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In the Beginning, There was Tea Tree
The story of how I got started in the aromatherapy, soap, natural cosmetics and personal care industry is very much like the story of many others who start a small business: I was fulfilling a personal need. It was the summer of 1998 when my son, Keegan, got a case of ringworm on his face that would not go away.
We tried over-the-counter (OTC) products and prescriptions to clear it up, but it kept growing. Since I was partly raised while living overseas, I had learned to go to the apothecary to find natural cures. So I headed to the tiny, local health food store where we were living in Edmond, Oklahoma as it was the closest thing I could find to an apothecary. The store clerk had nothing to do but stand in the book aisle and read books with me. Everything we read pointed to tea tree essential oil as the cure to ringworm.
At that time, our family was on a very tight student budget, so I bought the smallest bottle of tea tree essential oil and headed home to see if my eleven-dollar investment would work. Much to my surprise, within three days the ringworm was completely gone. In addition, I had expected the tea tree to cause allergic reactions because I am allergic to fragrances, but I had no problems. Because of that combination of events, I became very intrigued about this thing called aromatherapy.
Before that encounter with tea tree essential oil, I had always just assumed that aromatherapy was one of the foo-foo fluffery esoteric things out there in the market. When I thought of aromatherapy I envisioned the incense burners that make me take the long way around the hippy haven stores that line Hawthorne Avenue in Portland, Oregon.
With my new-found interest in the healing benefits of essential oils, I went to the local library and checked out every book they had on aromatherapy. After I read those, I put in a request for all of the aromatherapy books available in the state to be sent to my local library. Once I started digging into the science of essential oils, I was fully addicted to learning. It was then that I started researching and studying to become a certified aromatherapist.
At that time I was a stay at home mom, homeschooling my now-ringworm-free son, while my husband was a full-time student and working full-time! When Christmas arrived we needed to make our gifts because we couldn’t afford to purchase them. So, I decided to use the tea tree from our medicine cabinet to scent the melt and pour soap we bought from the local craft store. We created an assortment of soaps with different sizes and shapes and packaged them up nicely. My husband, Dennis, has a long history of creating companies, so he decided to add re-order forms along with the gifts. In retrospect it might have been a bit tacky, but it worked!
Our friends and family loved the soap and, not only did they order more, but they referred us to their friends and family. When the orders came in we just kept making more, thinking our little hobby would be nothing more than that, but we were wrong! Bit by bit people began asking for more products and we started to expand our line at first by buying from overseas or out of Canada since no one in the U.S. made bulk natural products at the time. We started to realize that our little Oklahoma-based aromatherapy hobby was turning into a miniature micro-business.
When my mother suffered a heart attack, I felt the need to move back to the Northwest to be closer to my parents. But our hobby didn’t bring in enough funds to afford us the luxury of moving. It wasn’t until shortly after I totaled our car in an accident that an opportunity presented itself. When a $6,000 check came in the mail to replace our car Dennis asked if I would prefer to use it to move to Portland or to buy a new car? I jumped at the opportunity to take the money and move our family and business back to the Pacific Northwest with the car we had left.
It was a Friday, and on the following Monday Dennis was scheduled to start his training with the Police Academy – so it was now or never. So that Monday, instead of it being the first day at the Academy for Dennis, it became moving day. We loaded the back of our U-Haul with all of our earthly garage-sale possessions along with a small box filled with essential oils and soap molds. In the cab of the U-Haul we packed in one car seat with our six week-old baby Selah, one cat litter box, one beloved cat named Star, two adults and our 6 year-old son Keegan.
It was a snug fit, but we were excited. We had just enough money to get us to Portland to set up our new lives. We hitched our 12 year-old car onto the back and headed North to a land of unknowns. We had no job, no place to live, and very limited resources with only 5 days to return the truck before we got charged again…But we were full of hope, aspirations, and dreams. Anything seemed possible.
After about twenty miles, just outside Oklahoma City, the truck broke down for the first time. After a couple of hours of quick repairs, we continued our journey. Everything was going well until the next day. As we drove up a long incline in Burley, Idaho, we noticed lots of black smoke pouring of our U-Haul. This time there were no quick repairs to be made. The U-Haul guys unhooked our car, towed our U-Haul off the highway, and set us free in the Middle-of-Nowhere-Ville, Idaho. We holed up in a seedy hotel with our cat, a baby, and a 6 year-old while repairs were made, and our time and resources diminished. We were detoured, but we were not fazed – yet.
With our truck fixed three days later, the guys at U-Haul hitched our little car back onto the tow dolly and sent us on our way with promises to reimburse us for our detour sometime later. We left Burley with even more dreams. Dennis has spent the down time imagining up new divisions and exciting directions. I have to admit, our little detour sparked new ideas in Dennis’ mind that—by the sheer size of those dreams—scared me.
With one day to spare before the U-Haul was due to be returned, we rolled into Portland, Oregon in need of a job and a home. We unhitched our car from the U-Haul and found that it had aspirations of its own: to roll down the hill and away from us undeterred by the constrictions of brakes. We discovered that we had literally dragged our twelve year old Toyota the five hundred and eighty six miles between Burley, Idaho and Portland, Oregon with the emergency brake engaged. The U-Haul mechanic had set it when he loaded our car back on the dolly and forgotten to release it. Still undaunted, we forked over our formally-earmarked house deposit money to have brand new brakes put on our old car. We rented a car so we could still find a place to live that day.
Traditional home rental options were out since we had no deposit funds left, no jobs, no income, no credit, and very little money. Our journey had depleted our funds for first and last month’s rent, security deposit, and all the other fees those people threw at us, walking in the door. After several rejections in town, we found ourselves driving way out in to the countryside in the small town of Molalla. As we drove through a cute little neighborhood, Dennis suddenly stopped the car to talk to a man putting up a For Sale sign in the lawn.
A few minutes later, Dennis came back to the car and said, “Let’s go get the truck.” Despite our situation, he had convinced that man to rent us his home until it sold. He handed him a check for that month’s rent and drove back to get all our worldly belongings so that we could move into our cute, new home. We were ready to unpack and settle in so we could get back to our new hobby business.
However, when we pulled the U-Haul up to the house with great anticipation, and we released the back door of the U-Haul to unpack, we found that all our life possessions and our “business in one box” was covered in thick black soot. It seemed that the black smoke that had poured out of the U-Haul truck had been going directly into the storage area of the truck. We suddenly had no clothes, bedding or furniture—nothing was spared!
A few set-backs later—and even more broke than we had planned—we got ourselves settled into the Northwest. We started homeschooling Keegan, and Dennis started school. Our Molalla home-front meant that Dennis had a 36 mile commute each way to and from school. Between his studies, though, we started building our dreams into a business.
Our kitchen became our R&D lab. I ordered more library books and, in between homeschooling and caring for our little baby, filled my mind with more information on aromatherapy and cosmetics. Business came natural to Dennis, and he began building up our mail-order aromatherapy business as we sat on the floor of our new home with our new particle-board desk furniture. We were not willing to allow the roadblocks, detours, and distractions to stop us from reaching for goals.
A few weeks later a friend noticed how enthusiastic I was about aromatherapy, so she invited me to have a product party at her house and teach what I knew about essential oils. She invited her friends over, and I taught them all about aromatherapy. Two of the women asked how they could become consultants and sell my product. I wrote down their info and promised to get back to them. I went home with $500 worth of orders and a new idea. Dennis took that idea and ran with it. He developed a multi-level business plan and manual. We signed up our first consultants that same week. As we grew our party plan, we endured yet another move to be closer to Dennis’ school. Meanwhile we continued to fill the orders for our little multi-level business out of our small apartment kitchenette.
The party plan really took off, and we found ourselves supporting over fifty consultants after only a few months. As we raced around trying to fill orders we realized that we had to move the business out of our two-bedroom apartment kitchenette to a “huge” 600 square-foot building to keep up with our growing need for ingredients and supply space. We were very scared because that was a huge investment for us with absolutely no guarantee of success. I thought, “Well if we fail, at least we can move into our manufacturing space until our lease is up.”
In the middle of all of this, our family expanded with the birth of our daughter Caiden, and we were determined to keep everyone with us while we grew our business. Dennis focused on growing the business while I made the products. We were completely overwhelmed as we worked night and day toward a vision that was not very clear at the time and changed often. We contacted all of the cosmetic manufacturing companies in search of someone who would private label for us or custom formulate product that met our needs. It was then that we discovered that the industry purchase minimums were either 4 drums (220 gallons) or 10,000 pieces and we couldn’t afford or store either one. With new challenges facing us, Dennis and I decided to re-invent how “natural” cosmetics were being made, so I went back to the library to do more research, and the journey continued.
This was long before there were craft books on how to make bath and body products. I read all of the copyrighted recipes of the chemical companies in order to better understand the chemistry of cosmetics. Once I gathered enough knowledge to understand the concept of emulsion and preservation, I became a research and development queen. I ordered samples of ingredients, and by trial and error I created our own cosmetic formulas that were safe, stable, and made with naturally-derived ingredients.
Once we had perfected our formulas, Dennis realized that there was a giant niche in the industry that was wide open. No one was offering “natural” bulk bases to the small businesses, crafters, or hobby-level consumers. He also determined that it would be much easier to manufacture in bulk and sell to thousands of small businesses than it was to make one retail product at a time.
I was terrified. I knew Dennis would succeed and I couldn’t imagine making hundreds if not thousands of gallons-worth of product. I was making all of our products in two-gallon batches! I remember clearly the sheer panic that overtook me when Dennis announced that we were going to change our business model in the midst of our original aromatherapy party plan company. I had worked so many hours writing training material, formulating products, doing parties, training consultants, making product, and doing everything else it took to build our party plan business from scratch. We were busier than you could imagine, growing substantially while working our tails off.
Dennis had this bright idea to start a new company and call it Essential Wholesale. He wanted to shut down the party plan and become a wholesale manufacturer of the cosmetic bases, using the formulas we had developed. It seemed counter intuitive to me to shut down something that, for all intents and purposes, was working. He was totally sold out on his new vision for our future, but I was scared of the change. What I didn’t know—but what Dennis could see clearly—was that the party plan business was about to implode because its growth was unsustainable given our lack of capital resources.
The reality was that we were working around the clock, and nothing about our business model left an opportunity for that to ever change. Our mistake was that when a customer attended one of our parties they had the ability to order a customized aromatherapy product for their exact needs. That meant that every product had to be scented and mixed by me, because the use of the correct dose of each essential oil in a given product could only be determined by a trained aromatherapist—and I was it. We were working until two or four a.m., only to go back to our office by nine a.m. and do it all again. It was insane, but I was afraid that if we changed I would have to pay the same dues to succeed in the new company.
Dennis had the forethought to change our business model so that someday our jobs would be able to be duplicated. Our organically-grown business that had started with only fifty dollars, combined with a significant investment of time and effort, needed a makeover.
I was emotionally hanging onto all the time and energy we had invested into our party plan. Dennis was using logic and striving for a better future for us. I was frightened of the change. Dennis talked about one day making thousands of gallons of product in one batch, and I wondered how I could physically do that, given that I was killing myself to produce the few gallons we produced per week at that point.
Thankfully I let go of my worries and grasped onto the dreams of my husband. I made the leap with my eyes wide open, hands shaking, heart palpitating, and my vision firmly focused on Dennis’ dream. Once I made the successful leap to his dream, it became mine. I thank God that I was able to set aside my fear of change and let go of a faulty future that would have held us back from our greatest potential.
Our original business, FCP Parties, ran from 1999 to 2001. In 2001 we began the early stages of launching Essential Wholesale, and we were exclusively supported by that division by October of 2002. And 2003 was our first year of having only Essential Wholesale sales and customers. So for four years, from 1998 through 2002, we transitioned from one idea to another, blindly weaving our way toward an idea that had yet to be discovered. Finally, in 2003 we embarked on our continuing journey with Essential Wholesale.
We created Essential Wholesale with no minimum dollar amount for bulk wholesale product and 2 gallon minimums for custom formulating. Essential Wholesale hit the ground running. We quickly outgrew our 600 square-foot facility and moved to a 2,500 square foot space. We outgrew that space within five months but still managed to operate there for one and-a-half years. We are currently housed in a 35,000 square-foot, certified organic, and FDA registered facility. However, Essential Wholesale is once more out of space and will be moving in 2012 to a 58,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art manufacturing space.
Imagine if I had allowed my fear of change to stifle the dreams that Dennis had for Essential Wholesale and, later, Essential Labs! Now, we have over 4,000 gallons worth of tanks in our tank farm, and when I walk through it and remember all the small batches that I killed myself making, I have to smile. I was afraid of the growth ahead because I envisioned myself making every ounce of product when in reality, business growth freed me up and I haven’t made an ounce of product outside of the R&D lab for years. Thank God I got myself out of the way of our potential.
Our labs division, created in 2005, and known as Essential Labs, became the private label and contract manufacturing division that specializes in creating custom natural and organic cosmetics, mineral make-up, and personal care items to companies big and small around the world.
We are passionate about clean and natural products. We have loved being a part of people’s hopes and dreams. Every day we have had the opportunity to support small start-up companies and have watched hundreds of them become big companies. We have seen thousands of people create a comfortable income that allows them to stay home with their families. Plus, when a “big” company decides to partner with us to create a new “natural” alternative line to what they have been selling, we get really excited!
Shouldn’t our everyday lives be centered on what we are passionate about? Shouldn’t we spend our time consumed with what we love, believe in, and cherish? We have loved working on Essential Wholesale because it was never work to us. Dennis enjoyed building and developing this business. I loved the researching and developing of products.
As a couple, we managed to create a business that allowed us to be creative in our own ways and to work together toward a common goal. This business gave me an outlet for my creative passions which include creating new things and writing the Essential U blog, writing articles for countless industry and consumer magazines, all while feeding the science nerd in me. It has opened the door for me to write this book and my first book, How to Make Melt and Pour Soap Base from Scratch.
If I look back even further, I can find the roots of Essential Wholesale and my passion for this industry in my childhood. My parents have said that they should have known what my brother and I would grow up to be, based on our interests as children. We both followed our passions. My brother Kevin loved to watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and Jacques-Yves Cousteau. He watched these shows with great interest and curiosity and his career led him to the top of Discovery Channel and National Geographic.
As we grew up, I sat beside him and studied the color variations of the shag carpet. I was unable to focus in on the T.V. program itself. I found myself lost in my environment and wondering how things worked. I preferred to sit in my room playing with my chemistry set or perfume set over watching a television show of any kind. I conducted all sorts of experiments and never followed the directions. I lived outside the box, always striving to see what would happen if I mixed my chemistry set ingredients with my perfume kit ingredients. I also spent hours digging through my mother’s bathroom cupboards in search of things to smell, touch, and experience.
In fourth grade I fell in love with putting my words down on paper. I set my pen free to scribble every thought and every expression that bounced around in my mind. I wrote “Dear Diary” in endless journals accompanied by volumes of poetry. I wrote out my joys, tears, goodbyes, life lessons, and my love. I scribbled down notes to remind myself of how a string of words sounded as they bounced off of each other.
In fifth grade, I was sitting on the bleachers in Stuttgart, Germany waiting for another softball team to finish playing so that my game could start. With pen and paper in hand I watched a spider crawl across the bleachers and right then and there wrote my first poem. Before that day on the bleachers, I had a fascination with the way words sounded when they bumped together. But on that day, words came alive on paper, and ever since then, I have dreamed of being a famous poet. I have written thousands upon thousands of poems since then.
I later transcribed the music that I heard inside my mind into poetry. In college, when I traveled home for vacations, I carried a military duffel bag filled with all the poetry that I had written in my lifetime. Today, a young woman like me, overflowing with words, only needs to carry her laptop computer or smartphone to hold as many of her poems.
I never imagined that all those years of writing would someday become part of the modern American graffiti known as blogging. I never dreamed that I would use my love for words to scrawl out my life across the computer screens of America. I imagined my words contained within the covers of a poetry book but never as a blog, free to travel the digital world. I wonder how many from my generation and older dreamed of publishing books and how many from my children’s generation will realize the freedom that the internet has given the creative mind. Significant changes in the publishing world have made it easy to place my books into online bookstores.
By the time I reached adulthood, my passions had increased to creating in the kitchen, making my own perfumes and beauty products, and writing words on paper. But there was no congruency and no plan of how to pull together a lifestyle that would allow my creativity to earn me a living. My husband, Dennis, brought the missing link to my world. His vision to build Essential Wholesale was a perfect fit to my passions.
In my thirties, I gathered up my creative skills and my science abilities along with my knowledge of how the human brain and body works, and I became an aromatherapist and cosmetic formulator. However, it took until I was forty years old for me to experience the most fulfilling years of my life. I have combined all of my passions: perfume (aromatherapy), chemistry (cosmetic formulating), color art (make-up) and poetry (newsletter, blog and books) along with my love of my family.
I am the person who will jump into a freezing river or push my body past exhaustion to reach the top of a mountain on my hands and knees just for the experience. And I am the person who will start a business on a shoestring budget. I will chase giant dreams with my husband into overwhelmingly fast-paced business growth. I am the person who will fail, experience utter defeat and then jump right back into the same raging river of business. And I’m okay with that now. I’m not bothered by the people who are standing on the banks of the river shaking their heads in disapproval. I love the rush, love the experience, and I thrive in the growing and painful experiences of it all.
That said, we must remember that behind every business success story is at least one or more business failure story. Dennis and I are no different. As a matter of fact, many investors are hesitant to invest in someone who hasn’t failed yet. Our business success story has two major business failures that both preclude and are intertwined with our story.
Failure #1 – PB&J’s Live
The setting was in the kitchen of PB&J’s Live on a busy Friday night. It was the winter of 1996. Dennis and I were friends and business partners. Keegan, my son, was four years old and I was a single mother. Dennis was single and a budding serial entrepreneur. The stress level at our restaurant, PB&J’s Live, was high. The business was surviving from week to week on the income brought in on Friday and Saturday Comedy nights. I ran the kitchen, and Dennis was in charge of everything else.
Finances were too tight to have a babysitter, so Keegan was tucked in a safe corner within my line of sight. When the orders started coming in that Friday evening, I handed Keegan a box of markers and gave him directions to stay on the milk crate. I could swear that I had also handed him paper to write on, but given what happened next, maybe I forgot? It is likely that I had it in my mind to give him paper and markers, but I had too much on my mind, and the small details must have escaped me. From Keegan’s perspective, the only thing missing in the scenario was upon which to color.
Keegan was always content as long as he was near me. He was especially quiet that night and never left the milk crate. At one point, I glanced over and noticed that Keegan was writing on his hand. I thought to myself that I would go stop him once I got the orders started. I was always rushed to get dinner on every table before the comedy act started.
The hours rolled on, and with each glance at Keegan, I noticed a growing marker tattoo expanding on his body. I kept thinking there would be a break in the dinner rush, which would provide the opportunity for me to go stop his body art, but I didn’t have a moment to spare as order after order after order piled in. I sent plate after plate out to the dining room. PB&J’s Live was hopping, and Keegan was quiet. By the time the final dessert left the kitchen, and I had time to take a hard look at Keegan, I found him, colorful and quiet on the empty milk crate.
Keegan had taken the free opportunity to not only decorate himself from head to toe, but to do so with gusto. He had colored every inch of skin he could reach without taking off his shorts. He had been so detailed in his work that he had colored behind his ears and even inside of them. He was a walking masterpiece. I couldn’t be mad because I had watched him do it and hadn’t stopped him. I simply had to smile while he explained each detail of his design. It was washable ink, so “no harm, no foul” was my thought.
Sometimes we have to make a judgment call on the things that we give the power to upset us. I could have beaten myself down believing that I had neglected my son. I could have been angry at my circumstances as our business was barely surviving. I could have been mad that I worked all day at a regular job and all night at our business and still didn’t have enough money to get a babysitter for my son. But in reality my son was happier with me no matter what I was doing. I had chosen to start a business when I was already financially struggling. I had made choices that resulted in all the events of the night and I chose to not regret the circumstances I found myself in.
However, our business did eventually fail by circumstances outside of our control. Packing our restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights was great for us, but it did not go over well with the other restaurant and a video store with which we shared our parking lot. Our customers took over every space and then some. Not only did we share the same parking lot with these businesses, but we also shared the same landlord. The long-term relationships that the other two businesses had with our landlord outweighed her loyalty to us, and just before Christmas her lawyers sent us a cease-and-desist order. It stated that we could no longer serve hot food, that we couldn’t be open at dinner time and that we could no longer provide live entertainment.
The cease-and-desist order was a business killer for us. We had sunk every penny and more into starting up PB&J’s Live and had nothing left over to fight for our business or even open our doors for another meal without our menu, dinner service and live entertainment. We had made fatal errors in our contract and our location. We simply had to close our doors, auction off our equipment and walk away with a huge business loss and debt.
Dennis and I may have failed at that business but our friendship led to marriage. We all laugh at the stories of the experiences we had at PB&J’s Live now. The markers washed off of Keegan. We all remember how Keegan felt like just as much of an owner of our restaurant as we did – minus the financial stress. He loved to greet people, seat people, and sing on stage before we opened. He was sad to say goodbye to his PB&J’s family, and we learned a very expensive business lesson. But in the end, Keegan grew up with Dennis and I as we built, failed, rebuilt, started over, and grew our family businesses.
Failure #2 – von Natur
When we left Essential Wholesale’s 2500 square foot space to move into our current space, we still had a year left on our lease. Dennis had an idea to convert the vacant building into a store, which lead to the idea of a mini spa. Since I was in quite an ambitious phase of my life, I immediately jumped on the band wagon. Between being a wife, mother and business woman, I had felt separated from my creative side, so I saw a mini-spa as an opportunity to give my artistic side a new creative outlet.
Converting an empty warehouse into a store front and mini-spa took an enormous amount of creativity, sweat and labor. In the end, the space was amazing. A local television station even did a feature on the design of the store. The layout was exquisite. The staff was great. The products were selling like gangbusters. Yet, the store was a bottomless money pit that demanded constant time, money and energy. We expanded, redeveloped and redesigned, and around the clock we worked. The spa was eating up our time and Essential Wholesale was suffering from our divided attention.
We tried everything to stop the hemorrhaging. Finally, Dennis called a halt to it all and we shut down the von Natur store and spa. I was devastated because I had invested so much emotional energy into the creative side of the building, the products and into the lives of the people that worked for us. I had to lay everyone off, admit defeat and leave behind the piece of art I had made the building into. Mentally, the spa was eating us alive. Emotionally, I was crushed.
With the spa closed, we put all of our focus into branding a product line. We launched a new look for the product and took it to trade shows. I would describe the look as “one of those things you thought was a good idea at the time.” The graphics were splashy, colorful and expensive. In reality, I think the stress we were under made us go a little extreme on our look. Buyers loved our product at trade shows, and they loved the concept of our product line, but they hated our look. Our extreme packaging was a shiny, foil disaster.
On top of that, the product line itself was in chaos. There was no relationship between our packaging and the high quality of the product inside. We had not developed clear product lines, so customers were left guessing which cleanser to use with which toner. We were mid-stream, getting notice from the press and enjoying serving thousands of loyal customers. The products themselves were amazing, but we had packaged them inappropriately. We finally decided to end the product line too. To do this, we had to let go of history and wipe the slate clean.
I could not believe we were starting over again. I dreamed up many creative ways that we could use up the packaging and not lose the money we had invested, but there was no option but to scrap what we had and to start from the beginning. We went back to square one to start fresh and new, licking our wounds and learning from our mistakes. That time around, when we revamped the products, we surrounded ourselves with experts and leaned heavily on their advice and counsel. Our employees helped us redefine the product line from the inside out. They shared our burden and made it bearable.
So why did I run a private label manufacturing company, a bulk manufacturing company and launch a retail store/mini-spa along with a product line, all while trying to be a wife and mom at the same time? Well, I suffered from the “super woman complex.” I have been prone to think that I could and should do everything myself. I learned from the experience to delegate, to entrust others with my dreams, my vision and my burdens.
I thought Dennis and I could do it all. Together, we had started Essential Wholesale by ourselves while homeschooling one child, with another child in a back-pack and one in my belly. We worked around the clock for that dream because we had to. Our saving grace is that, when we failed—not once with von Natur, but twice—we were surrounded by a team of people who chose to walk beside us.
We did not open the spa with the intention of learning so many hard lessons. In failure, I was humbled. I learned to let go and embrace the experience and all that it taught me. I learned that failure in business is just that: business failure. It does not equal personal defeat.
We embraced the opportunity to reinvent ourselves, but the opportunity for reinvention only came after financial, physical and emotional breaking. I had created a “whole new me” many times in life. But this time was different. In the case of the spa, I had lost sight of the ultimate goal by only focusing on the playing field that I was on. The spa was the playing field comprised of the employees, the building, and the customers. The goal was to have a successful business. We were not even heading toward the goal, but I was so emotionally wrapped up in the playing field that I fought Dennis when it was time to let go.
I was like a drowning woman flapping frantically for something to stop me from drowning, all the while fighting against the rescue. When I surrendered to the rescue I was so relieved. The burden had been so extreme that even the heavy task of laying people off and closing our doors was a massive relief. Closing the spa was the most logical move we had ever made. Level-headed as I am, I still needed a moment to grieve the failure and the broken relationships and let go. The night before the spa closed I wept privately, but by morning I was all business.
Our lives were changed dramatically in the process of the spa and product lines’ multiple false starts, wrong directions and new beginnings. Since we are a married couple in business together, we have had to walk through this process without laying blame on each other. We have had to fail together, change together, start over together and – above all – put our relationship first.
I have been blessed with a husband who has always seen a very big picture. Yes, I was terrified in the beginning of our business because his vision was so huge! I could only see the orders that were in front of me each day. He would talk about our future, and it seemed so unrealistic when it was just the two of us barely making ends meet. I had to let go of my misdirection and follow Dennis’ lead toward our mutual vision. We had done that once before when we morphed Essential Wholesale out of our previous business model, and I had the faith in him to follow his lead and stand by his side as we put in the labor and hard work each day.
The spa failure was very painful, though, because it was out in the world for everyone to see. I am extremely private while in pain, but this failure, this forced reinvention, was so very public. At first, I resisted being reinvented because it meant a public admission of failure. It meant that my business which others depended upon for income was going to fold underneath them. I was humiliated by the thought of letting other people down and not meeting their expectations.
The biggest thing I learned while going through the process of failure is to not fight against it, so my philosophy is to be open to change. Be open to opportunities that come your way. Learn as much as you can from other people’s mistakes, and from reading business magazines and books whenever possible. When things aren’t working, don’t hold onto an idea, a business, or the certain way you did things before.
Sometimes you get side-tracked and lose your focus on the goal. Don’t beat yourself up, just allow yourself to refocus and change directions. You have to take a moment to have a pity party, but then let go and get on with the business of starting over.
Equip yourself with the lessons of others, your own life lessons, and a heavy dose of reality. One of the great lessons that I learned from failure was to become vulnerable. There are times in business that you make mistakes. You can’t put your failures and mistakes in a bag and carry it around with you, occasionally using them to beat yourself up. The people that I laid off embraced me and faced their new jobless challenge. Many of them are still in my life.
More than anything, don’t make any excuses that stop you from changing. For instance, if you want to lose weight you might excuse yourself from your workout one day by saying, “I’m too tired to exercise.” However, until you start exercising, you will remain too tired. Once you follow through on your decision to start moving, your energy will be boundless.
My decisions got me to where I am in life. I took ownership of them, and the bitterness that could have grown out of discontent died for lack of nourishment. Don’t trip yourself up or hold yourself back with excuses that you invent and hold on to for comfort or for fear of change. Forgive yourself, forgive others, and forgive your circumstances, so that you can be free to move forward and enjoy your journey.
Allow yourself to blossom right where you are and stop waiting for all of your ducks to be in a row. Maybe your ducks won’t come together in a straight line at first. I know mine don’t. The reality is that tomorrow my ducks could be scattered everywhere, but when I move in one direction, they will follow me. They won’t do so in an orderly fashion, and there will be a lot of quacking, but my metaphoric ducks will eventually fall into line behind me as I paddle toward my goals. If I hang back, they hang back; if I throw my hands up in the air and surrender, they scatter. The very best thing for you to do is to move toward your goals and allow your frenzied ducks to follow.
Of course, we all want to move forward and succeed, but what if we could go back? If I found myself back at the beginning, and if I was starting out then with what I know now, I would live my life exactly the same. However, I wouldn’t beat myself up for the chaos I create around me. I wouldn’t allow others’ disapproval of my creative energy to bother me.
I’ve never done anything halfway or without passion. If I choose to do something, it is wholeheartedly while I jump in with both feet. I’ve been known to jump into deep waters with my eyes closed, trusting that not only will I survive, but that I will thrive in the crisis.
I tend to over-commit myself and be stretched thin. I have friends who shake their heads and say, “I don’t know how you do it.” Well, I don’t know how I wouldn’t do it. If my plate wasn’t already full of today’s challenges, I would gather up other challenges. It is just my nature.
What is balance to me, is bedlam to another. I’ve allowed myself to embrace my own sense of balance. At times, there are tipping points that steal my laughter, and I have to fight back to reach my personal equilibrium. As the saying goes, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” If I stop laughing and can’t find humor even in the chaos, then my life is tipped out of balance, but when I am still laughing, there is still hope in every situation.
As I balance business and family in my own unique way, some might see my life as a state of constant chaos with varying degrees of out-of-control pandemonium. But I have discovered that I blossom right there in the middle of the self-imposed chaos. I operate well inside a world that many wouldn’t enjoy. I know that is the case with most entrepreneurs. Rather than reaching for a life vest when we are drowning, we grab onto more of life. When our lives overflow, we are energized and renewed by the experience.
I believe it is healthy to accept who I am and allow myself to be everything God has created me to be even if I’ll never fit into a conventional mold. In fact, I’ve realized that I can’t make my life fit into the world’s mold – it doesn’t fit. How liberating it was for me to understand that my dreams and aspirations don’t have to fit into another person’s vision of success! Accepting and loving the person that I am has freed me to experience success beyond my wildest dreams.
When I stopped fighting against myself and my situation, I was free to succeed. For example, our family’s focus on business places our children right in the middle, and that is not wrong or right, just different. It is the right path for our family, even if it is different. It is okay to be different.
I have learned to love living out loud, with failure alongside success, experiencing the strain of trials, all while walking beside my husband as we shoulder the burden together of the life we have chosen. I have learned that:
- When my circumstances are not like I imagined they would be … to find peace
- When my fairy tale image of family is different than I expected… to rejoice in the details of the unexpected.
- When I am in the midst of failure … to get up and start again.
- When life feels like it is spinning out of control … to find my equilibrium and enjoy the adrenaline rush.
I have also learned that my creativity is mobile and not tied to the location in which I create. My creativity is a gift that I can use as a Cosmetic Formulator and Aromatherapist, as an artist and a writer. I don’t have to hold on to one piece, one building, or one vision. It is an ever constant source of motivation that can flow into all aspects of my life.
Business and life are both like a canvas. You can wipe it clean and start over again. If you are like me and your strokes are heavy, your canvas will show the evidence of what you have done before. Even a scarred canvas can become something new and beautiful. I am so glad that my canvas can be used and that I can speak from my experienced journey of failure and success to better guide you around the pitfalls and trapdoors in this business.
It is never too late to succeed! Although I am in my forties now, I don’t believe I am done growing up. I don’t believe I am done succeeding. I still might be that famous poet I’ve always dreamed of becoming! It is early yet, and I still have a long and adventurous journey ahead of me.
Never be afraid of dreams so big that they cast a giant shadow of fear and doubt.
You can continue reading The Art, Science and Business of Aromatherapy on Kindle or in Paperback to learn The Genesis of Aromatherapy; The Science of Aromatherapy; The Art of Blending Essential Oils; Practical Aromatherapy; The Business of Aromatherapy; Building Your Brand; Navigating Industry Regulations; Safety Information; Cosmetics, Drugs, and Soaps; Good Manufacturing Practices and You, and much more. You may also enjoy Kayla’s other industry books including How to Make Melt & Pour Soap Base from Scratch: A Beginner’s Guide to Melt & Pour Soap Base Manufacturing AND DIY Kitchen Chemistry: Simple Homemade Bath & Body Projects.
*Footnote: Since the publication of this book the Fioravanti’s have sold Essential Wholesale. Kayla is now a full time wife, mother and author.