This is a follow up story for Flowerdale Valley. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 4 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hi, My name is Mel Young. I own and run Flowerdale Valley, a bootstrapped skincare and beauty product manufacturing business in rural Victoria, Australia.
My business began with honey, then I began making Bee Balm, a beeswax balm moisturizer made with beeswax and a touch of honey from my beehives.
My business now manufactures and sells a range of skincare and aromatherapy products, some contain bee products and some don't. All are 99% or 100% natural and all are made right here on the farm. I use 100% Australian ingredients in many products.
My customers are usually women (but not always!) Who cares about what they put on their skin. They want to see great results from tried and true, natural ingredients. My customers often know a lot about skincare ingredients and they like that they can trust the quality and honesty of Flowerdale Valley’s range. They love that they can count on orders being shipped quickly and wrapped beautifully if it’s a gift.
I've had a good year with a few setbacks as well. The business is in a strong position for growth and innovation.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Since I last spoke to Starter Story, Coronavirus has swept the world and impacted all of us. My experience of Coronavirus as a small business owner has been up and down. I've felt fortunate to not have bricks and mortar store during this period as Victoria had extensive lockdowns in which retailers were restricted or closed to the public.
Make sure to look at your overall business, keep data, see what works, and doesn't work.
I went to market one Sunday in March, as usual (The Arts Center markets in Melbourne) and there was talk of the markets being closed for a couple of weeks. Actually, the markets were closed for eight months.
My weekly market stall was my main source of income. Although I had an online presence as well. I sell through eBay, Etsy, and the Dindi Store (a local council-run eCommerce platform for local businesses).
Without markets, I focused on growing online sales for my business. This became my only source of income as the few local businesses where I also sell my products had closed for the duration of lockdown as well. I feel fortunate that my income did not drop 30% during this period, which meant that I was not eligible for government assistance.
At the start of the pandemic, I knew that value for money was going to become more important than ever before as many peoples livelihoods had been curtailed and the economy was uncertain, so I started offering refill pouches for some products which could be posted in an envelope, so they are cheaper to post and therefore, cheaper for customers to buy. (And better for the environment too).
I also made some good value bundles available on my website and I made some more ready-made gift options available on the site, as people could not visit their loved ones so sending gifts in the mail was a great option.
I also started offering free wrapping and a little gift card with any order. I wanted to make buying a gift as easy as one-click on a website, because these days, everyone is time-poor. So customers appreciate the convenience.
Postage became extremely slow here in Australia during the lockdown as online shopping was so popular. Some orders were taking 4-5 weeks to arrive! In response to this, I offered free express postage with any order over $50 for the duration of the lockdown.
Also, I was sure to post on social media on most days. Social media is just a great way to remain top of mind for your customers. You want to make life easier for your customers. So by telling them what you offer and what you are up to, it just makes sure they think of you next time they need to get a gift or try a new moisturizer, etc Social media also lets your customers know that there is someone actively running your business and caring about the business. This helps customers to have trust in your business.
I still have a lot to learn with social media. But I'm really happy that I've discovered Canva (for making beautiful social media posts and it’s so easy to use). And I've even figured out how to make videos and speed them up/edit them/ add music, etc with viva video and the videos are interesting for customers to see the process involved in the making/packing of products. The posts that get the most attention are always the ones with me in them (this is always the case. People like seeing people) I'm an introvert, so it doesn't come naturally to me to appear in photos or videos online but I’m getting used to it now and I want my kids to see me as a confident role model and customers want to know the face behind the brand so I decided to just get over it. Now I post pictures of myself all the time, making products, behind the market stall, etc.
There’s lots of personal growth in running a business!
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Product innovation and not closing down websites on a whim!
During the lockdown, I spent time planning what to do to keep the business going so I focused on what customers might want from my brand overall. I decided to change the products that were 99% natural to 100% natural by changing the preservative I used in them. A sample of these products had to be sent away for testing for preservative efficacy testing and for stability testing to make sure that they are shelf-stable and safe for use. I’m still awaiting these results before relaunching these products.
I also increased the amount of Australian ingredients in my products. Many of my products are now made with 100% Australian ingredients.
Using Australian became very important during the lockdown, as it was very difficult to source a few ingredients that were made overseas and coronavirus made many people embrace community and locally bought items more so than before.
My website was making sales every day and things were going well but then my website started malfunctioning and a Japanese version of my site was appearing online in search results. It turned out that my website was hacked and it became very confusing to work out what I could do to fix it, so I decided to close down the site and start again with a new host and a new website developer. I did this because I was concerned that my customer's details might be at risk due to this hacking.
In a way, I regret doing this as it was very costly to rebuild a website and it was very costly to be operating without a website for many weeks. It also meant that I lost all the product reviews that were on the site and all my google ranking. Reviews are super important for customers. Most of us pay more attention to reviews than we do to product descriptions. Reviews are so important for trust.
My customer's details were never at risk either. Anyhow, the new website looks nicer and is making sales again and I am happy with it. It was just a rather expensive learning experience.
Throughout this year, despite no markets and no website for a while, many of my customers have stayed with me and I often see the same names when I'm posting orders or serving at the market, Which I love.
All my customers are so important but these return customers are extra special.
It's fairly easy to find a customer once. But a customer that keeps coming back is the one that makes my heart sing the most. This means that they like my products and service enough to come back again and again. I try hard to have products with integrity and transparency of ingredients, to send items quickly, and to provide the best customer service that I can at every opportunity.
I feel very fortunate to see so many return customers.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
With Flowerdale Valley now. I feel like the business is established enough that it’s now time for me to start looking at how to grow the business through marketing to grow online sales. I have really only dipped my toe into marketing channels, due to the business being entirely funded by me, and I’ve always just put all my profits back into the business and used it for living expenses.
This year coming, branding and marketing will be my focus. I will also keep going to the Arts Centre markets every weekend that I can. (There are fewer market stalls now due to social distancing. So I will be attending when I can, most likely every second weekend) I’d love to find a mentor or a coach as I have no business experience before Flowerdale valley and I would value a more experienced business person's insights.
To increase customer trust, I am currently getting some products tested so that I can make claims on the packaging (such as "increases moisture in skin for up to 24 hours, etc. You can't make claims like this in skincare without scientific evidence to back up your claims) I love using my beeswax balms mixed with my hyaluronic serum as a moisturizer. It’s a different, natural way to moisturize your skin which gives your skin the amazing benefits of both products. Promoting this as a duo is going to be a big focus for me in 2021.
I have been measuring sales for each product and in 2021, I plan to apply the 80/20 rule to my product range to cut out any underperforming products and focus on the great sellers.
Then I will look at my profit and loss statement to see which ingredients I could save money on by buying in bigger quantities than what I do now. I plan to scale up with my purchases, to buy things in larger quantities, to reduce wasted time spent ordering or picking up stock, and always keep a level of stock here so that I don't run out of things.
Living in the country, stock delivery is quite an issue, so getting larger bulk deliveries and keeping lots of stock on hand reduces these costs/wasted time. I will need more storage to do this, so clearing some storage space is a priority too. Once I've bought ingredients in bulk and cleared some storage space, I can then manufacture a lot more product than what I do now, therefore saving time.
I have determined the exact price for each product. This will allow me to know exactly what my profit per sale is and helps to work out a marketing Budget per product as well. I've also been making sure to write every little thing down when I'm manufacturing, to make sure that the products are as standardized as possible (same every time). I must do all these steps first though (before marketing) to make sure that I can keep up with demand and supply the best product possible before the business grows.
I'm not naturally a person who documents everything, enjoys using data or crunching the numbers but these are all things I've come to enjoy in a way and I think they are the difference between a hobby and a business in many ways.
It’s rewarding to Balance the books at the end of each month, even when the figures aren't good. It’s nice to see all the data so that you know where your business needs to work. I would never outsource this part of my business. Because by looking at the data and balancing the books, I can see easily and quickly what I have on hand and what I need to improve on.
I'd probably say that my biggest skills are customer service and being self-motivated. I get things done straight away because when the kids are here, I can't guarantee that I'll be able to focus on business-related things. I also like to be available when the kids are around.
So anything that needs focus and attention need to be done when the kids are at school. I usually walk the dogs straight after school drop off and then work all day on the business until pick up time. I still do some work when the kids are around, like packing orders or labeling. I grocery shop on the way home from the market. Most weeks I rarely leave the farm except to go to the school bus and the local shop for mail/milk etc. My time is very precious to me and I always have a lot to do, so I make sure to do things efficiently.
Being numbers focussed and thinking in a business-like way is something that I have developed over time and I’m still developing. I'd suggest that these are probably very important skills to have and to develop and probably in a perfect world, you would crunch the numbers and do a profit and loss statement before launching products or even starting a business.
When you work from home, your business can take over your life, which is a joy but also hard to have downtime. I don't have my work-life Balance sorted yet but I do make sure I walk (usually barefoot because earthing is super important for your health) every day and I buy health food bars, kefir, and almond milk, etc in bulk so if I have a busy day I can still have a decent breakfast/snack.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Getting up early and doing a miracle morning (from the miracle morning book by Hal Elrod) is a great way I've found to stay happy and focused. You spend time each morning planning / reflecting on your life, it’s really helpful and beneficial.
And I love the "Small business, big marketing" podcast with Tim Reid
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
My biggest piece of advice is to make sure to look at your overall business, keep data, see what works, and doesn't work.
Always make sure you factor in every cost. Treat every customer like gold. Work hard and enjoy the journey!
After a few years in business, I'm still learning the pathway to success and balance but it’s a great journey and always interesting. Highly recommended!
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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