Valerie Bennis a certified aromatherapist founded Essence of Vali after leaving her corporate career job and decided to explore holistic healing and aromatherapy. Since then she has won multiple industry awards and has been highlighted in several books for her natural, vegan formulas.
Each product is exquisitely crafted for specific purposes and contains the therapeutic properties necessary to promote wellness safely and effectively. The handcrafted product line consists of 11 blends in the form of botanical mists, massage and bath oils, balms and 100% pure essential oils.
Was it a lightbulb moment or gradual moment to start the Essence of Vali ?
I started Essence of Vali after studying aromatherapy/essential oils over a seven year period and received double certification. During that time, I was an executive in the corporate world and had been for twenty plus years. I began to see private clients in my apartment and created custom blends for them and their individual needs. After my immediate boss resigned and a series of other things happened at work, I left my corporate career to focus on Essence of Vali and to launch the line.
How did you get your first three customers?
In the beginning I relied mostly on trade shows which were very popular at the time. Outside of trade shows, I relied on cold calling, mailings, independent sales reps and walking in to select spa and retail locations. My first client was the owner of a bath and bodycare store where I purchased products, second was a hotel that had received a mailing from us and the third was at a Trade Show.
Have you raised any money? How much?
In terms of financing my start up, I had money from all my years in the corporate world along with family members who wanted to help me.
What regulatory approvals did you have to go through?
It was not necessary to get regulatory approvals as the ingredients we use are GRAS (generally recognized as safe). Further, we do not make claims about the products.
Who is your target demographic?
Our target demographic is Women 40 plus who shop on the internet, looking for natural and safe products for self care. From a wholesale point of view, our target market is spas, boutique retail stores, hotels, wellness centers, and specialty catalogues.
What is the funniest/most strange customer request you’ve had?
Over the years we have heard many wonderful stories of how much our products are helping people and their families.
One of my favorite stories was hearing about an elderly man who had never used aromatherapy and was so happy he was able to sleep after using our formula.
Where did you meet your co-founder/founding team? Any tips for finding first employees?
I was fortunate to inherit my assistant from a family member. She was ideal for this position with her primary role being maintaining inventory and shipping orders. We always get compliments on how well packed the orders are, arriving safe and sound to their destination.
I founded the company on my own and did not have a partner. My twin brother was a mentor to me as he was an experienced entrepreneur for twenty plus years.
The Essence of Vali line consisted of four products along with a children’s sleep aromatherapy kit. It is interesting to look back on how small the line was starting out and how much it has grown since then.
As mentioned earlier, Trade Shows became a way for me to showcase the product line and secure new customers, some of which we still have to this day. We also got press in Trade Publications and Consumer Publications from these Trade Shows. Winning awards for our products and establishing a stellar reputation also helped get our name out there. One of the biggest compliments and most disturbing things that happened was when a large company copied one of our ideas after visiting our booth at a Trade Show. I did not pursue any legal action and moved on. It was part of my learning process.
What motivated you to start your own business?
My background was not that of an entrepreneur. I had always worked within the confines of a corporate job. I was motivated by my love of and belief in aromatherapy/essential oils rather than business. Additionally, I could not imagine spending the rest of my adult life within the corporate environment. I longed to do something that contributed to the health and well being of people. My interest in Holistic Healing had stared at a young age before it was popular and a trend. Essence of Vali was a company that was a pioneer in the field.
What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?
My family and friends were so supportive and I am grateful. Each one of them in various ways came forward to assist me, from working my booth at the trade shows to brainstorming names and being loyal users of the line.
What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?
I remember when I started, my father said to me – “You are going to make mistakes.” And I did and I learned from them and moved on. When problems arose, I learned to see them as challenges and looked for creative solutions. Instead of a problem, I framed it as a challenge.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
For people starting out, I suggest that they have a strong support group. Coaches and mentors are important ongoingly. It can be lonely as an entrepreneur. A financial cushion is also important because there are expenses in setting up and maintaining a business.
What has driven the most sales?
When I started, social media was hardly out there so I relied on trade shows, sales reps, cold calls and mailings. With the advent of social media, I began using Facebook. I also used Constant Contact. Today, our new President also uses Instagram.
What is stopping you being 3x the size you are now?
In terms of the size of my company, I wanted to keep it to a small to medium size company. This suited my temperament, rather than the demands and stress of a large company. It is important for people to know who they are and grow from that place.
What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without? Why are they essential?
To run our business, we use QUICKBOOKS, SHIPPING EASY, CONSTANT CONTACT and SHOPIFY. It is important that you find solid software that is the foundation of your company. All accounting/customer data is housed within Quickbooks. Shipping Easy is software for mailing labels and purchasing postage so we do not have to wait on line at the post office. In the early years before postage software, that is what was necessary. Constant contact enables us to send out newsletters and to maintain a database of customers. Shopify is what we use for our website where retail orders are processed. All of these applications are easy to use, learn and are essential to get things running smoothly.
What are your favourite books and podcasts?
In terms of ongoing learning, various business courses, industry meetings, networking gatherings and other supportive groups have been very helpful for ongoing knowledge and growth. One of my favorite books is THE KIND COMMUNICATOR by Elizabeth Barry.
What are the next products you’re working on? Are there any releases you can tell us about?
We are working on body scrubs and have other plans to expand the line.
Presently, I am a mentor and an advisor to Jessica Claire Wilkins, the new president.
Would you ever sell?
I sold Essence of Vali to her in October of 2019. At this time, I am working on re-inventing myself as well as assisting Jessica with the transition.
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