Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

October 23, 2009

Health care business a ministry for Barbara Dews

<b>By Libby Cluett</b><br><a href="mailto:lcluett@mineralwellsindex.com">lcluett@mineralwellsindex.com</a>

Mineral Wells has several women at the helm or high in the administrative chain of local businesses; Barbara Dews is one example and she loves her work.

“I love my job, I call it my ministry,” she said of her business Dews Twenty First Century Products.

She sells health and dietary supplements and beauty products to customers mostly through mail order sales, through her daughters’ related retail businesses and through other distributors.

But don’t confused her business with the company her husband, Jim Dews, owns – Dews Research. His business is totally separate – he manufactures health-care product preparations, including nutritional supplements and healing body products. She is one of his many customers.

Barbara’s company has sold products, mostly made by her husband’s company. The path to a successful career came with many lessons, learning opportunities and some tribulations.



Beginnings

The Dews moved to Mineral Wells in 1973. Barbara said her husband had worked for a successful pharmaceutical company in Fort Worth and wanted to start his own company – “He had a dream,” she said.

So, they moved to the area with three children – the youngest was 2. They rented the historic Lazy J Ranch, just north of town, as their new home.

The ranch offered opportunities and room the Dews didn’t have in the crowded Handley area from which they moved. Barbara Dews said she planted a garden and took on pigs and chickens.

“We learned about farming,” she said, which came in handy on their self-imposed, reduced budget. “We put ourselves on a $500 per month budget. We put everything else into the company.”

Other cost-cutting measures included making her children’s clothes.

“I sewed and made clothes and dance costumes. I even made Levis blue jeans for my son,” she said.

The Dews’ newly developed business, Dews Laboratories, made and sold “some of the same products I carry today. Jim did contract manufacturing and we had our own retail customers.” She was the bookkeeper and office manager and Jim Dews ran the manufacturing and research arm of the company.

After about six years, Barbara Dews said they started reaping profits and could build a home of their own. They also started to enjoy contemporary conveniences, like store-bought clothes and meat and began to travel abroad. Jim even purchased an airplane.

In the early 1980s, she said her husband decided to take the company public. In hindsight, she calls this “the biggest mistake in the world. We were too big to be little and too little to be big.”

A doctor from Austin bought large shares of stock in the company along with other investors. She said the business took a different turn.

“We were stressing quality and the board stressed profit,” she said.

After about two years the Dews broke off, sold their stock and started back over. Fortunately they kept their name. The former company became SummaRx, which has since gone out of business.

In the long run, after their lessons associated with going public, things seemed to work out for the Dews family and their business.

“We thought at first we had died and gone to hell,” Barbara Dews said. “It ended up to be a very big blessing.”

“We are people of tremendous faith,” she said. “We learned our blessings and that sometimes you are forced to go in another direction. Change is traumatic, but not bad.”

“It was ironic because when SummaRx shut down, we got some of their employees and equipment,” she added.



Starting her own business

In time, after restarting the business, Barbara and Jim Dews branched off, creating two separate, independent companies. His is named Dews Research-Laboratory and Manufacturing, where he makes products to companies specifications and has their label on it. His clients are from the U.S. and abroad.

Jim wanted to focus solely on contract manufacturing and private labeling and not sell retail to the public, according to Barbara Dews. She picked up that end of the former business and is one of his many customers.

“I said, I’ll sell to individuals and started on a small scale,” she said. “Clients found us and came back to us.”

In the business world, Barbara Dews doesn’t get special treatment from her husband.

“He treats me like every customer he has,” she added. “He makes me place an order for 500 bottles [his minimum order] just like the others. He cuts me no slack; I fall in line just like everyone else.”

“At night, he’s my husband. We don’t even have bedroom board meetings,” she said, laughing.



Getting the family involved

Dews said their children grew up working in the company but hated it. When they grew up, they branched off to pursue careers “in the real world,” far away from manufacturing health supplements. But they all came back in one way or another.

Around 1986, she started a retail business and handed that over to her daughter, Donna Dews. She started another one and eventually handed that one along to her daughter, Deedee Scott.

Her current incarnation of the retail business started in full swing in 1996, when she started promoting her retail and mail-order company Twenty First Century Products. Nearing the actual turn of the 21st century, Dews said there were many companies using the millennium name, so she changed her company name to Dews Twenty First Century Products.

Both daughters live and work in Denton and still purchase and carry their mother’s products for retail sale.

“They can’t buy the quantities that their mom can,” said Barbara Dews, who purchases in bulk from her husband’s company.

In addition to their daughters’ involvement, the Dews’ son, Jimmy, also helps with public relations for both companies as an independent journalist.



Tired of fighting the system

Unlike retailers that sell clothes or equipment, selling things that go into a human mouth or on human skin brings along many federal and state regulations and oversight.

Dews said she doesn’t mind this because what she sells is of high quality and well above the standards.

But the state has periodic visits in which she said they seem to keep changing the protocol on items like labels. On one visit, Dews had to change the listing of items on her label and six months later she had to change the same thing again. She purchased a labeling machine to accommodate these changes.

“I’m doing that just trying to bend over backwards trying to please them,” she said, adding that she tries to follow all rules. “Jim and I will wear our pants backwards if they want us to; we try every way we can to satisfy inspectors.”

She said there seems to be a lack of clarity in state regulations. “What they are requiring of me, for labels, is not consistent with what shows up in health food stores,” she said. When asked, she said the state does not offer a template for how labels need to appear on packaging.

Dews said she has hundreds of thousands of labels she cannot use – for “some little something.”

She said her orange sunburst is considered “intervening material” on the label, but said she does not know why.

Another example of issues that seem to arise on every state visit is with supplement names. Recently she had to change a supplement called sublingual B-12 (sublingual meaning under the tongue). She was told “sublingual” was unacceptable “because that made it an over-the-counter drug,” she said. “So I changed it to ‘ora-lingual.’”

In addition, she said she has pulled her Web site down, because of the state’s “nit picking.”

Now, Dews said she’s “tired of fighting the system” and seriously considering retirement. Other than the state enforcement, she said she loves what she does.



Lessons learned

Dews said it has been helpful to share viewpoints with other business women in the area through organizations like the Zonta Club of Mineral Wells. This international organization of executives and professionals helps advance the status of women in communities and worldwide through service and advocacy.

“Zonta has been a great organization for me. I’ve met other business ladies and can exchange ideas. It has provided me with a good connection with all the other businesses, especially those run by other women, and a good connection with the community.”

In addition, Dews has served many roles in her church community. She has served on the trustee’s committee, on the church task force, as chair of pastor-parish relations and serves on the finance committee at First United Methodist Church. When she joined the church in 1973, Dews formed the first junior youth program.

Things she has learned and practiced along the way include:

• Customer satisfaction is always right in this business even if it’s not profitable. When new clients come in she said she will try to find out what they are trying to achieve with nutritional supplements.

“People call me with nutritional problems and … sometimes I spend 30 minutes or an hour, even after I close counseling [clients] and seeing what they are trying to achieve,” she said. She added that she sends samples free of charge to see if that’s what the customer wants and sometimes “I’ll talk them out of buying something I know is not going to achieve what they want.”

• She hasn’t raised prices on individual customers, but found other ways to bear the current economic tide.

“I have not changed my catalogue since 2006 and have not raised prices,” she said, explaining that she trimmed discounts to distributors. “As they quit, I didn’t add new ones and I cut the maximum discount for distributors [from 70 percent to 60 percent on some products that rose in price] rather than going up on individual customers.”

“If I’m short on anything, marketing is probably my shortfall,” she said. But for those who find out about her business, she offers incentives, including 50 percent off products for walk-in visitors at her retail outlet on Farm-to-Market 1821 North, just north of Shattles Road.

“I try to be as affordable for everyone as I can. We’re not materialistic and people can’t afford it right now,” she said.

“My advice – follow your heart and whatever you sell, stress quality. If you stress quality, the profits will come because you’re in it for the long haul. It’s better to take a shorter profit in order to offer quality.”