Jacqi Painchaud, founder of Grampa’s Garden, Helps People Relax at Home with Natural-Based Products
When Jacqui Painchaud was a child, she was already familiar with the natural healing power of herbs and oils thanks to her parents’ garden and her mother’s medical background.
Jacqui recalls with great joy the times she spent creating culinary botanical oils from that garden planted by Paul and Giselle Painchaud that she gave to family members as Christmas gifts. That was back in the early 1980s.
After she spent several years working as a physical therapist in Massachusetts and Maine, Jacqui, now 57, launched Grampa’s Garden in 1993 and now sells a vast array of natural herbal-based products worldwide. The business is named after “Gram,” her mother, and “Pa,” her dad. Jacqui is a single parent with a 12-year-old son, Jacob.
She simply saw a need to provide patients with a healthy alternative. “I saw many patients who were not only battling pain, but also trying to heat up packs that were awkward, bulky, and scalding.”
At her manufacturing facility in Topsham, Jacqui displays the very first lap pillow that her friend and former business partner Gloria Hewes made just before they launched Grampa’s Garden. Jacqui met Gloria through Gloria’s mother-in-law, Jan Hewes, who was Jacqui’s colleague at Greater Brunswick Physical Therapy. Jan and Gloria worked with Jacqui to launch the company. The idea behind Grampa’s Garden came into focus during a horticulture class at Southern Maine Technical College. When the instructor, Richard Churchill, asked the class what kind of business they would create, Jacqui knew right away. “Everything came together.”
“We made our massage oil that is still used by a lot of therapists,” Jacqui said.
Over the next several years, Jacqui attended scores of trade shows throughout the Northeast, Midwest, and the West Coast to market her products. She went door to door to Maine retailers throughout Portland and elsewhere.
Jacqui said her company experienced its first breakthrough moment when QVC came to Portland in 2004 and decided to introduce their home shopping network viewers to Grampa’s Garden’s body shawl as a special value in the fall. They had 87,000 orders. Jacqui started doing catalogues in 1998 and forged a partnership with L.L. Bean in Freeport to sell her products in their stores. “I always had something to hand out, always.”
Eventually, Jacqui’s efforts to expand her products’ reach to the Midwest paid off, too. “We did a lot of Chicago shows and got Whole Foods interested.”
That advancement enabled Grampa’s Garden to expand into California where a gentleman from Dubai discovered something that relieved his back pain. He liked the products so much, he opened some Grampa’s Garden stores there in the Middle East. She has customers in Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, France, and Canada. Grampa’s Garden has 25,000 retailers and 3,000 wholesalers.
Jacqui would attend at least 10 shows a month to market her products to retailers and wholesalers. “I worked 70 to 90 hours a week and I loved it. It didn’t feel like work to me.”
She credits her dedicated staff, many of whom have worked for Jacqui for years, including Susan Hatch of Litchfield, who started as a home stitcher 18 years ago and now is head of manufacturing, and Blakley Goodwin of Topsham, who cuts every item, and who has been with the company for 16 years. Blakely manages pre-production work.
Lynn Hewes, Gloria’s daughter, has continued to work at Grampa’s Garden after Gloria passed away, in manufacturing or in the front office off and on since she was 12 years old.
There are 17 people who work in the Topsham facility and the new Sensory Adventure Spa in Brunswick that is managed by her brother, Michael Painchaud. Jacqui said Michael returned to Maine from Seattle 10 years ago and did a great deal to improve Grampa’s Garden warehouse management and organization. In addition, he has contributed a lot to Grampa’s Garden marketing and branding. The new store is Michael’s brainchild and represents his vision to give Grampa’s Garden a brick-and-mortar experience where people can come in, enjoy coffee in the Orange Horse Coffeehouse, and herbal teas in the Tea Tree Café.
Jacqui employs 15 remote stitchers. They design and create all of the Made in Maine products. Jacqui credits her success to the hard work and dedication put in by her employees. “There have been a lot of great people putting it all together as fast as they could.”
Grampa’s Garden’s products range from hot and cold therapy pacs, aromatherapy non-heatable pacs, herbal apothecary, and essential oils and blends. Some of those products include weighted blankets, neck wraps, lap pads, and vests for children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities. Cozy Whimsical Animals and Fidget Pocket Pets help children increase relaxation, improve their focus and concentration, and decrease anxiety and sensory overload symptoms associated with neurological disorders like Autism. A common denominator is comfort and safe treatment, for people in their homes or elsewhere.
The company also makes a range of other products. The company’s heated and cold neck wraps, lap pacs, and eye/sinus pacs help with lower back pain, shoulder pain, and headaches. Handwarmers, scarves, and slippers for are made for those cold winter months. For dogs and cats, pet therapy products include a Tug N’ Pull toy for your dog and Cat Napper Mat and Cat Nip Pillow. Pets can also benefit from Grampa’s Gardens’ cooling and heatable inserts for dog and cat beds.
The company spreads its good energy in a variety of ways. It makes a pink heat/cool heart pac that has a removable cover and is embroidered with the pink breast cancer ribbon. Grampa’s Garden donates 7.5 percent of every sale to the American Breast Cancer Foundation. The company makes teddy bears that Maine hospitals give to every pediatric patient.
Grampa’s Garden products are sold online and to wholesalers who supply schools, hospitals, healthcare facilities, hospice care facilities as well as chiropractors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other healthcare providers. “Spas are big with us.” And Jacqui said many veterinary practices order the body shawls for dogs.
Grampa’s Garden provides support for other Maine companies, such as doing die cutting for Sea Bags, in Portland. Grampa’s Garden cuts the applique and then returns the cut pieces to Sea Bags’ production teams, who place and stitch them on the bags. It is a win-win for Maine businesses.
Grampa’s Garden products are sold on Amazon. “Amazon was huge for us. They doubled our company in two to three years,” Jacqui said.
Like many businesses here in Maine and nationwide, Grampa’s Garden has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. They did not have to close during Governor Janet Mills’ shut down order in March and April because they were deemed an essential business. Jacqui said they made face masks and whatever other products were needed and in demand by front line healthcare workers.
Individual online orders have been strong for masks, hot and cold pacs, essential oils, and weighted blankets because her customers are seeking natural ways to relieve the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic, especially while quarantined at home.
One of the challenges is that many of her customers (ones that ordered her products in bulk to supply schools and healthcare facilities) have been closed. Some of those facilities and schools that are open will place individual orders. But figuring out the logistics of how much fabric and herbs to purchase to meet the demand is difficult.
For example, their medical distributors dropped to 30 percent of what they typically order from Grampa’s Garden because the hospices and schools those medical distributors serve are not ordering as much product. They may get up to 50 percent later this summer. Before the pandemic, Jacqui said her company was poised to see 15 to 20 percent growth in the first quarter. The pandemic knocked that projection to 50 percent of where they were during the first quarter of 2019. Slowly, but surely, wholesale orders are gradually increasing.
One of the most important lessons Jacqui has learned is having the ability to adapt to the changing marketplace. “One of the greatest assets to have in business is flexibility. Because of the core, we are going to be able to ride through this.”
Jacqui’s passion to keep developing new products for her customers around the world is a driving force. At the new Sensory Adventure Spa store in downtown Brunswick, Michael summed up Jacqui’s vision this way: “She just wants to make people feel better.”