One on One With Shannon McLinden of FarmHouse Fresh

The president and founder of the natural skin- and bodycare brand discusses its story so far.

Shannon McLinden expresses such devotion and enthusiasm for her company, FarmHouse Fresh, that it’s hard to believe the brains behind this beloved body- and skincare brand wasn’t concocting nostalgic names and playful packaging while still in the womb.

The truth is, McLinden’s creative side—not to mention her drive—were both evident early on. Born in New York and raised in Minnesota, she studied advertising and public relations at TCU in Fort Worth, earned a Master’s in business and went on to own a Dallas advertising agency. It was during this period that, while attending events in the harsh Texas heat, McLinden noticed that her sandals kept slipping and made her feet uncomfortable. So she did what any budding businesswoman would do and patented a product to resolve the problem. Her invention, Summer Soles—adhesive insoles for open-toe shoes—is still wildly popular.

The savvy solution-seeker was only just getting started on her road to entrepreneurship, however. “My Summer Soles customers asked me to devise other products, so I formulated a foot scrub to prevent dry heels from cracking,” explains McLinden. She sent a scrub to Oprah Winfrey, who chose it for her O List of favorite products, and before long McLinden was receiving thank-you notes from celebrity fans around the world.

“That was the first seed of our FarmHouse Fresh brand,” she adds. “So I kept dreaming and formulating, and pulled together a team.” McLinden didn’t have to look far when hiring: her brother Scott now heads up the company’s media division, and her sister-in-law Delia is vice president and national sales director.

As the all-natural, American-made brand celebrates a milestone decade this year, it has some exciting plans in the works, not least certification for its organic line, and a new corporate ranch and animal sanctuary in McKinney, Texas. According to McLinden, the building “will be the heart and soul of our philanthropic mission: to help rescue teams transport, fund and find foster-to-forever homes for forgotten and abused animals.”

Despite the enormous workload that comes with running a company—“there are never enough hours in the day!” notes McLinden—the entire team’s joy for its work is unshakeable. “We absolutely love what we do and the businesses we get to work so closely with. We call it a dream factory, and it really is!”

DAYSPA: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Reigning in our ideas! We work years in advance on products, and have so many incredible new creations in development. When you love them all, the waiting process for introducing them to customers is torture!

What has been the defining moment of your career?
It had to be showcasing at ISPA our first year, where we handed out these gorgeous handmade paper bags we’d spent weeks making. I remember buyers commenting on how beautiful our bags (and our booth) were. At that moment I realized that all the love and little details and artistry that we put into our work—the handcrafted packaging, whimsical designs, local farm ingredients and our love of animals—were recognized and appreciated. What could be better than that?

Do you have any advice for people entering the skincare world today?
Bring your authentic voice. As a company, we have a hard time creating products outside of our comfort zone, and that’s a good thing. We stay true to our own voice and passions as we formulate new products. What we produce genuinely reflects what we love.

To what do you attribute FarmHouse Fresh’s success?
Our team. There’s a warm, conscientious person behind every phone call and every detail, working tirelessly to ensure we provide the best experience we can. We don’t always get everything right, but no one tries harder than we do.

We learned that you wrote a book while in college: true?
For most of my teen years I struggled with depression, and with not feeling pretty, smart or thin enough… The Me Nobody Knew (second edition: Carolrhoda Books, 2010) is an uplifting read that follows my journey and the steps I took to pull myself out of some of my darkest times.

What else do most people not know about you?
I’m a true introvert. As FarmHouse Fresh’s creative director, I feel most at home behind the scenes. That being said, at shows, I love hearing our customers raving about our team, because without them, my visions could never be brought to life. It’s something I’m so grateful for.

How do you find a work-life balance?
I don’t, actually. It’s something I hope that our animal sanctuary and philanthropic work will help me with. My work hours and schedule are all-consuming.

If you weren’t in this industry, what would you be doing?
I can’t even imagine! There’s no end to my ideas. When I travel, the magazines I flip through become notebooks of sketches of treatment protocols and product names… I can’t turn it off and I wouldn’t want to. It’s too much fun!

Who is your hero and why?
My sister-in-law, Delia! She’s that person who doesn’t just say something, she does it. If a dog needs rescuing, she drives an hour to go and get it. She has unlimited compassion for animals and immediately dives in to help, no matter what.

Who was an early influence in developing your work ethic?
My dad was one of the top county administrators in the country, and won numerous awards for his tireless work for the community. He was one of the funniest, most outgoing, positive people you could ever meet, on top of being so thorough at his job. Now that I’m older, I see how challenging that is, amid the myriad of business objectives you tackle in a given week.

Why is it important to you to strive for certification for FarmHouse Fresh’s organic line?
We have a select group of customers who are mostly concerned with carrying products that are free of GMOs, pesticides and herbicides. Although ‘natural’ products ensure a high concentration of naturally derived ingredients, certified organic products ensure those ingredients are also GMO-, herbicide- and pesticide-free.

What’s your personal philosophy?
Something Oprah once said: ‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them.’

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?
There are 1,000 balls in the air, and if you can keep 700 of them up there it has been a good week. But as we grow, I feel like modifying that to 100,000 balls in the air!

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Catching up on sleep, washing my hair: little things that fall by the wayside when you’re moving at 100 miles an hour and are in a different state every few weeks.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I’d find a work-life balance!

Tell us more about FarmHouse Fresh’s new corporate ranch.
We’re in the process of moving into it. It took more than 18 months to design and build, and all the finishing touches are happening now through the late summer, including interior design, barns and fencing.  

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