Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello there! My name is Anusha Moodley, and I’m the founder of Thulisa Naturals. I started the company 5 years ago from my kitchen, using essential oils to make natural bath and body products that support one’s mental and physical well-being.
Our flagship products are our aromatherapy shower steamers. Our shower steamers are like bath bombs for your shower, and they make your shower feel like a spa by releasing luxurious aromas into your shower. We will be rolling out new seasonal scents and adding a men’s line.
While my focus is primarily on sharing our products with new moms, as the business grew, I quickly learned that customers, women, and men, were purchasing my products as gifts. This information led me to look at promoting to a wider demographic in addition to new moms.
My business is self-funded, and I started it with a $5K budget. Since the business has grown, I currently make $29K in monthly revenue, with room to grow even more.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was born and raised in South Africa and have been living in the United States for 16 years. I’m a mom of two, and this journey started after I became a mom. I struggled with postpartum depression, and having a background in healthcare, I knew that to take care of my family, I needed to take care of myself. My daily shower was one of the times in the day when I could get a moment to myself and relax. While I savored this time, I wanted to find a way to elevate it even more.
I started researching essential oils, and that’s where this all started. I became obsessed with their individual properties and the impact they had within a formulation. I started making a few of my products and quickly realized they helped improve the look and feel of my skin and helped me feel more grounded and uplifted.
So I founded Thulisa Naturals (‘Thulisa’ means bringer of peace in Zulu) to share not just the amazing, all-natural, and safe products but to support others in creating replenishing rituals that benefit their mental and physical well-being.
I first started the business in 2017 by attending markets. While customers loved that my products were made of natural ingredients and were exciting to buy when it came to purchasing a bath bomb from me, customers would say things like, ‘I don’t take baths’ and ‘do you have something for the shower?’ I had been asked these questions many times, and it made me stop and think about how I could solve that problem for my customers.
I focused a lot of my time on formulating shower steamers because my customers needed them, and because of that, I knew shower steamers would take off.
I have a diploma in making natural body care products and have taken various aromatherapy courses before launching my business to make sure that every product I shared with my customers was safe and made with high-quality ingredients.
Once the shower steamers were formulated and tested, I took them to markets and boutiques to sell, and they always sold out, to the point that I couldn’t keep up.
Before I started the company, I had worked as an Occupational therapist. I used $5k in savings to start the business.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When it comes to formulating products, whether it be shower steamers, body butter, or body scrubs, it all starts with keeping my customers in mind and thinking about the essential oil benefits and how the scent itself would smell on my customer’s skin.
Once the oil scent is chosen (I have my products available in a variety of scents), I then move on to test various carrier oils, butter, and other ingredients to make the final product. Since my products are made in-house, we can test as many formulations as we like, and I have control over the product quality.
When formulating shower steamers, I made approximately 40 different batches before I finalized the formula, and then I was able to bring this product to the market.
Packaging in the bath and body space is so important, and I learned that while attending live events. Customers shop with their eyes first and then smell products and finally feel the product. You have to have an excellent product, but it’s the packaging that gets the customer's attention first.
About a year into business, I knew I needed to up my business esthetic and hired a brand strategist who also specialized in packaging design and invested about $2k.
Invest in getting your business name trademarked as well as any intellectual property you have protected. Establish a relationship with a small business lawyer to advise on any legal questions you may have. I found that it’s the only way to safeguard your business.
Describe the process of launching the business.
My goal was to get my products into boutique stores and build credibility from there. While attending live events was good, I needed wider brand exposure. I didn’t have enough budget for online advertising, so what I did was pitch local boutique stores and post on Instagram Stories and Pinterest.
I would set aside time every week to pitch my products to stores via email. This took a lot of online research, and I would only write to store owners where I could envision my ideal audience shopping.
Expect challenges and obstacles and choose to be resilient. You will succeed.
In terms of budget, I had a budget of $200 to send product samples or catalogs to retail stores and invested $2K into getting professional product photography. Once my products were in 3 local stores, and those retailers started sharing my products on their social media, the business grew through word of mouth. I didn’t spend much on paid advertising in the wholesale and online spaces because of my organic growth.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
I have found that word of mouth has been great as a starter advertising but to reach a wider audience, I have worked on growing my email list by adding a pop-up to my website as well as collaborating with other brands by participating in giveaways. I also reach out to my wholesale accounts by sending them newsletters to stay on top of their minds when they need to replenish stock.
To attract more organic traffic to my website, I write blog articles and also create pins and promote blog articles on Pinterest.
I’ve tried Facebook and Instagram ads, but with the rising cost and constant changes in the algorithm, I have temporarily stopped using the platform, and I’m focusing my energy on the Pinterest platform by posting educational content in the form of idea pins.
I can’t say enough about email advertising in terms of customer retention. It’s been great for sharing promotions and sales and reminding my customers that it’s time to stock up on products (this is where I can create custom segmentation)
Since most of my business revenue comes from wholesale sales, I continually pitch stores as well as attend trade shows. My products are currently in 123 retail stores across the country, and they can also be found at Uncommon Goods, Macy’s, and Paper Source.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I’m profitable today, with 90% of my revenue coming from wholesale accounts. Our annual revenue last year was $350K with a profit of 25% after taxes.
We are moving into a bigger 1000 sq ft facility (which I think we will outgrow within a year). I’ve invested in purchasing new machinery to increase production and hired 2 more employees to meet the demands of my current and new customers.
I’m also planning a men’s collection and branching into skincare.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve had to pivot and be flexible this past couple of years with the pandemic supply chain issues. I use glass jars that are made in India, and deliveries were delayed by 8 months which created gaps in production and delayed timely delivery of products to customers.
While this was completely out of my control, I learned to over-communicate with my wholesale and direct customers by emailing them regularly and providing timeline and any packaging change updates.
The best decision I’ve made was to hire a brand strategist. This helped me communicate my brand message clearly and consistently to my ideal audience on all platforms, from my website to social media and emails.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I use Later to plan and schedule posts to Pinterest, IG, and Facebook. (I use one piece of content and have it appear across all social media platforms. This saves a ton of time).
Klaviyo for all email marketing. They have fantastic segment capabilities.
Shippo is great for reduced rate product shipping.
Gusto for Payroll- the platform is easy to use and integrates with my bookkeeping service bookkeeping.
Bench for bookkeeping - I like having the ability to chat online at any time with my bookkeeper, the support is excellent, and the software is easy to use.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim: Blue Ocean Strategy has changed my point of view and the way I think about business. The book is about thinking out of the box, therefore, making the competition irrelevant. I’m always thinking about how I can improve my products and innovate so others can’t imitate.
- Tribes by Seth Godin: Tribes has taught me the importance of creating a community and building relationships with customers.
- The ONE Thing by Gary W. Keller: The One Thing has helped me gain focus since I’m always thinking about different ideas. Email marketing has been my focus, and it has been paying off.
- Supermaker by Jaime Schmidt: Supermaker is an inspirational read on how to grow your business your way.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Google and YouTube have been great sources for business and tech-related issues like ‘how to create youtube videos’ and ‘how to create a google ad,’ especially when you are on a budget and can’t hire help when starting.
Keep an eye on your finances. I use Google Analytics to show me what products are doing well and which are not. If something that you’re doing is not bringing in revenue after some time, it may be worth taking a look at. It may be a case where you have to discontinue an ad or a product.
Expect challenges and obstacles and choose to be resilient. You will succeed.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes! We are looking to hire part-time production assistants to help make products like our shower steamers. For more details, I can be contacted at [email protected].
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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