Having an unfortunate encounter with a prickly pear cactus must be one of the more unusual reasons for starting a business.
But that’s what provided the impetus for Basic Naturals, an 8-year-old personal care products company that, as its name implies, makes its moisturizers and other wares only with natural, basic ingredients.
“It was on one of my trips back to Israel,” recalled Yaniv Ben-David, who with his wife Danielle operates the company from their Norwalk home. “I picked up one of its fruits and ended up getting a lot of thorns from it. I kind of forgot about it, but two weeks later when I was back in the U.S. I’d developed a rash on my fingers, which then extended to my hands.”
Ben-David said the doctors he consulted were initially baffled, until he related the cactus story, at which time he was diagnosed with contact dermatitis.
While that would be the end of the story for most, Ben-David grew frustrated with the variety of available treatments: lotions and creams that contained alcohol and a number of chemicals that were against his personal belief that dealing with natural products is the best strategy in most situations.
Within three years he had done enough research to try and develop his own cream, which proved effective not only in treating his and family members’ dry skin but also diaper rash. With a background in computer engineering – he works full time at Norwalk consulting firm Kantar Retail – he and his wife have since developed a full line of products, from a range of skin care products targeted at the face, hands and feet to deodorants, lip balms and even insect repellent.
“We experiment in the kitchen making different things,” he said, “and we have a room in our house dedicated to producing each batch of products.” While Danielle essentially oversees the company during the week, Yaniv manages the business on weekends.
Danielle noted that, as they started planning to have a family, the need to rid their house of other chemical-based products became even more important. “Shampoos, facial creams — you’d be surprised at how many products have alcohol in them, which just dries skin out,” she said.
Having won over their inner circle, the Ben-Davids eventually began selling their wares at the Westport Farmers’ Market. Today their products are sold at such county stores as Harbor Harvest in Norwalk, Collected Home in Rowayton, Jarosa Yoga in Fairfield and Indigo ACU and Wellness in Stamford, as well as at Clover Grocery in Manhattan. Most of its sales come through the company website, Danielle noted.
Asked if the couple had any interest in expanding their retail presence to major chains like CVS or Walmart, Yaniv said, “Probably not. The majority of the products they sell are not natural, and the type of people who shop there are looking mostly at lower prices.” In addition, the company’s products have a much shorter shelf life than mass-produced items, due to their absence of chemicals, Danielle noted.
With 15 products available, Yaniv said research and development would continue to be done when time allows. “I’d like to do this full time, hopefully, one day,” he said. “But we feel that what we’re doing now is the right approach for us.”
Born and raised in Tel Aviv, Yaniv met his future wife when she was visiting Israel as a George Washington University student. He then visited her in Washington, D.C., in 2004, after which they became engaged. They spent the summer of 2005 in Israel – the year of Danielle’s study abroad, at Tel Aviv University – and married upon the couple’s return to the U.S. the following year. Yaniv became a U.S. citizen about four years later.
Danielle’s family is in Sleepy Hollow, while Yaniv’s remains in Israel. “We visit once a year, which is never enough,” Danielle said.