East of Lancaster, close to the Maryland border, is the small town of Oxford. Not far from the brick buildings of downtown is the family-owned business of Nella Naturals in an old building on Locust Street.
“This used to be a dentist’s office. I remember coming here when I was a boy,” says Rudy Allen as he looks around the Nella Naturals store. Rudy and his wife, Nicki, make their products in the back rooms of the building, and the front is a shop filled with hundreds of Nella Natural handmade products as well as gifts and home décor.
Nella Naturals makes candles, soaps, body wash, sugar scrubs, lip balms, bug spray, and many other health & beauty products. This month, Good’s Store is featuring Nella Naturals as their Made in Lancaster County Business, although, yes, technically their business is located about three miles into Chester County.
The Allens are happy to give us a tour of their business. “We started about eight or nine years ago, in our kitchen," says Rudy. "Then we moved to our garage, and then I bought a big shed and heated and air-conditioned that.”
About six years ago, the Allens moved their business to the Locust Street location and thought it was big enough to settle there permanently. “But now we have this place and we have another warehouse, and we need to move this to a bigger location as soon as we can.”
In addition to their Oxford retail store, Nella Natural products are sold online and wholesale to retailers in other states, including Nebraska, Florida, and Wisconsin.
“But Good’s Store was our first wholesale buyer,” Rudy recalls. “I was so nervous to call them the first time. But Good's took a chance on us.”
In the store, shelves are lined with candles and skincare products with names like “Maui Cocoa”, “Lavender Peppermint”, and “Honeydew Popsicle”. Altogether, Nella Naturals has 1,500 different products.
The most popular scent: “Depends on the season,” says Nicki. Christmas and fall scents do well doing their respective seasons and in the summer customers prefer scents like “Homegrown Herbs” and tropical scents like "Waikiki Beach".
The Allens' favorite scent: “Stress Relief” laughs Rudy, pointing at a candle scented with eucalyptus and mint.
“We first started by making candles,” Rudy explains. “In the beginning, we made two different types of candles: paraffin candles and soy candles. Then we found out how much bad stuff is in paraffin candles and we threw eight or nine thousand dollars’ worth of candles in the dumpster because we didn’t feel morally right selling them to anybody else after we found out how much bad stuff goes into them.
"Then we went all soy, and dropped the price of the soy to make it affordable for everyone.”
Nella Naturals products are made from ingredients like natural soy wax, goat’s milk, coconut oil, shea butter, mango butter, and hempseed oil. Their soap is mostly glycerin-based but they are working on making lye-based bar soap, too.
“We also make African black soap. It’s made from sap from a type of palm tree,” says Rudy.
“Similar to a pine tar soap,” explains Nicki. “Good for helping with eczema and rosacea.”
“For colors, we use micas. For fragrance, we use essential oils. But there’s some scents you can’t achieve with essential oils. So we use pure fragrance oil. We try to keep anything toxic out of it,” Rudy tells us.
“You can’t achieve Cotton Candy scent with essential oils,” adds Nicki.
Diabetics and cancer patients love their Nella balm, an all-natural, petroleum-free skin balm. “We had a customer from Florida call about our Nella balm. She had been a diabetic for twenty-five years. The Nella balm healed the cracks on her feet. She said, “Your Nella balm is like a miracle. I used it for one week, and my feet were healed.”
During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nella Naturals begin to produce hand sanitizer and soon ran into shortages. Prices for the hand sanitizer ingredients skyrocketed. “Customers complained about price gouging. But our suppliers had raised their prices by 100% or more. One ingredient went from $1000 per barrel to $2600 per barrel. We never changed our profit per ounce.”
“Finding plastic bottles to put the hand sanitizer in was the biggest challenge. We ended up buying clear plastic ketchup bottles,” Rudy says.
Rudy and Nicki have five children, Grace, Rowdy, Emma, Cricket, and Ruxton. Between their business and raising their children, the Allens lead a very busy life. But both of them grew up on farms and are used to hard work.
“People always say, 'I want to own my own business. I can make my own hours and work when I want.'” Not so fast, say the Allens. “No, you just work all the time!”
Rudy’s dad helps them out, and Nella Naturals also has two non-family employees.
Long before Nella Naturals began, Nicki would make sugar scrub in her kitchen, using sugar and baby oil. To end our tour, she and one of the employees show us how they make sugar scrub.
“Sugar scrub is a mixture of coconut oil, shea butter, and carrier oils. It’s taken us years to perfect the recipe. We make one of the only sugar scrubs I know about that doesn’t separate,” Nicki says. “This is my baby."
"This is a typical sized batch and every single batch is mixed by hand. We’ve tried using mixers, but it puts too much air into it and it’s too light.
“Mixing by hand is really the only way to do it.”
The Allens and their employees on the front steps of Nella Naturals.
View our Nella Naturals products here.
(Photos taken by Dorcas Lichtenberger.)