The Coco Bee: A natural solution

Apr. 21—COLFAX — The ingredient that launched The Coco Bee stopped the torment of allergy-induced agonies suffered by the company's owner, Kylie Pietila.

It's a piece of raw, unfiltered beeswax that smells like a forest after it's rained, easily mistaken for a circle of cheese.

"It's as raw and natural as we can get it, so that you get all of the benefits like the vitamins and nutrients, the good fats, the good lipids, the good bacteria for your skin," Pietila said.

Until Pietila began producing her own home and body care line from beeswax and other natural ingredients, she didn't light candles in her home because they often triggered headaches.

"I couldn't find a candle inside a storefront that didn't make me sick," she said. "(I) really missed good-smelling candles."

And she hesitated to use moisturizers, fearing acne and allergic reactions like hives and itching.

Many mass-produced lotions are "completely stripped due to their processes or chemicals and their main ingredient is water," Pietila said. "We don't have grains, alcohol or color dyes in any of our products."

Besides beeswax, coconut oil, cocoa butter and shea butter are common ingredients.

The first time she made candles, it was for fun at her mother-in-law's kitchen in LaCrosse, a rural town in Whitman County.

"I needed a hobby," said Pietila, who resides in Pullman. "I came to her house one day and I said, 'I want to make some candles with all the supplies and the oils I had.' "

That hobby swiftly mushroomed into the company The Coco Bee is now. From a tiny, kitchenlike production area, Pietila and her staff heat, mix and strain raw, organic, food-grade ingredients into hundreds of thousands of products. All of the processes retain as many of the healing qualities of the ingredients as possible.

The products are sold at her store in Colfax, a recently opened location in Cheney, online and at almost 1,000 retailers in eight countries.

Pietila talked about the rapid growth of The Coco Bee recently at her store in Colfax with me. Here are highlights of our conversation:

Elaine Williams: What happened after the first time you made candles with your mother-in-law?

Kylie Pietila: I was like, "I wonder if other people would buy these?" I had to research how to make the candles. I found blogs. With trial and error, I made the candles cleaner using raw beeswax from a farmer I found on Facebook marketplace. I took it to the Palouse Empire Fair in 2019 by Colfax and we nearly sold out. People were like, "Where do we find you online?" And then we got a website and we got into wholesale. I stored beeswax in my father-in-law's garage. It took over my living room, my kitchen, my garage and the same spaces at my in-laws' house. I convinced my husband to let me quit my job and open a storefront. I was like, "I bet if we opened a store, people would buy more candles because they could smell and touch them." I was right. We opened and we never looked back. It's just grown and grown. We just opened our second store in Cheney.

EW: How do you develop new products?

KP: Everything we do is for people who have sensitive skin, severe allergies or skin ailments like rosacea, eczema and psoriasis. We work with cancer patients undergoing treatment due to the toll it takes on their skin. People come to us with niche ailments they can't find help for in big stores.

EW: What role do events play in your business?

KP: We do classes. You can learn how to make your own candles and skincare products at The Coco Bee. People book events from bridal showers to baby showers to book clubs to card nights. Sometimes we have three parties in a day. We're next door to The Cellar, a wine bar. Customers can bring their appetizers and glasses of wine while they linger here and shop or make candles. While they're having dinner at The Cellar, their candles are curing and drying. Then we pack up the candles for them. So it's a whole experience.

EW: Your philosophy about sustainability extends to your packaging. How has that evolved since you opened?

KP: When we started, we didn't have any branding. I bought containers for the candles at thrift stores. Now we have refill programs. People can bring their glass jars back. We'll refill them and give them a discount. Customers can also bring in cleaned, empty candle jars from other retailers and refill them with our candles. Now we're not buying as much glass. Some of these smaller communities don't have full recycling programs, so the glass just gets thrown away.

EW: You are constantly thinking of out-of-the-box solutions to business challenges. That philosophy mirrors other Colfax business owners and the Colfax Downtown Association. Why is downtown Colfax a good location for your business?

KP: People come through Colfax and they get curious as to what these businesses are that are opening up. They park downtown. Then you see after a few hours, they've made their rounds. You can truly come and spend the entire day in Colfax. You can come into The Coco Bee and make your candles. You can go to Appel Heights and find fresh-milled flours. You can come to The Cellar and have a small bite. You can grab coffee. We have so many options now. We're this nice space in between the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley and Spokane, near Washington State University and the University of Idaho. Colfax is definitely on the map. People who thrift know about Colfax. People who quilt know about Colfax. People want experiences. People want meaning in their gift giving. We provide that.

EW: A new restaurant is anticipated to open this July in an incubator the Colfax Downtown Association is establishing near The Coco Bee. How much will that help The Coco Bee?

KP: It creates a desire to come back into town more often because at times when there aren't quite as many places, people might feel a little burnout eating the same thing every week. Having the variety that we're building downtown creates excitement. It creates a desire to be out and about more and the opportunity to have even more experiences.

EW: One of the new directions you're taking is sourcing some of the botanical herbs that go into your products. How are those plans unfolding?

KP: We've started our own private flower farm this year and plan to use what we harvest next year. We're growing our own herbs like lavender that we use in our oils so that we can oversee the whole process ourselves. We will know what was in the soil and how it was cultivated and how it was dried. I can tell the story from start to the end.

EW: What other ingredients do you eventually plan to produce in-house?

KP: Our flower farm will allow us to set up our own beehives so that we can have our own pollination circle. Then hopefully that will bring honey and my own wax as well. Right now we're doing really well being able to support farmers with as much beeswax as we go through — a couple hundred pounds a month. For now, I want to continue supporting other farmers and apiaries in Washington, Idaho and Oregon, but one day it would be great to say we can source from our own hives in Whitman County.

Williams may be contacted at or (208) 848-2261.