This journey to build and become Blissoma started quite a few years ago. The photo above is from back in 2004 when my hair was short and still brown, I was a brand new mom, and we were located in the basement of a tiny rental house on Mitchell Avenue and still going by Irie Star. What a lot can change!
It has been eight years since I quit my part-time job, quit the extra college courses that would have led to my second Bachelor's degree, and began avidly to pursue this wild idea that I could create my own job.
I was straight out of college, totally fresh. Naive doesn't begin to cover it. I wasn't dumb by any stretch either, but I had never run a business. Therefore the thought that I would leave all other sources of income and employment behind to play with essential oils each day might have seemed a little kooky - maybe even a little dumb. But I was too ignorant to know any better and so I jumped straight in...
Running your own business you find out what kind of metal you're made of, sometimes quickly. My dad made a regular practice of reminding me that most small businesses fail within the first 3 years, and that it was generally 5 years before profitability. He had a right to, as he was my partner in entrepreneurship in the early days.
I love the thrill of making something new and my business gave me that. I also quickly got to know the utter heartbreak of opportunity gone sour, and the extremely real knowledge that the pavement was going to hurt badly if I fell down. This was real life and no one was going to save me, no one was going to do the work for me, and no one was going to toot my horn if I didn't do it first. This knowledge grew even into the tips of my toes and hair as I took on debt to fund expansions of our product line in 2005. Risk was the name of the game, and I was all in.
During those years we went through multiple product incarnations, scrapped many ideas, and had at least a few darn good ones. Most of our soy candle scents were conceived back then, as was our Yoga Mat Cleanser, the bulk votive and tealight collection, and Stress Relief Serum. I worked long, long hours - usually 16 to 18 hours a day. Tru, my daughter, was my cohort in the Port-a-Crib. She's still my helper, seen here stacking items a few years ago. The studio has been her playspace and she has grown up watching me throw myself at life and all its problems with gusto, often tears, and sometimes happy dances.
The entire time I have been in business I have always felt like exceptional products should be accessible to as many people as possible. This to me has always meant keeping our line affordable. I got really good at running a really lean operation. When we needed a bigger space we purchased a building in one of St. Louis' most economically distressed neighborhoods partly because we believe in urban revival, and partly because we needed crazy cheap square footage to keep our costs manageable. We have worked hard to make smart decisions with our budget in so many other ways over the years. It's what you have to do when you're bootstrapping. I started with basically nothing, and to this day the business is my sole real investment of any value.
Some would surely call it crazy. But dreams often are, aren't they? In the midst of an idea you can feel it, smell it, nearly touch it even though no-one else around you has any idea what you are talking about. You have to see the future and decide to head that direction in order to ever get there. I have found that when you display a loving, persistent will and keep your vision in mind the means to construct that new reality come to you. For me that has included the support of so many wonderful customers, friends, neighbors, and family over the years, as each purchase has added up to the ability to reinvest, try new recipes, pay for our space, and keep my family fed. Truly, every person that has ever bought and used a Blissoma product has built this dream with me.
Today I'm writing because we've hit a moment where some adjustments are necessary in order to continue to build the dream that is Blissoma. We've made many adjustments before - added new products, cut old ones (which always hurts a little), changed recipes, changed locations, changed working hours, suppliers and so many other things... but today's adjustment is one our customers might notice a little more than usual, which is why I wanted to explain its necessity.
Over the last 2 years since we introduced our new skincare line the market and sales climate has continued to change and evolve. Really, a lot of the change started back in 2007 when the housing market crashed. The way people buy is always changing, ever more so now with the internet. Traditional retail is experiencing a lot of challenges and in some ways is flailing pretty badly. We had always been sold a lot through the Natural Foods channel which was relatively stable. After all, people need groceries and that is one type of item that it is more difficult to ship, which ensured at least to some degree that people would be in those stores and looking at products. We've worked a lot with Natural Food Co-ops, Independents, and the biggie, Whole Foods Market in the past. I always liked the idea of our products being (hopefully) that easy to find. Our plan was to continue to sell this way when we introduced our skincare line. We were changing the type of product we were selling, but not the way it would reach customers.
Today I know that our sales model will be quite different from what I thought it would be then. Not only that, but many costs have continued to rise. Energy is still way up and will stay that way. Our botanical raw materials often spike in price now driven by climate change and natural disasters which have been on the rise. Our aluminum bottles are up in price by about 25%. Even insurance for our studio building has gone way up (about $700 per year increase from 4 years ago when we purchased), related to natural disasters (tornadoes especially in Missouri) and statewide claims. We're great at being thrifty but we also didn't have a lot of padding to accommodate some of these changes. Most of our ingredients are also Organic, and there is still a much smaller pool of growers and suppliers for those items, meaning costs can be high. For some ingredients I have only one or two trusted suppliers that can actually provide us the quality I expect, and so we pay whatever they must charge with the knowledge that the end result is worth it. What we make is no better than the ingredients in it, so I buy only truly exceptional base ingredients.
These issues alone have been a lot. The changing shopping climate has been a huge one to deal with as well. When massive retailers like Borders are going under, you know things are continuing to change out there. I've seen many of our retail store contacts become ever more rigid, often willing only to purchase whatever was available through large distributors in an effort to save money on shipping or inventory tracking. This limits the variety they have available but they see it as a way to spend less time on orders and data, which in some stores is a huge expenditure of employee time. It also means they miss out on a lot of great options, as not all companies are sold through warehouse distributors. Blissoma distributes our skincare only from our St. Louis, MO studio in an effort to keep inventory as fresh as possible, which means if a store tells us that they only order through distribution we can't work with them.
We are ready to proceed with other routes of reaching people, especially with retailers and sales methods that are a bit more flexible and service-oriented. Expanding our online sales this last year has been amazing as we have grown and gotten to talk to so many of our supporters. Blissoma also finds good success with boutique retailers and with estheticians, both of whom also work closely with us and with their customers.
To expand with the independent retailers that will give our customers the types of experiences and service they deserve we have to make adjustments to how our products are priced. Different industries work at different retail and wholesale levels, and when I priced us several years ago it was for the Natural Foods industry, not for boutique retailers. The important thing about that is that smaller retailers often need a bigger margin in order to pay their operations costs. Quite a few of our smaller retailers already sold our products for more than our Suggested Retail Price in order to be able to make enough money on them. In an age where folks can look up a product on the internet our retailers want to know that our products are not going to be priced at less online than in their store. We have to support their pricing to make it possible for them to carry us.
The pricing adjustments we have made reflect these values:
1. To remain in business so we can continue to serve you and provide a voice and experience of truly natural skincare, which we believe is sorely needed.
2. To purchase only the best quality ingredients we can possibly find so that our products continue to deliver you results. No cutting corners. Period.
3. To make our products available through sales avenues that reflect our values and yours - small businesses especially that are run by people you can trust and who are similarly passionate about why they are in business.
We appreciate your support as much as ever, and I understand as much as anyone what it is like to have to make choices with your resources. We are truly honored whenever you choose our products. I hope we can always deliver you products that heal and help you every day.
To provide you, our friends and fellow builders of our dream, a buffer period I am making a discount code available for you to use through the month of October.
Get 15% off your entire order by using code: OCTOBERGRACE15
All products on our home site besides Gift Certificates and the new Travel Skincare Sets are included without limit so you can order at very nearly our old pricing. The discount expires 10/31/11.
This post started about me, and ended quite a bit more about you, our customer. Blissoma is only possible with both of us. I'm excited and thankful to have made it this far, and thrilled to see what the future holds. Here's hoping you are as well. This is the stuff that dreams are made of, and I'm going to be dreaming up something good.
Designer Q&A with Alison Damonte
8 minutes ago