We Have Doubled The Revenue Of Our All-Natural Skin Care Products Business [Update]

Published: May 21st, 2023
Jonathan Plotzker-Kelly
Heliotrope San Fr...
from San Francisco, California, USA
started December 2009
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Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

I’m Jonathan Plotzker-Kelly and I’m the founder of Heliotrope San Francisco. We’re a skincare brand in the Bay Area. For over 12 years, we’ve been creating all-natural products - made in small batches - without any synthetic perfumes or artificial colors.

Since much of our industry is “gender-defined” when it comes to skincare - and much of how a product is defined has to do with its scent - the fact that our products are naturally scented or fragrance-free (no perfumes added) makes our line naturally gender-neutral. As such, our clientele has much more female/male parity.

Since the last time we’ve spoken, our revenue has approximately doubled.


Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?

The biggest growth we’ve had in the last few years is our wholesale business. We were able to partner with one of our big resources to take on the manufacturing of some of our most popular formulas. Not only has this lowered our costs, but we have “inherited” many of their long-term clients. We’re now producing 100-500 gallons at a time, rather than 1-20 gallons.

We were able to take on this business because we’d known these folks for a long time, and had a great relationship with them. Like my dad always taught me, it’s about how you treat people, and how much they trust you. This manufacturer would not have turned over their formulae AND their client lists to us if we hadn’t created a good business relationship over the years.

Create good relationships with people you trust. Choose to work with people you enjoy working with.

We’ve had both good and bad news when it comes to marketing. We’ve been successful with our social marketing - working with an outside firm to create content for us and hiring a social media person to strategize and post the content. We’ve also been much more consistent with our blogging because some of the most popular pages on our website are older blog posts!

Our wholesale business has benefited from some of our online partnerships, most notably Faire.com, which has been a real boon. Retailers no longer need to travel to expensive trade shows in other cities, they can shop B2B online. We’re working with some other B2B marketplaces, too, but it’s too soon to tell how well they’ll work.

With our increased volume, we’ve hired two more full-time people at our Oakland studio and recently moved into a bigger space.


What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?

What has not worked out so well is online advertising. We threw good money after bad when it came to ads - both the campaigns themselves and the fees paid to agencies to manage the process. What a waste!

We’re in a very competitive category, and catching the eyes of browsers is extremely expensive. We’ve set this aside this year and decided to go all in on social media marketing.

Getting more folks to see us has been difficult. What has exacerbated this is the reduced tourism in San Francisco, and specifically the lack of foot traffic on Valencia St - which was up until COVID shut down a vibrant destination for visitors all over the world. We’re surrounded by new apartment buildings, which was great leading up to the current tech layoffs, but since so many of the residents are in the tech field, it’s been an issue for us.

We’ve had to depend more on online sales - and thankfully, our wholesale business has been booming.

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

You have to be flexible. Did I plan on wholesale growing to more than 50% of my business? No. Will I lean into it? Absolutely.

Create good relationships with people you trust. Choose to work with people you enjoy working with. I’m lucky enough to have a very supportive husband who’s my biggest booster (and sends lots of my products as gifts for all occasions).

Keep at it. There are days when it’s hard & you’re tired. But remember why you started this, and what keeps you going.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

Our lease is up on Valencia St next year, so who knows what will happen. Perhaps I’ll open a small shop in Oakland, close to where I live. I’ll continue to build relationships with other makers & retailers - our products have been included in many collaborations in the last year, and we’ll continue doing those.

I’m turning 60 next year (being in skincare, I don’t look it!) I hope that I’ll still be doing this, in whatever fashion. But perhaps I’ll hire another assistant to take some of the everyday stuff off my plate.

I’d like to build our website up and continue to grow the wholesale business.

What’s the best thing you read in the last year?

I honestly don’t read a lot of “business” writing, or listen to industry podcasts. I’ve been in retail for over 35 years, and I figure if I don’t already understand business, nothing I read or listen to is going to do much for me now!

Instead, I spend much of my free time reading for pleasure, listening to music, and spending time with my family.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

Get as much advice as you can from others. Do you have a neighbor who owns their own business? Invite them over to coffee one morning to discuss work. Do you have friends or family that have been working in the same field for a long time? Ask them out for a drink and ask them questions. People love to talk about themselves, right?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I include financial help here, too. Many government programs help small businesses, and many grants or low-interest loans are available from non-profit organizations - search for these opportunities online and apply for any that make sense for you!

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We just hired someone else to work in our studio, and our shop is fully staffed. We’ve found that working with third parties for our peripheral projects - content creation, photography, marketing - makes more sense than doing that in-house. At least for now, that is.

Where can we go to learn more?