Teen’s slime business a six-figure paycheck

Dana Branham, Breaking News Reporter
The Dallas Morning News

GARLAND, Texas – Welcome to the “slime house.”

Jessica Burks’ Garland home is oozing with opportunities to get your hands on – and into – the playful, gooey substance that set off an Internet craze.

Packaged slime in an array of colors and scents lines one wall of the living room, and, in the designated “slime room” workspace in the back, bottles of fragrance oil are arranged in rows, next to glue by the gallon and an industrial-size kitchen mixer.

But it’s not the amount of slime in Burks’ house that shocks people, she said. It’s that her 15-year-old daughter, Samantha Zumwalt, is at the helm of their enterprise.

The mother-daughter team run Samantha’s Slime Shop out of their home – and the demand for this squishy stuff has them pulling in six figures a year, they said.

Who’s buying slime?

High demand: Samantha’s slime, offered in a rainbow of colors and a range of textures, is in high demand. Since she launched her business in February 2017, she’s racked up more than 24,000 sales on Etsy and 10,000 on Amazon.

The customers skew younger – generally between 9 and 12 years old, Burks said, though some adults and teens buy slime, too. (Parents, she said, particularly love Cranberry Cider Crunch, a deep red slime made with glitter and fishbowl beads that smells just like autumn.)

Burks said they strive to keep slime affordable: a 2-ounce container of slime is $3, 4 ounces is $6 and 8 ounces is $9. The biggest size is 16 ounces, and it’s $17.

Some customers buy Samantha’s slimes, most of which also contain charms and trinkets, because they say playing with it is calming. Others want it because it gives them something to do with their hands, Samantha said.

If you’ve been on the Internet in recent years, you’ve probably seen – or at least heard about – slime.

Review boost: Last year, Nichole Jacklyne, a YouTuber who reviews slime and provides DIY tutorials for hundreds of thousands of subscribers, reviewed Samantha’s product in a video.

After Jacklyne’s video, orders poured into Samantha’s shop, Burks said.

On Instagram, a search for the #slime tag reveals thousands of videos of the slippery concoction being stretched, crunched, twisted, pulled and poked. Some of the videos and their crackling, popping and squishing soundtracks are made to elicit a relaxing feeling for the viewer, called ASMR: autonomous sensory meridian response.

ASMR is described as a tingling feeling at the top of the head or back of the neck – sometimes called “brain tingles” – and people often watch videos to trigger the response, or even just to relax or fall asleep.

There are all kinds of ASMR videos online. They often involve people cutting soap, whispering, typing, writing, tapping on surfaces, turning pages of a book or even eating crunchy foods.

Research shows ASMR could offer health benefits. An article published last month in the science and medical journal PLOS One noted that ASMR videos tended to slow the heart rates of viewers, as well as raise their skin conductance levels, which measure excitement.

ASMR isn’t a sexual experience, but it’s often mischaracterized that way, the paper’s lead author told Boston radio station WBUR.

When Samantha makes slime ASMR videos to showcase her products, she’s focused on a couple things: She wants a clean, smooth background, so she uses a board that looks like a slab of marble. She also needs quiet – the audio part of ASMR videos is the most important, she said, so she makes sure no one is talking in the background.

She relies on such noises as the popping of bubbles in the slime, or crunching foam beads. On her Instagram account, asmr.samantha, her videos generally involve pressing her fingernails into the goop, stretching and folding it.

Business: Samantha’s mom was initially resistant to the girl’s slime ambitions. It took months for Samantha to convince her to buy a key ingredient: a box of borax, a powder detergent that is mixed with water and glue to make slime.

“I told her no for months,” Burks said. “No slime in the house, no borax!”

“I was like, ‘Mom, I promise, I’m going to make a business out of this,’” Samantha said.

Finally, Burks relented. She had been laid off from her job as an accountant, and the two dove into the slime business. Now, it’s their livelihood.

Samantha initially expected a few orders a week. Today, they receive anywhere from 20 to 50 a day – and during the holidays, it’s closer to 100, the women said.

Burks and her daughter spend their days making slime. Samantha wakes up late, but stays up late too, getting orders ready into the night.

They take turns mixing up the ingredients. Last week, their home was filled with the candy-sweet scent of Poison Apple slime, thanks to the batch of bright red, super stretchy goo Burks whipped up.

That day, they had 14 open orders on Etsy and another 10 on Amazon, and all 24 had to go out that day, Burks said.

Employees: They’ve had to hire help since their slime business took off, Burks said. After the holiday rush took a toll on Samantha and Burks’ sleep, they hired four employees.

All the time they spend together has changed the women’s relationship, Samantha said. They’re more than mother and daughter, they’re business partners.

“It made me and my mom closer,” she said. “We fight a lot, but at the same time we’re really close.”

Samantha’s home-schooled, and her mom considers the slime business part of her hands-on learning.

Every month, they spend about $11,000 on slime supplies, shopping at mom-and-pop shops and online retailers, Burks said.

“We’re always out of the house picking up slime supplies,” Samantha said.

Moving forward: People have encouraged Samantha to go on Shark Tank to try to secure an investor, but she’s happy where she is.

“I get to control what happens,” she said. “I get to make sure there’s no hair in the slime – there’s nothing that isn’t supposed to be there. I get to make sure I know what the product looks like before it goes out.”

Burks is proud of Samantha for sticking with slime, and she’ll be happy with whatever direction her daughter wants to take the business.

“I want to see her be able to meet all of her business goals – whether that’s still running the slime enterprise, or buying another business out, or starting a new business, or franchising,” she said. “Whatever her dreams are … is where I want her to be.”