Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, my name is Mel. I run a skincare business called Flowerdale Valley. I named the business Flowerdale valley because that's where I live, in a small town called Flowerdale in country Victoria, Australia.
I live on an old cherry farm with lots of beehives. I was selling honey for a bit of pocket money when I learned that beeswax was great for keeping skin hydrated and youthful. So I did some experimenting.
The first skincare product that I made was a face, hand and body balm called Bee Balm. It's made with my own beeswax and honey from the farm plus unrefined, cold-pressed sweet almond, avocado, and jojoba oils and scented with lavender essential oil. It’s still one of my bestsellers today.
My business has now expanded to include moisturizers, serum, cleanser, deodorant, face oil, face wash bars, shampoo and conditioner bars, and aromatherapy diffuser blends. Everything is made right here on the farm, by me.
Now, my business provides my income for me and my kids.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I always wanted to work for myself. So I was always thinking about business ideas. Not everyone wants to work for themselves and not everyone is suited to the lifestyle, so if you have the dream, make sure you pursue it!
My business started when I was working as a cook at a local reception venue. A bride wanted some local honey wedding favors, which I provided. Doing this made me find a jar supplier, register my home kitchen as a food premise, prepare an invoice, etc.
From here, I began selling honey to the public and then I experimented with other ideas (making jam, personalized wedding favors, etc) before going into skincare. I had quite a few failures in this period!
I tested new ideas on friends and workmates before going ahead with new products. Eventually, I got a website and an eBay store and I started selling products at two local venues. My business didn’t make any profit for almost 3 years, so I still had 2 part-time jobs at this time as well. Most Businesses take quite some time to become profitable and quite a lot of mistakes are made when setting up a business.
For example, I prematurely started a website and then had to redo it again later when I changed from making wedding favors and jams to skincare.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I read that Cleopatra used a skin cream that contained beeswax and honey, which started my experiments with skincare and led to my first skincare product, Bee Balm. I wanted to create a luxurious cream that would help with anti-aging, but also be all-natural and all Australian.
I started selling the Bee balm along with the honey at the reception center where I worked. I probably only sold 2 or 3 pots a week at first!
“Keep going” is frequently the only difference between success and failure.
But I began experimenting with other skincare products and I became hooked. I loved the process of making products. I taught myself soap making and now I make face wash bars, shampoo bars, and conditioner bars and these are a large part of my business.
All my products are created through trial and error and seeing what works well for me. It's very hard to sell a product that you don’t believe in. So, these days, if I don’t love the prototype, it doesn't go any further.
A big lesson for me was to outsource label printing. The amount of time, money and effort I spent trying to print professional-looking labels for my products is ridiculous. Professionally printed labels look ten times better and free me up to do other things.
The skincare industry is unregulated to a certain degree. Because I am a soap maker, I have had to register with Nicnas and of course, to make and sell any products, it's a must to have public liability and product liability insurance.
This is a picture from my early days when I was doing personalized wedding favors. Imagine how much work would be involved!
Describe the process of launching the business.
I didn't really have a "launch".
I started selling honey, added one face cream, then I just gradually kept adding products to my range over the space of a few years when I had the money. I spent every spare moment making products, developing new products, setting up an eBay and Etsy store, a website, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest page (with help from tech-savvy people on Fiverr).
I frequently had to wait to start new ideas because I didn’t have the money to put towards buying the materials, packaging or labels.
Eventually, once all this groundwork was done, I quit my jobs and committed full time to the business and I started going to markets every weekend. Going to markets was a real turning point for the business. Because people were meeting me, trying the products, buying products at markets and buying online as well. It meant that I was selling lots of stock each week which enabled me to buy bulk quantities of oils and packaging, etc.
Going to markets gave my business cash flow, so I was no longer having to save up to buy the things I needed.
I feel very lucky that I got into the Arts center markets (every Sunday in the heart of Melbourne) and for anyone considering having a market stall, I would recommend applying for the weekly market in the center of your city. As there are always people visiting the city to see shows, go to museums, etc and there are lots of tourists around as well. So you have a lot of potential customers.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Marketing is an area I haven't spent much money on as yet.
I think it’s vital to have a Facebook and Instagram page and to post regularly on these channels.
I see them as customer service conduits mostly. I'll use them to tell my customers about my ingredients, new products, new retailers, how to use products, glowing reviews, my upcoming markets and I like to post pictures of behind the scenes shots of products being made. I like to post the occasional picture of my dogs, myself, farm life or my kids so that customers feel like they know me personally.
I have had 6 wholesale inquiries from Instagram and many sales have come through inquiries on Facebook.
I also get contacted through these channels by market organizers who invite me to come to their market.
My eBay store has always done well ($1,500 sales per month approximately) and I used promoted listings on eBay for a while. Now that my products have reviews, the sales are much better. Reviews are vitally important for online buyers.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
My business is still quite new. I've only been going to markets for 9 months and a few months after that was when I first made a profit.
Today my sales are approximately $7,500 per month and my profit is around $4,000 per month. Markets constitute around $4,000 of sales, eBay is $1,500, my website is approximately $1,000 and wholesale is approx $1,000 per month.
To sell at markets or on eBay, you pay approximately 10% to be there. My website costs me at least $,1000 a year to run and wholesalers take around 30-50% of the sale price. So you always have to consider that you will need to factor in these costs.
I like to have my items for sale in all these areas because it allows me to have a few different income streams. I'd like to invest in some Facebook ads in the future. But I would not do it myself. This is the type of thing I would outsource to Fiverr.
I am getting a lot of wholesale inquiries lately, so at the moment, I'm working out how to make this a viable option for me so that I can start our business relationship off in the best way.
I need to keep product prices consistent across all outlets, make sure that I'm charging correctly to make a profit, make sure that I can keep up with stock demands, delivery charges and making sure that I get paid as there are some unscrupulous shopkeepers out there who take forever to pay/ have no intention of paying.
Today a typical weekday is dropping the kids off to the school bus, making products, walking the dogs, social media posts, invoicing/stocking up suppliers, sending orders, picking up the kids, making dinner, etc.
At weekends I usually do a country market on Saturday and my regular city market every Sunday.
Every day is interesting. I love being at home all week but I also love the social aspect of markets. It's a good balance.
I'm not very good at planning. I'm just focusing on doing what I do now really well and hopefully providing excellent products and excellent customer service.
I'm writing a book about my experiences. With recipes for my products included. It's about starting a skincare business with all the steps outlined. The kind of resource that I wanted to have when I first started! It's easy to publish an ebook these days. Anyone can do it themselves.it might be another 6 months to a year before I finish the book and get it on Amazon.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I made a lot of mistakes along the way. Fortunately, because I love listening to YouTube videos, podcasts and audiobooks on audible I repeatedly got the message to "keep going".
That is frequently the only difference between success and failure.
Every successful entrepreneur has failed before succeeding. You are not just born as a business person. You become one, over time. Your business is developed through hard work and persistence. There is no other way.
You can learn so much from others who have gone before you. So I always have audible or YouTube on in the background when I'm making products.
I was a bit eager at the start of my business. I listed items on my site and promoted them on Instagram and Facebook (paid ads) before I had fully worked out the time/costs involved. So, work out the costs, ensure you can meet demand, make sure you aren't promoting products that are going to be extremely time-consuming for you to make before you promote them or put them on your site.
You should know the exact cost of every item you sell.
The other big lesson I learned was to be really secure online. My website got hacked by a guy demanding money from me last year. It took me weeks to get my website back. Everything is now set up with text message verification, so if someone tries to sign in to any of my accounts, I get a text message with a pin and they can't sign in without it.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I love Fiverr for tech help. These days I use one person for all my tech needs. But I met him on Fiverr. (Just make sure you change passwords after someone has worked on any of your online platforms).
I love squareapp for picture collages for social media posts.
I do all my bookkeeping with Google sheets (Old school but it works for me).
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I loved the book Profit First by Mike Micakowitz.
It encourages you to put aside 10% of sales from the very first day of business. Instantly after doing as he suggested in this book, my business went into the black and has never gone back.
I made better decisions and thought differently after reading this book
A book to read before you begin is The All In Startup by Diana Kander. It encourages you to find out what the customer wants before you start the business.
I love watching Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares as well! He always takes a business back to basics. Good food, good service, good attitude, cleanliness and pride in what you do and he turns businesses around and they become profitable after years of losing money. I find it quite inspiring!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Start with something you believe in and can sell with a clear conscience. Customers love a good story. (They love that my products are made by me in the country and contain beautiful Australian oils and beeswax from the farm) so make sure you promote your business's unique story.
Keep going and never stop learning.
You will have people telling you to get a job/give up. It will be hard to ignore them. Keep going anyway.
Listen to feedback on your products and tweak things as you go.
Build on your most popular products. (Make a variation of something that's already popular).
Don’t procrastinate about going to market (or getting out there in some other way) as I did. You'll increase your turnover, get your brand known and learn what customers do and don’t want by getting in front of customers.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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