"Do you want some water or tea?" "Tea please."
Like a well-oiled machine, Valerie handed me the tea, took my sweater and scarf, and gave me paperwork to fill out. I felt like I was at the doctor's office. But unlike my doctor's office, I had the luxury of waiting on a petite, modern sofa. To top if all off, the tea was perfectly warm and refreshing at 9 am on a brisk Saturday morning.
I wandered around the caramel-colored waiting area, feeling quite nosy. There were organic beauty products on the shelves and jewelry on display. Accolades and awards filled the walls, including Valerie's feature in Essence magazine, and her 40 Under 40 Business Award. I could have sat there and read them all. A very impressive collection for a business that's only been open for five years...
That was the beginning of my experience at Eden Organix, an Eco-Conscious Spa & Salon. Founder and CEO of Eden Organix, Valerie Robinson, personifies inspiration. She left her comfy corporate job and started Eden Oganix out of a passion for natural organic beauty products. Her credentials include a degree in chemical engineering and an esthetics- skin care license. I sat down with Valerie to learn more about her experience running Eden Organix. Here's what she had to say:
Trulypsm: What triggered the idea to start an eco-conscious beauty company?
Valerie: When I was at my corporate job, I was going to school part-time for my MBA at the University of Maryland. While there, I wrote a business plan for a spa, but I never did anything with it. When my daughter was born, she was allergic to so many things, and it affected her skin. I was at the doctor's office at least twice a week, but the doctors were never able to give me answers or prescriptions that worked— it was nerve-racking. Shortly after my daughter was born, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was then that I started paying more attention to the ingredients in products, and was careful not to put anything toxic on my daughter's skin. People started asking me where I was getting my products, and that was a motivating factor for me. I decided to review the business plan I had written in graduate school, put some numbers to it, and started looking for locations.
Trulypsm: I read that you did some research at MIT. What, if any, influence does that research have on the products you carry?
Valerie: I did research on surface cosmetics in the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center at MIT. The focus of the research was surface tension which is basically studying the way different surfaces such as skin, are affected by various products. That experience made me more aware of different ingredients. Now I inspect the ingredients closely before I decide whether or not to carry a particular product. Chemicals like formaldehyde, propylene glycol, ethyl glycol, and sodium laureth sulfate are automatic no-nos. I usually refer to the list from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to find out if a product is considered toxic. If it's on the list, I won't sell it here.
Trulypsm: What other features do you look for before you decide to sell a product in the store?
Valerie: Beside the ingredients, I like to look at the packaging. If it looks attractive to the customer, they're more likely to want to buy it. Another thing that's important is the type of marketing support the product company offers. I usually have the company give me samples of the product so that I can test it out on myself first. If I like it, then there's a good chance customers will too. Most of the products at Eden Organix I've tried out personally.
Trulypsm: What skills from your corporate job do you use at Eden Organix?
Valerie: I would have to say my sales skills. I consider myself a people person, and enjoy talking with people. Marketing is also key and I'm always looking for different ways to market the company. Right now we are promoting our Trade-In Event which allows customers the opportunity to trade in their old, toxic make-up, and purchase new make-up at Eden Organix for a discounted price. Sometimes people like to wait until their make-up is finished before purchasing new stuff so that they don't feel wasteful. But if you give them new make-up at a discount, they are less likely to feel bad.
Trulypsm: Do you treat clients with severe acne or other more serious skin disorders?
Valerie: Yes, I do. I find that fifty percent of what happens with acne clients happens at home. If clients aren't following my prescription to a T, and adding extra remedies their friend recommended, then it might not work. Acne is also affected by diet. I recommend that my acne clients cut out certain foods such as dairy and gluten. For the most part, clients should be aware that they need at least a month to 6 weeks before they see a difference in their face. I think clients, particularly ones with acne, tend to be skeptical and give up easily because they've tried so many different products. But it's important to be consistent with the products and spa treatments. You can't just say 'I'm going to get one treatment a year' and expect to see results.
Trulypsm: I remember you telling me your plans for Eden Organix on your living room couch months before the plans were realized. What do you know now about building a business that you would have liked to have known at that time?
Valerie: There's definitely a learning curve. When you own a small business, you have to do everything. I run operations, inventory management, human resources, and the legal aspects of the business. Looking back, I think I would have started with a smaller staff. I hired way too many people initially, and some did not have the necessary skills needed to run the daily operations of the business. One young lady helped me out a lot when I first started, but in hindsight I think I gave her too much leeway. On the other hand, I learned that you have to be patient with people because everyone has a different learning curve and skills. It's also good to use your friends as resources. I have friends who are lawyers, some in HR, and others in marketing. They've all been helpful to me.
Trulypsm: What direction would you like to take Eden Organix within the next five years?
Valerie: I'm actually starting a new program this week with Goldman Sachs called 10,000 Small Businesses. The program is for businesses that have been in existence for 4 to 10 years, and consists of a series of 10 hour trainings that occur every week for four months. I think the program will help me evaluate what direction I want the company to take. I would love to create a product line and do commercials in the future. It will take some planning and I have to consider cash flow, of course. But I'm looking forward to networking with other business owners and talking with business advisors who can help me formulate a plan moving forward and provide me with feedback. ♦
Check out Eden Organix's online shop, and tell me what you think?