In 2018, Theresa Bonner sat down with her recently retired mother-in-law, Shirley, to discuss her dream of launching a natural skincare business. Though Shirley was on board with the idea, she hoped that Theresa and her husband, Kofi, would have a third child and could use her spare time to help out. Instead, they cooked up a business plan and creative name, and with that, Third Child Wellness Boutique was born. Since then, their partnership has expanded into skin treatments and body care, all while donating a percentage of their profits to charitable organizations. We caught up with this Somerville mom and grandma to talk about how their customers influence product development, why the pandemic led to their most profitable year yet, and the unique way they’re helping their downtown survive during COVID.
You both are living in Somerville. What are some things you love about your town?
Theresa: Somerville is such a wonderful town to raise children. We’ve got beautiful parks, family-friendly restaurants, and our public library has so many exciting and fun programs for kids of all ages. Secondly, our community is so walkable, which makes it perfect for me since walking is my preferred form of exercise. Nearly year-round, I can stroll up and down Main Street or across town. I get some of my best ideas while I’m walking. Lastly, I adore all of our small, local businesses that line Main and Division Street. Division Street is our pedestrian street, packed with eateries, salons, retail shops, and apartments.
Shirley: Somerville has a close-knit, friendly feel to it. It’s a small place and easy to navigate through town, whether you are walking or traveling by car with great shopping and transportation options. Within the past few years, there has also been quite a few updates and renovations downtown, providing lots of entertainment and events for the town to participate in and enjoy.
Please share a little bit about your background and how it led you to launch Third Child Wellness Boutique.
Theresa: I spent many years as a medical secretary working for an oncology group in Morristown, NJ. I cared deeply about my work and the people there, but I wasn’t passionate about that job. I had always been interested in health, nutrition, and natural products, and after I had my second child, I decided to go back to school for nutrition. I became a certified health coach in 2013 and spent the next four years building my coaching business.
Eventually, I realized that what I wanted was to create in the kitchen. So, one day in the spring of 2018, I sat down with my mother-in-law, Shirley, to discuss my dream of starting a natural skincare business. Thankfully, she was incredibly supportive but was still holding on to her hopes we’d have a third child. She had finally retired from her corporate career and expressed that she could be our part-time childcare provider. We compromised by becoming partners in our new small business, Third Child Wellness Boutique. I love being in the kitchen, making and testing out new products. It’s a rush and, at the same time, a comfort to discover new scent combinations. There is no limit to what we can create—it’s such an adventure.
Shirley: I had worked at AT&T as an administrative assistant, receptionist, clerical, and data entry until my retirement in 2018. I thought after retirement that I’d do something similar on my own. Joining up with Theresa has been even more enjoyable, and some of my old duties come in handy in this partnership.
One of their top sellers, the Espress Yo-self Coffee Oil Skin Treatment via Tina Meerloo
What makes your wellness products unique and special?
Theresa: There are a couple of things that set us apart from other brands. We do not have a brick and mortar store—we sell on-line direct to customers and wholesale to retailers around NJ. Because of this, we can keep our prices relatively low. Without having to pay rent and utilities, we can spend our money on pure, organic ingredients. We also have some of the shortest ingredient lists, with all recognizable components (nothing you can’t pronounce or don’t know), which makes us different from other brands.
How are you inspired to create new products, and what are some of your best sellers?
Theresa: I get so much inspiration from the people who use our products. They give us feedback, suggestions, and ideas that have helped us to grow. Hearing that one of our products has made a positive difference makes me feel proud of our work. In the beginning, we made only two products—Skin Repair Butter and Essential Oil Blend roll-ons. We’ve extended our inventory a lot since then, but the Skin Repair Butter is still one of our top sellers. I’ve lost count of how many messages I’ve gotten from customers saying that they can’t live without their tin of Chill-ax or Sageing Grace Skin Repair. Our next big breakout product was our homemade cold-infused, organic coffee oil. We call it Espress Yo-self because it’s a treatment loaded with antioxidants from coffee beans and the nourishing properties of avocado oil. It can be used as a spot treatment for fine lines and acne scars and an all-over daily moisturizer to even skin tone. Our most recent bestseller is our aromatherapy Shower Steamers. The idea came from one of our customers, asking if we would consider adding them to our product line. Since we have mostly concentrated on skincare, we hadn’t thought about bath bombs or the like. But, now that COVID has people spending more energy on self-care, it seemed like a good move. It turns out it was the best decision we’ve made yet. Not everyone has a tub but still wants the feeling of a spa. We are adding new scents to our shower steamer lineup all the time.
Yowee Zowee Shower Steamers were created after a customer suggested they add it to their lineup via Tina Meerloo.
Tell us about how you incorporated supporting charitable organizations through Third Child. Why are these organizations important to you?
Theresa: We always wanted our business to make a difference in the world. Since we started, we’ve donated 5% of our profits to a local charity named Steps Together. It is an organization that raises funds for local families struggling to pay medical bills. These families have one or more members battling deadly diseases. I had personally started donating and fundraising for them when a friend of mine was battling terminal cancer. It was a no brainer for us to start giving on the local level. Over the past year, we expanded our donations to the ACLU and the Trevor Project. The ACLU is a human rights group that fights diligently for those unable to fight for themselves, and the Trevor Project works to protect LGBTQ+ youth from physical and emotional abuse. Human rights and equality are big on our list of causes we want to fund.
What do you wish you knew before starting your business?
Theresa: I didn’t anticipate how much energy and time it would take to be a mom and a business owner. Over the past two years, I’ve found less time to plan out meals or keep up on housework the way I use to. Since I am so into nutrition, it’s been hard for me to let go of cooking healthy, well thought out meals and snacks for my family. But, I’ve learned that I don’t have to be perfect. I give myself a break a couple of times a week by ordering takeout or making a frozen pizza. I’ve had to learn to be kind to myself.
Shirley: I knew this before starting, but it’s worth saying. When you’re partners, it is crucial to communicate well with each other and your customers. Building communication skills are vital to a good partnership.
The extensive collection of Third Child Wellness boutique is sold online and at local retailers.
How have you pivoted Third Child Wellness during COVID?
Theresa: Before COVID, we relied on retailers selling our products on their shelves. We also took part in street and vendor fairs in the warm seasons. Those ceased to exist once the shutdown happened. We were also on track to be exhibitors at our first Natural Products Expo and connect with thousands of natural product buyers—it was going to be a game-changer for us. So, we had to switch gears entirely in terms of connecting with customers. We turned to Facebook and Instagram Live to launch new product lines and reach out to our customers. We saw that subscription boxes and gift sets had taken off for companies of all kinds, and we created our own. Since we launched that, customers are ordering seasonal boxes for themselves and sending them as gifts, too. Much to our surprise, we have had our most profitable and busiest year yet.
You recently started a social initiative in your community. Can you please tell us about that and what motivated you to start this?
Theresa: At the beginning of the pandemic lockdown, I wanted to help the recently unemployed servers, bartenders, and shop workers find work. When I was walking down Main Street and saw signs stating that they were closed until further notice, I felt like someone needed to step in and create a space for the unemployed and residents looking to hire. In response, I started a Facebook group (Somerville, NJ Neighbors Helping Neighbors). It was wonderful to see how quickly our town came together to help one another. We currently have 1.4K members who continue to help each other find work and support local businesses. I’m incredibly proud of my town.
What are some of your favorite local businesses?
Theresa: I’m a coffee addict, so I love Lucid Coffee on the corner of Main and Division Street. Lucid has delicious, organic coffees, teas, and hot chocolate, as well as vegan and gluten-free baked goods and snacks. My oldest and I are gluten intolerant, and I’m also lactose intolerant, and we like having a place that caters to everyone in the family. Another favorite is Revive Consignment. I would say that at least 90% of my wardrobe comes from Revive. Brittany, the owner, has procured a beautiful collection of like-new clothing and accessories and supporting local artisans. She was the first retailer to carry our products. She believes in the earth-friendly practice of recycling, and I love that. Whatever doesn’t sell in the store is donated to a local charity shop.
Tina Meerloo of Meerloo Photography has been a big part of keeping Third Child in the black. I hired her initially to create the images we would use for all of our promo material for the Expo. From there, she has been our go-to photographer for all of our product images and, most recently, our family photos. I’m so fortunate to have found her. Her professionalism, as well as creativity, sets her apart from others in the business.
Shirley: I love finding unusual items at Habitat for Humanity Restore, one of my favorite places to visit. Like Theresa, I also love Revive, where you can always find a great deal.
Theresa with husband Kofi and sons, Miles (12) and Juniper (9) via Merloo Photography.
Please share some of your favorite things to do in NJ with your family?
Theresa: Pre-Covid, I loved taking the kids to Princeton to walk the campus, visit our favorite shops, and get ice cream. We could spend hours in the bookstore, finding new reads, and then head over to The Bent Spoon for the most delicious frozen treats. Now, we stick closer to home. We find new walking trails and continue our walks in town. We get our treats and meals from local businesses to go. We still do our best to support the businesses we love. Keeping our town going has become a family activity in itself—we want to make sure that our favorite restaurants, shops, and services are still there when this is all over.
Shirley: Before Covid, I enjoyed dining at the Flaming Grill Buffet in Manville with my family. Sometimes my sister and her family join us, and it’s like a reunion. The food is good, and the kids always like helping serve themselves. I also loved taking my grandchildren to Barnes & Noble, where they’d have fun finding new books, relax in the children’s section and engage with other kids.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever got and want to pass on to a fellow NJMOMpreneur?
Theresa: My mother once told me to “Go with your dream.” I feel like that is a powerful piece of advice. Starting your own business can be hard at times and demanding, and there will be days that you want to give up on yourself. Maybe someone tells you that you shouldn’t risk it or feel like you have nothing left to give. Remember your reason for starting your business in the first place—it can be just the push you need to keep going and continue building your dream.
Shirley: Check in with yourself regularly, so you stay true to yourself and honest with yourself.