Gifts Of Gab

A startup's social conscience pays off

Three years ago, Gabrielle Melchionda weighed a deal that could literally have changed the face of Mad Gab's Inc., her then-$76,000 skin-care business in Portland, Me. An exporter with business in Turkey was offering her a $2 million contract to sell her all-natural Lip Lubes abroad. Insanely tempting? Well, yes, but Melchionda, then 26, turned it down. The reason: The exporter also sold weapons.

Melchionda lets her values guide all her business decisions. She encourages her seven employees to jobshare and is starting a profit-sharing plan. She hires developmentally disabled adults from a local shelter to label products. She designs her packaging to produce as little waste as possible.

Such feel-good business practices appear to be paying off. Melchionda's revenues hit $310,000 last year, up from $172,000 in 1999. Mad Gab's has just moved into a new 4,400-square-foot office and production space in Westbrook, Me.

Not bad for someone who started out selling her lip moisturizers from the back of her brother's car. In 1994, Melchionda, with $8,000 in sales, entered a business incubator for a year "to find out if this was for fun or if this was a business." The answer: Mad Gab's Lip Lubes and body balms, with such scents as lavender and spearmint, are now sold at L.L. Bean, Eastern Mountain Sports, and Nordstrom, as well as hundreds of spas and all-natural co-ops, and over the Web. Sales to Japanese department stores represented 30% of revenues last year.

"She has a great product and a lot of heart," says Lucinda Alcorn, a purchasing manager for distributor Northeast Cooperatives in Brattleboro, Vt. "People know her personally, and that makes a difference." True enough. But if the company grows as she plans, Melchionda may have to let the goods sell themselves.

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