Flexibility leads new resident into new business opportunity

VICTORIA ACKERMAN has crafted heart-shaped bath bombs for Valentine's Day. The entrepreneur is marketing them through her online store, A Bit of Barn.

Making life-altering decisions in uncertain times takes hope in the future and confidence in oneself -- as well as a tad bit of flexibility.

Victoria Ackerman demonstrates all three as she embarks on her new business enterprise, A Bit of Barn, an online retail outlet where she will sell handcrafted beauty products and candles. A year ago, living in Arizona, she hadn't even considered making bath bombs and candles.

"I worked at an animal shelter and did horse massage," she said.

Involved with a young man who was studying cyber operations through Dakota State University's online program, she was building her fledgling business, On the Buckle, Equine Massage. With the horse barns, trail rides and horse shows which are part of the culture in northern Arizona, she was laying the foundation for the future.

"Eventually, I want to own my own rehab program for horses," Ackerman indicated.

COVID-19 hit the country about the time her boyfriend started talking about moving to Madison and taking classes on campus in order to qualify for a CyberCorps scholarship. Funded with a grant from the National Science Foundation, the program allows students to graduate with both a bachelor's and a master's degree in five years, covers tuition and fees, and provides a stipend -- $25,000 annually for undergrads and $34,000 annually for graduate students.

As the country was responding to the pandemic in a piecemeal fashion, with some discussion of closing borders, the couple decided to take a leap of faith and move. They loaded their possessions into a U-Haul trailer, packed their tuxedo cats Sylvester and Captain into carriers, and made the cross-country trek.

In South Dakota, Ackerman began working to re-establish her business with a new clientele.

"A lot of it is word of mouth," she explained.

Equine massage is a relatively new form of treatment for muscle problems in horses, both those used for ranch work and those used for recreation. Ackerman had completed training in the field and received her certification prior to leaving Arizona.

"Really, they're athletes," she said, explaining the benefits to horses. "They're used for sports. Massage is great if they're super sore or have a muscle problem."

Bit by bit since relocating to South Dakota, she has been making contacts.

"I travel all around eastern South Dakota, western Minnesota and southeastern North Dakota," Ackerman indicated. "Now my goal is to get out to events. A lot of it is going to the horse shows and talking to people."

She stumbled into making beauty products by accident. She was conducting research to find a recipe for hoof balm when she came across recipes for bath bombs.

"I do have a passion for bath bombs and candles, nice things," she confessed, and she began to experiment with the recipes. "I just kind of fell in love with it," Ackerman said.

That inspired her to consider marketing the products she made.

Having already started one business and having earned a certificate in business management and entrepreneurship, she understood what this would entail. The coursework had provided a solid foundation for embarking on this new enterprise.

"It let me take my first step into it. Getting your business up and going is about doing it," she stated.

Her boyfriend helped her to identify her niche, which led to the business name she chose.

"After a good day at a barn, my boyfriend said, `You should bottle that barn scent and sell it to horse lovers'," Ackerman related.

While she isn't sure the scent of sweat and manure would appeal to many, she realized she wanted to produce products with a clean, outdoorsy scent that would carry names suggestive of the horse culture. Thus far, she has come up with "Stall Rest," "Trail Rides" and "Horse Kisses."

The scents she's using for her bath bombs are lavender, cedar and cypress, and rose. The latter is being used for heart-shaped bath bombs designed specifically for Valentine's Day.

For her, this is just the beginning. She has candles in the testing phase and plans to expand to include both body butter and bath salts. In developing products, she's working for simplicity and visual appeal.

"I definitely want to make sure things look good," Ackerman said. "If I can't catch people's eye, I can't sell it and they won't experience it."

In opting for simplicity, which for her means using pure ingredients, she is hoping to develop products that will not cause problems for individuals with sensitive skin. However, recognizing that people are different, she does list ingredients on the tags so buyers can make informed decisions.

"I want to make sure it works for people, that they can enjoy it," she indicated.

A Bit of Barn was officially launched just two weeks ago with a website, Facebook page and Instagram account. At present, Ackerman is working to get the name of her business into the public eye and to establish a loyal customer base with simple, functional products.

She is even making personal deliveries to those in the Madison area who place orders. For her, this is just the beginning. She plans to offer not only new products but also new scents.

"There's a lot of opportunity to expand," Ackerman noted.