Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Manitou bath and body shop owners audition for 'Shark Tank' amid expansion plans

By Elise Schmelzer, elise.schmelzer@gazette.com - Updated: June 13, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Usually, hopping into a shark tank isn't a good business strategy.

But for Elissa and Jerell Klaver, auditioning for the ABC television show "Shark Tank," was an opportunity for national exposure and potential investments for SALUS Natural Body Care, their bath and body business that opened its first store in Manitou Springs in 2007.

After a frantic night of preparation and two hours of sleep, the couple left their Fort Collins home shortly after 4 a.m. on May 30 for an open casting call in Denver. Their hours of preparation and waiting paid off, however, and their one-minute pitch to a network casting team earned them a place in the second round.

If SALUS makes it through the next few rounds, the couple will pitch their business to the sharks - a panel of potential investors worth millions of dollars. If the investors like their model and product, they could offer the Klavers cash or a deal for part ownership of their business.

Now the couple - and the customer base that encouraged them to audition - wait again. They submitted a video package and paper application to the show Monday and expect to hear back in the next two weeks.

In the meantime, the pair will continue to grow their business, which began in their basement and in the midst of personal loss.

Before opening SALUS, Jerell Klaver was working long hours as a program manager for IBM and rarely had time to spend with his first son.

"I would come home from work, kiss him goodnight and that was about it," he said.

When their second son died shortly after birth, the couple decided to re-evaluate their lives. They lined their basement with white paper and used oversized markers to outline their goals, skills and dreams. Although neither had any experience creating soaps or lotions, they launched SALUS as a website-based business eight years ago.

"It was nothing we had done ever before," Jerell Klaver said. "It was learning by trial and error."

The couple opened their first retail location in Manitou Springs a few months later, taking advantage of a revitalized downtown and local ties from Elissa Klaver's time at Manitou Springs High School and family who lived in the area.

"The numbers just seemed to make the most sense," she said. "And the tourism traffic was an additional bonus to that."

The Klavers moved from the Woodland Park area to Fort Collins when they opened their second retail location there in 2012.

This year, Elissa Klaver estimates they will sell more than 100,000 of their two most popular products: shower and bath bombs that fizz and release scents when water hits them. Customers who visit their retail locations in Manitou and Fort Collins can also create their personal products by adding scents, like eucalyptus or bourbon vanilla, to a pre-made base that is then mixed in-store.

"In a way, it's Bath & Body Works meets Build-a-Bear," Jerell Klaver said.

In addition to their two retail locations, the Klavers started a wholesale business and added three more boys to their family. This year, they also plan to open a location in Golden, Loveland or Denver, Elissa Klaver said.

Although the retail stores still account for most of the company's income, the couple hope to expand their wholesale business beyond outside of the approximately 40 locations nationwide that carry their products.

These goals aren't easily achieved, Jerell Klaver said, but running the business is fun for the family. The four boys, ages 2 to 10 years old, are a part of the business too, he said.

"They get to help out and make their own products and bring them to school," Jerell Klaver said. "They get to learn firsthand about bringing a product to market. Of course, they sweep, too."

The 12-hour days, though long, are never boring, the couple said.

"This is fun for us. It's not something where you have to stare at the time clock," Jerell Klaver said. "I was in the Marine Corps, and now I'm not in a desert or being shot at, so this an improvement. We're just having fun making people smell good."

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