Homing in on the travel and tourism market is giving a boost to what has proven to be a boon for Westbook all-natural body care business Mad Gab’s.

From its offices in Westbrook’s Dana Warp Mill, Mad Gab’s produces products from lip balms and lotions to soy candles and gift sets.

Owner and founder Gabrielle Melchionda credits the products’ low price point at under $15 as the “magic number” that has allowed the 19-year-old company to continue to grow despite a recession that has hurt the tourism and travel businesses.

Financial details were not released, but she said the privately owned company has had a 40 percent increase in sales in the last year.

Customers might not purchase something more expensive, she said, but they will still put money into small items near the cash register.

For someone visiting a zoo or aquarium, “it’s a really nice bonus to find something at the impulse price range” that’s also natural and made in the United States, Melchionda said. The products are sold in airports, pharmacies and gift shops throughout the country.

In the fall, Mad Gab’s is launching the Dino Smooch line of lip balm featuring T-Rex, Stegosaurus and Triceratops in berry, vanilla and citrus flavors, respectively, to market to museums and toy stores.

By eliminating the previous design of a dancing girl on the labels last year, Mad Gab’s also opened itself to new branding opportunities.

The rebranding effort, which began in 2004, features products with whimsical cartoon animals, such as moose, cows and lobster, that fit well with the gift shops the company targets. Mad Gab’s started “name dropping” on labels, for example adding “Yellowstone” to the front of lip balm sold at Yellowstone National Park, which has increased sales.

A partnership with L.L. Bean that started in the fall of 2008 has helped the business grow, Melchionda said. Mad Gab’s makes a private label body care line for the outdoor retailer, with input from the Freeport headquarters, and puts Bean’s label on the outside. Today, they have about 20 products available in the 15 retail L.L. Bean stores.

“We looked at three different companies and Gab was just the most limber. If she didn’t have the product in her line, she went out and found it and developed it with us,” said Rose Campbell, a product developer for L.L. Bean.

Having a natural product and a green business, she said, also made the company a good choice.

The unscented lip balm is the biggest seller, Campbell said, but new products such as a white tea lotion and hot cocoa lip balm are in the works. L.L. Bean sales of the Mad Gab’s products are up 14 percent over last year, which Campbell says is “really good.”

“They’re a great company to work with,” she said. “It’s Maine businesses supporting Maine businesses.”

Mad Gab’s does all its own manufacturing in Westbrook, and has five employees.

Melchionda’s husband, Matt Chappell, a son of the Tom’s of Maine founders, joined her in the company two and a half years ago.

He said the next big challenge is for Mad Gab’s to have a closer relationship with consumers, not just wholesalers, that includes more brand recognition. The company hopes to one day be sold in Cracker Barrel retail stores nationwide, which would add about 600 locations where it’s sold.

The company is somewhat of a dream realized for Melchionda. She started making lip balm in 1991 as a college student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, looking for a respite from her math classes. For years, the products were only sold in natural food stores.

Now Mad Gab’s is available in more than 1,000 locations nationwide plus internationally in Canada, the Philippines, Singapore and Japan.

There’s a laid-back but hard-working corporate culture, Melchionda said. She eats lunch every day with her employees and lets them keep flexible hours as long as the work is done.

As a youngster, she didn’t want to work 9 to 5 in a cubicle wearing pantyhose, Melchionda said.

“I didn’t want to be a grown up, and I wanted to make my own rules,” she said. “Find a way to make yourself stand apart that represents who you are.”

 

Staff Writer Stephanie Hardiman can be contacted at 791-6301 or at: [email protected]