the sale of Mississippi goods and services.

Glover invited Miller to show her 12 flavors of honey jellies last February at the Dixie National Quarter Horse Show in Jackson. There, Miller met a representative of the Mississippi Development Authority.

&uot;The following Monday, the Canadian International Trade Specialist for the MDA visited my house. After seeing the product, she said ‘You’ve got a winner,’&uot; Miller said.

MDA officials want to help Miller market her products on an international basis, beginning in Canada where cultural and language similarities exist.

&uot;I’m very impressed with the MDA and with the people at the Food and Fiber Division at Mississippi State University. They’ve been very willing to help,&uot; she said.

Miller is now seeking MDA minority certification to take advantage of low interest loans and other MDA programs and resources. &uot;After certification, they will assist me in securing working capital,&uot; she said.

Miller is currently capable of producing about 200 eight-ounce jars of her all-natural honey jellies per day. With affordable financing, she may soon start a commercial kitchen in Woodville to increase her production.

&uot;These are all possibilities. It remains to be seen,&uot; she said.

In Gloster, Touchstone’s Mississippi Soap Company has been operational for three years. The company now sells its products at retail outlets in eight states, but will soon expand that market to include 13 Wal-Mart stores throughout South Mississippi.

&uot;We were told yesterday that we should have our vendor number in the next week,&uot; Touchstone said.

Touchstone has been working for several months with officials at Wal-Mart’s Small Business Development Center in Bentonville, Ark. to get permission for the move.

&uot;They have a local purchaser program. It allows a small business to solicit a certain number of stores,&uot; he said.

Touchstone warned that expenses are involved. &uot;No one should go into this thinking it’s cheap. If you want to highlight your product, you have to buy their sidekicks and PDQ’s. We’ve invested $11,000 in display racks,&uot; he said.

But Touchstone’s contact with Wal-Mart has created another opportunity.

&uot;The displays attracted a marketing consultant in Jackson who inquired about the products. We expect to sign a contract with him to put us in Walgreen’s and Winn Dixie stores. It’s attracted an interest from people who can move you to the next level,&uot; he said.

Touchstone remains grateful to local retailers who help promote his products.

&uot;The Natchez Markets and Piggly Wiggly have been great. They’ve done a tremendous job pushing our products. We’re as proud of them as we are of Wal Mart,&uot; Touchstone said.

Touchstone will demonstrate his products at the Natchez Market on John R. Junkin Drive Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.