Five years have gone by since Rhett Garner’s life came precariously close to crashing down around him; five years since his wife dipped into the edge of life and spent time in limbo and his infant son arrived almost dead on arrival a few months later.
Garner calls that stretch his “Come to Jesus” moment, the one which he opted to plummet into the pool of the unknown instead of clinging to the relative safety of the metaphoric diving board. It led to his decision to leave his full-time position in the construction industry in order to give his best shot at bringing an old family foot remedy to market. In doing so, he has followed a motto created after the worst came which is loaded with hope and faith.
As is the case with such things, Garner’s current state of being starts well before the family catastrophe — or near catastrophe; there is a happy ending waiting around the corner — and doesn’t include him, at least directly. It actually began in Idaho in 1970 with the birth of his older brother, and a nasty case of flaky feet Garner said would probably be diagnosed as having eczema today.
Garner’s father Royce couldn’t find a product that would alleviate the problem, so he used his background as a pharmacy student to concoct something that would rid his son of the flaking issue for good. The testing ended surprisingly quickly with a substance he called DermaVine — a blend of plant-based extracts like willow bark, lemon peel and cinnamomum that results in a funky green liquid that works quickly.
“He believed it was the second bottle he made that fixed my brother’s feet overnight,” Garner said.
The substance, later bestowed with the moniker “Toe Juice” by a local football coach, became a household remedy passed around the Garners’ Idaho community to friends, neighbors and athletes in need of relief from a number of ailments. It’s become something of a cure-all, with Garner saying the substance can cure problems both small (razor burns, cracked hands and feet, disagreeable odors) to more severe afflictions like jungle rot and flesh irritations caused by diabetes.
(You might not want to Google either on a full stomach).
Garner used the liquid throughout his childhood to treat problems caused by his participation in sports — cross country practices and meets would shred his feet — and in college to treat an unpleasant facial outbreak.
“I fell in love with it personally when it cleared up my acne,” he said.
That also marked Garner’s first inkling to go beyond the bland peroxide bottles the family used to hand it to those friends and neighbors and bring Toe Juice to a wider audience.
But Royce didn’t want to leave his happy and satisfying life as a teacher, and Garner put his own ambitions on the backburner when he fell in love with a girl who became his wife.
The inkling never really went away though, as Garner’s first daughter ended up using it to clear his first daughter’s eczema after the “potions and lotions” he tried before failed to fix it. A couple of years of waffling went by as Garner considered the risks and rewards of either following the path of least resistance highlighted by a regular job and a quiet retirement toward the end of his life or taking a chance on Toe Juice and a trip into the wild blue yonder.
“Taking a risk like this is not our natural instinct,” he said.
Then came the change, which started when his wife came very close to dying five years ago while pregnant with a son. She transitioned from next-to-death to a coma and eventually came back into the world.
Struggle No. 2 came a few months late with the birth of a son who started life with intestinal issues severe enough that the doctor who treated him said he was handed a “dead baby.” Survival odds were low to non-existent after he was taken to a hospital out of Idaho, but the little guy kept plugging along and had a bowel movement on his own three weeks later.
Both Garner family members are alive and fine and perfectly healthy — Garner’s wife is even pregnant with kid No. 6 — but Garner said it provided the motivation he needed to expend the time, money and energy needed to make Toe Juice a viable product.
“That was our growing up moment,” he said.
Garner said his first kismet moment came within six months of the decision, when several of his coworkers were laid off from their jobs in 2008 due to the economic collapse. Had he stayed, Garner said he would have joined them in unemployment.
It took approximately two years to get Toe Juice into a Walgreens store in Idaho, where he said the product “just took off” and became more and more popular.
As Garner expanded Toe Juice’s reach, he also began to accumulate employees like quasi-partner Jared Hawkes, who he met two years ago after they got into a scuffle at a church basketball game. They reconciled their temporary disagreement after the game, and Hawkes sampled Toe Juice to fix an issue odor issue he couldn’t fix with foot powders or even Jell-O.
“All it did was turn my feet orange,” he said.
The green liquid fixed his problem, and Hawkes eventually decided to take his own risk and drops his job to join Garner on a full-time basis. He even moved from Idaho to Arizona when Garner came to Mesa with his family to expand Toe Juice’s operation.
Since then, Toe Juice has continued to expand, as Garner said 10,000 Walgreens locations across the country, as well as a number of other convenience stores, carry the Idaho-made product.
His short-term plans include a product launch at Phoenix-area Walmart locations on Aug. 24 and the development of spin-offs like a shoe spray and a shampoo in the near future.
Even with his product in a number of stores across the country, Garner said there is much left to do to broaden the product’s base and ensure it continues to move in an upward direction, but he’s inherently optimistic about Toe Juice’s fortunes and the direction it can take his family.
His belief in what could happen falls right in line with the simple two-word familial mantra that encapsulates what has happened to the Garners since life almost fell apart in 2008.
“Our family motto is ‘expect miracles,’ and we’ve seen it happen,” he said.
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