Marla Bosworth is the founder and owner of Back Porch Soap Company. She teaches classes, corporate events and experiences including candle making, soap making, organic skincare and perfumery.

February 11, 2012

Student Spotlight: Janice Summers of Très Spa

Janice Summers
The following is an interview with Janice Summers, owner of Très Spa:

Tell us a bit about yourself. What got you to this point in your life?

Whenever anyone asks me how and why did I ever get into personal care as a business, I usually stand there frozen. Sometimes I simply laugh (because I am thinking of funny short answers). It’s not that I don’t know why or how it all happened it’s just that I’m never sure how much you really want to know or how you want me to answer. It always feels like it will be an epic tale starting with my childhood. That is where it all began. 

“I was born in Detroit Michigan at a pivotal time in our nation’s history…..” I haven’t yet figured out how to tell that story in three lines. Perhaps one day I will hire a publicist who can dig in and then condense the answer. 

The shortest one I have is “Life”. It wasn’t as if a brick fell on my head or that I was fed up with something or that I had great pain (even though I have suffered with skin conditions in the past). None of this drove me. I did not know any of my niche mates nor was I chasing any rags to riches hero who had gone before me. In fact, if it were monetary riches I was in search of, believe me, I would never rank starting a cosmetics business on the list. So I was not setting out to change the world nor right some skin care wrong nor wag my finger at someone else. 

I would say that Très Spa grew from a deep seeded passion that is difficult to define in simple text. I suppose the story of Très Spa is more one to be experienced and that is what is poured (pardon the pun) into everything I create and do for Très Spa. 

Très Spa is an expression of my life and all the people in it or who have passed through it. All the experiences I have had through life have led me to where I am now and doing what I am called to do. I was not consciously aware of this when I first formed the corporation nor during its incubation or even its baby stages. In fact, it was questions like this that made me try to define it.

What do you sell?

Artisan crafted Personal care inspired by nature.  How’s that for a short answer?
Très Spa Product Line

How did you get interested in making bath and body products?

My passion for the business began as an end user. I was always experimenting with different skincare products and natural remedies. I was strongly influenced by my grandparents who were way ahead of their time by today’s standards. Oddly enough, behind the times when I was a child. They planted gardens full of wonderful fruits and vegetables, rotated their little crops around, refrained from using pesticides, made things by hand. You may think I lived out in the country, but I was born in Detroit so you can imagine how odd it was.  

I cannot imagine any other business that would capture me more, that would allow for so many different interests to be stimulated simultaneously. The artist, the nurturer, the environmentalist, the champion, the engineer, the scientist, even the practical and savvy all come into play. There is not a day that goes by, since I launched Très Spa that I am not eternally grateful to be able to do what I do.

When did you launch your company?

During the worst part of the recent economic downturn - 2008/2009. Best time to start since there is nowhere to go but up!

What sets you apart from other bath and body companies?

I am sure I am breaking all of the standard business rules here, but I did not research and nose into what others were creating in my field. Again, I had a lifetime as an end user so I already had a bit of experience behind me. I knew what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. I did not want to be influenced by others in my field, nor did I want to do the same thing as everyone else, so I intentionally did not investigate others. I still don’t. 

So what sets me apart? What sets anyone apart really? That is the true question. There are lots of bakers who make a chocolate cake and many may even use the same ingredients (or at least similar ones) but what makes one more appealing than others? It is in how they do what they do. From the core ingredients to the final presentation. This is how you separate yourself from the pack.; the raw materials you select, they blends you create, and the way you present them.

What course(s) did you take with Marla?

I did a two-day glorious Business Bootcamp with her. I saw a listing through the Nova Studio offering a two-day business boot camp and jumped on the enrollment. I had heard of Marla before, probably through the Handcrafted Soap Makers Guild. When I signed up, I was already well on my way in business, but what appealed to me the most was that Marla had already built a thriving business in skincare and I thought that this would be an excellent person to go see. I was right!

Which were your favorite and how did they benefit you?

Most important to me was the tradeshow advice. I had already done one, but wanted to improve since I had another one already scheduled. Marla’s advice and tips were very beneficial and I went to my next show with far more confidence than before. I’ve done a few more shows since that time and I am always tweaking things for improvement. But, what I learned in that bootcamp was a solid foundation to build from.

What is your favorite part of running a bath and body business?

There are two aspects that I love the most. One is the people I meet and the lives that are touched by what I have created. I love seeing my customers and hearing their stories. The other is when I get to be alone and create. I can tune everything else out and freeze time when I am creating. It is truly wonderful. The two of these aspects are woven together since when I create, I am thinking of all the people I have met.

What is your least favorite part?

I’m not partial to bookkeeping. It always takes a nudge to get me into the accounting software, but once I get rolling with it, I actually find it very rewarding. Ever try to find that missing penny when you reconcile your account? Doing General Ledger work to me is like eating kale, not the best tasting green around but oh so very good for you. Believe me, by the end of the year, there is nothing more pleasing than being able to run ample detailed reports on cost vs sales. Your gut might be telling you one thing, but the numbers have to add up in the end.

What are your biggest challenges as a small business owner?

Time. I think it is the biggest challenge for anyone these days. There is always something that needs to get done and whether or not you like it, you have to let some things slip. For me, it’s usually newsletters, blog posts and social media. It’s not that I don’t have things to report or things to say, I just don’t often get the time to sit and write them up.

When you have free time how do you like to spend it? Hobbies, sports, travel, etc.?

Is there FREE time with this job?!  Just kidding! There are two things I love to do the most. My first love is camping. Whether it is in the forest or in field; by the ocean, lake, or river side. I am at peace when I am in nature. This is also the source of my inspiration and I often find that I make magnificent gains just by stopping and gazing at the trees. The other is going to the Spa. Destination spas or day spas, you can go in feeling blah but when you emerge you are transformed. That is the way I would like people to feel when they use the products I create for Très Spa: Transformed and Inspired.

Do you have any words of wisdom to share?

There is nothing worse than being at an event, be it a wholesale event or an art event or even a farmers market, and having someone spend a ton of time picking through your booth and asking tons of questions when all they really want to do is gather intel for their own business. These events cost money and the person who paid to be there, did not come to give you advice or guidance, they came to build their market share and sell.  You taking up space in their booth means that real buyers cannot come in. However, there are respectful ways to do this. If you want info then identify who you really are, keep your questions to a minimum, if you see others coming into the booth GET OUT and come back again later, do not ask for their product catalog – these things cost money, if they have spent time answering your questions then buy something from them before you go.

Be clear about what you want to do and how you want to do it. No one can be everything to everyone and not everyone is your customer. Trying to follow what everyone else is doing will make you nuts and the savvy consumer can spot a knock off anyway. 

Don’t measure your success by someone else’s measuring stick. This too will drive you to distraction. You need to set your own baseline and measure improvements against that. Someone else may “seem” more successful, but you are not them and who knows what their “behind the scenes” story is. 

Be bold! Many of the success stories that I have heard have happened because they were bold enough to push forward even in the face of adversity or contrary to “professional” advice. How many times did Edison try before he created the incandescent light bulb? How many pitches did it take before the Colonel sold the concept of his Kentucky Fried Chicken? 

Take classes! If you want to know something or learn from a Master, then belly up, pay the fee, and take classes. Guiding and advising are what teachers do and folks like Marla are excellent at it! 

Thanks, Janice! Connect with her on Facebook or purchase some of her fabulous natural skincare products!

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