Women of all ages and race zip through Bubble Bistro, a handmade skincare store, grabbing up soaps, body butters and bath bombs. While Andrea Johnson, the owner, is there to help them, her customers already know what they want. If anything, they’re there to smell the latest scents of products made daily inside the store.
Even though it’s tucked away in a warehouse in an urban section of Memphis, Bubble Bistro is no secret. In fact, listen in on any random girl talk session or take a look at their Facebook page and you may think the customers are in a sorority of sorts. Everyone knows everyone and they have one goal in common: to spread the word about how great the products are.
Johnson turned her love for holistic beauty into a business while living in St. Croix. A former financial analyst for the U.S. government, she returned home to Memphis to open a store solely for international shipping. Shortly after, she secured a location in an emerging neighborhood in the city. She employs a staff of five, all whom began as customers themselves. She makes products in the store with local and globally imported natural ingredients throughout the day every day. Now, there are about 125 scents customers can choose from.
“If you come in early enough, you can get your piece cut straight off the block,” Johnson says. “We don’t keep anything in the building over a week because I believe in the freshness of the product.”
She’s celebrated her second year in operation in an uncertain climate where new businesses remain open an average of only two to five years. At the most, the thriving business has a website for online orders and Facebook and Twitter pages to generate business. Johnson refuses to pay for advertising, and there’s no need when you have devoted customers like hers.
“We’ve never run an ad. It’s a grassroots business where the customers have created the momentum. It’s a very referral-based, customer-powered store. The customers feel as if they have ownership.”
It’s little things like providing gift wrap free of charge or knowing every customer by name after only their first visit, Johnson says, that prove that superior customer service trumps a glossy print or radio ad.
“On any given day, a customer could come in and run the store,” she says. “I would be comfortable leaving any of my top 20 customers here.”
Johnson puts her money where her mouth is. At least monthly, she holds Live from the Bistro, a day when top customers can act as store managers. Each “manager for the day” encourages friends to come in and experience Bubble Bistro for themselves. Leading up to their day of service, they have the opportunity to gather teams to compete for prizes and products. They’re so invested in the brand that they’ve filled the schedule into next year.
Not only is the customer service top notch, but Johnson thinks the products are, as well. Her customers have become living ads and testaments to their quality.
“We let the product advertise itself. A lot of people thought that it was risky, but in my opinion, that’s a risk I’m willing to take.”