Meet the Maker: Ellen Schaeffer of Persistent Sisters

Ellen of Persistent Sisters

The U.S. has been in a frenzy lately, with women’s issues at the forefront of our minds (and on the tips of our tongues). We couldn’t think of a more fitting time to introduce you to Ellen Schaeffer of Persistent Sisters, a line of women’s history trading cards and gifts that celebrate trailblazing women and provide inspiration, motivation and education for girls of all ages. Now that sounds like something we can all agree on. Take it away, Ellen!

 

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Ellen Schaeffer of Persistent Sisters

 

LBC: What inspired you to take the leap as an entrepreneur?

Ellen: My background is in non-profit community arts development. I wasn’t really thinking in terms of entrepreneurship, but instead about how to develop a network of sharing around the topic of women’s history.

After the 2016 election I had a strong desire for my then 11 year old daughter to have a deeper understanding of how long and hard women have been fighting for equality in all fields, including the political. My son collected baseball cards and consequently developed an impressive knowledge of athletes, and a network of similarly interested friends around the country.

Trading cards seemed like the perfect medium to spread the word about trailblazing women throughout history. But I had never developed a product before. After creating the initial set of cards, I had so many women saying to me, “We need this!” I decided to go all in, and launched a Kickstarter campaign in the fall of 2017. I then found myself knee-deep in packaging, pricing, shipping and, of course, hours and hours of research. I drew a lot of energy from the enthusiasm of the Kickstarter backers that took the leap with me.

 

LBC: How would you describe what you create?

Ellen: Persistent Sisters is an ever-expanding line of women’s history trading cards so that girls can see who they can be.

 

LBC: Where can we find your products?

Ellen: Online at www.persistentsisters.com, on Amazon, and in many fantastic museum stores and several boutiques around the county.

 

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LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?

Ellen: Simply as a needed and accessible resource to empower and inspire both women and older girls, and something to be collected and shared between mothers (aunts, grandmothers, etc.) and daughters. Pocket-sized sheroes!

 

LBC: Walk us through a typical workday.

Ellen: Recently I went back to work full time in the non-profit world, and my typical workday with Persistent Sisters is now very early mornings and late evenings and the weekends. It can be a challenge to find balance.

I have some fantastic graphic designers that I work with, and have brought in other illustrators for a few sets of cards. However, the day-to-day is just me. You might find me researching, running numbers, checking inventory, packaging, illustrating…all the things. Sadly there are many days when I feel like I am so enmeshed in the minutia that I lose sight of the big picture, and don’t take enough time to spread the word about Persistent Sisters. I’m always striving to find ways to manage my time more effectively.

 

LBC: What are 3 things entrepreneurs should think through when they initially decide to start a business?

Ellen: Everything BUT the creative. Learn what the tax implications are for an inventory based business. Choose and be very familiar with your accounting system (or find someone to do it for you). And find a way to absolutely love spreadsheets! Literally every penny counts. My life would have been a lot easier if I had taken the time to develop some systems before I was elbow deep in product development.

 

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LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?

Ellen: I try to think about why I started the business. I pick up a few Persistent Sisters trading cards and reflect on women that have helped changed the world, often facing tremendous obstacles, without support, and on their own. A couple weeks ago, my daughter and two of her friends each submitted papers for National History Day about women’s history, inspired by the Persistent cards. This is what keeps me going on the hardest days, reflecting on the impact the cards can have on young women. The future is female!

 

LBC: Tell us about the best business decision you’ve made to date.

Ellen: I joined the Museum Store Association early on, and found an amazingly supportive group of both vendors and store buyers that were willing to answer my many questions along the way. For anyone with a product that fits in the museum store market, the Museum Store Association is a small investment with big returns. (side note from Lela: I whole-heartedly agree!)

 

LBC: Please share one misstep or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back or overcome it?

Ellen: Oh, so many to choose from! In my first Kickstarter campaign, I wasn’t careful enough when I calculated shipping and went way over budget. I made it work, and am careful not to repeat the same mistake.

 

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LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?

Ellen: Microsoft OneNote keeps me organized. And the library! I try to include lesser-known women, and sometimes that takes a little digging. Lastly, I would say my daughter and her access to other middle-school aged girls. They’re my ad hoc focus group and their feedback has been invaluable.

 

LBC: Imagine that we had a time machine. If we blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?

Ellen: My dream has always been for the Persistent Sisters trading cards to spark a little network of girls sharing their own dreams and visions for their future. Recently I started including blank make-it-yourself trading cards, encouraging people to share those on social media and maybe trading them with each other. There are so many more trading cards to make, but I’d also love to find ways to build and engage a community.

 

LBC: How have your interactions with Lucky Break influenced your business?

Ellen: Lucky Break provided me with some invaluable resources. I learned so much, from product descriptions to pricing strategies to line sheets. And I know there’s a lot more that I haven’t tapped into.

 

LBC: What benefits have you seen from taking classes, working with a mentor, and/or building community around your business?

Ellen: There has only been an upside. Finding resources for all of the aspects of the business where I lack knowledge allows me to stay focused in the areas that I feel more comfortable. Additionally, objective feedback is so important. Because I am primarily a one-woman show, I have sought out workshops and other learning events that allow me the opportunity to hear what others think.”

 

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Thank you, Ellen, for sharing your talent with us. We absolutely love what you’re doing with Persistent Sisters, and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for you and your company. We’re cheering you on!

 

 

The Lucky Break Calendar – June 2018

June2018

Oh hey there, June. It’s hard to believe, but we’re only thirty days away from the official halfway mark of 2018. And while the sun may be shining + the beach may be calling your name, I need something else to be calling your name too, sugar. The holidays.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking you to plan your holiday feast or to get a head start on shopping (but high five to you if you do). June is the perfect month to plan your wholesale holiday outreach. Store buyers will begin buying their holiday inventory this summer and it’s important you have an outreach strategy planned out and ready to go. Have a question or two on that? Join me for a free Facebook Live training, where I’ll share my best tips and tricks.

 

Whatever you’re working on, I’m cheering you on!

June2018

Closing Doors and a Meditation on the Nature of Change

Visiting a Bedouin camel farm in the United Arab Emirates during a business trip to Dubai.
Visiting a Bedouin camel farm in the United Arab Emirates during a business trip to Dubai.

Visiting a Bedouin camel farm in the United Arab Emirates during a business trip to Dubai.

 

In the fall of 2003, I started an apothecary company. Truth be told: I had no earthly idea what I was doing. NONE. I was in the midst of a messy divorce, taking my first steps as a newly single mama on some pretty wobbly legs. I was broke, scared, and deeply humbled. I was raising two sweet toddlers who needed heaps of support and I was woefully low on energy and opportunity.

 

 

I had no job, no college degree, and no economic security. What did I have? A sharp mind, a burning desire to build some stability as quickly as possible, precious little to lose, a deep commitment to my children, and just enough chutzpah to believe that my life could be different than it was in that moment. As it turns out, that was enough.

 

Early packaging and some rudimentary photography... it was a "make it work" moment!

Early packaging and some rudimentary photography… it was a “make it work” moment!

 

With no prior business experience and very, very few dollars, I launched Bella Lucce from the kitchen of my 800 square foot house just outside Knoxville, TN. A few years earlier, my sister had navigated a health crisis, and that scare spawned my desire to know more about what I was putting in and on my body. I began making my own skin care and body care products with natural ingredients, and you could often find my oldest daughter Chloe and I mixing up bath salts, body soaps, and face creams in our kitchen. I never dreamed that my hobby would flourish into a business- I simply wanted to have more confidence in the products I was using.

 

 

Fast forward to 2003 and I had moved into my parent’s spare bedroom on the opposite side of the state while working through my divorce. Both my daughters, my dog, and myself all snuggled in tight in a single bed. After being turned down for a waitressing job at a local steakhouse and standing in line for food stamps at my local social service agency (note: This is what “rock bottom” feels like), my mother gently suggested that perhaps I should set up a booth at the local farmers market to sell my products on weekends while I looked for a “real job.”

 

 

I took her advice… not because I had any real hope that the effort could be successful, but because I was suffering from a dearth of opportunities. I was woefully low on options, and my bills were accumulating quickly and what the hell else was I going to do?

 

Bella Lucce's first commercial kitchen in. It was *tiny* and we outgrew it within six months, but I was positively giddy about having my own space.

Bella Lucce’s first commercial kitchen in. It was *tiny* and we outgrew it within six months, but I was positively giddy about having my own space.

 

Oddly enough, I landed my first wholesale account before I landed my first farmers market. The details of the how and why seem unimportant at this moment, but my beloved Bella Lucce took off like a rocket ship. Within twelve months, I had signed my hundredth wholesale account. I cranked out bath bombs by hand as I watched PBS with my daughters, sitting on the floor together each afternoon. The girls and I ate dinner on boxes of empty jars that doubled as our dining table. And each Saturday, I’d load up my mother’s old minivan with packages and head to the post office. The attendant diligently weighed and stamped each one, a line of patient souls growing outside the door as they triaged dozens of parcels.

 

 

In 2004, I remarried and relocated to South Carolina. Signed the lease on my first commercial space, which I outgrew just six months later. Bella Lucce started appearing in magazine editorials fairly regularly. I signed our first distributor and jetted off to Dubai for my first trade show. 250 accounts, then 500, then 1000. A European distributor and training sessions in Vienna. Business dinners in Rome. Press junkets in Kuwait. Custom development meetings in Jordan. Distributors in Scandinavia, Madagascar, and South Korea. Sell-outs on a home shopping network. Ingredient sourcing trips to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, the jungles of Ghana, and in villages down the rutted, red clay roads of Uganda as I worked to build ethical supply chains for dozens of exotic materials.

 

Bella Lucce has enjoyed press coverage around the world. A sampling, from left-to-right: Italy, the United Arab Emirates, and the U.S.

Bella Lucce has enjoyed press coverage around the world. From left-to-right: Italy, the United Arab Emirates, and the U.S.

 

And with all of that explosive business growth came building expansions. Hirings. Firings. A lawsuit or two. Pitch decks. Sales meetings. Investor meetings. Vendor meetings galore. Being courted for a reality TV show. Walking the halls of Congress to lobby for small business. And lots and lots of time on planes. Which lead to…

 

 

Lots and lots of time on my therapist’s couch. I’m not in the least bit ashamed to share that with you. Growing a business has been the singular most challenging experience of my life. I’ve survived divorce, cancer, cranial tumors, natural childbirth, and bankruptcy… and I’m here to tell you that none of those experiences challenged me more than growing my business. Nothing forced me to go further outside my comfort zone. Nothing forced me to believe in myself more. Nothing forced me to become a stronger leader, or to check my expectations at the door, or to face down my darkest fears, or to become a more attuned “people reader” than running a multi-million-dollar manufacturing firm that hundreds of people around the world counted on to feed their families. Let me tell you, friend: THAT is some heady stuff.

 

Thankfully, our packaging and photography got better over time. I'm especially proud of this handmade soap, wrapped in a beautiful handpainted mud cloth that I sourced directly from Mali, Africa, retailed in handmade baskets that I sourced directly from Uganda.

Thankfully, our packaging and photography got better over time. I am especially proud of this handmade soap, wrapped in a beautiful handpainted mud cloth that I sourced direct from Mali, retailed in handmade baskets that I sourced directly from Uganda.

 

I love the hustle and there’s almost nothing I enjoy more than dreaming up (and pursuing) new opportunities. But while so many of us pray for the kind of opportunities I enjoyed, I can tell you that explosive growth is both a blessing and a curse. Overtaxed adrenals. Cash flow crises. Kids who miss their mom. A husband who often got the remnants of what was left of me at the end of the month rather than my best. And one very, very tired Lela who felt like she had summited the mountain of business only to find that the view at the top wasn’t quite what I had expected. It took me a long time to make peace with that difficult realization, but I finally came to my senses while on a beach in Thailand.

 

 

In 2011, two senior managers resigned at my company in the span of one week. There was no great scandal underlying those departures. One was following her husband to another state as he began a new job; the other was simply tired and fried. I was accustomed to people coming and going- that’s part and parcel of business. But my #1 and #2 leaving in one week was more than my brain could process. It was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

 

Perched atop a forklift in Genoa, surrounded by our Italian distribution team in their warehouse.

Perched atop a forklift in Genoa, surrounded by our Italian distribution team in their warehouse.

 

I calmly told my husband on Friday that I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but I was going to find somewhere pretty in which to have that breakdown, away from the watchful eyes of my daughters. Sunday afternoon- less than 48 hours later- I boarded a plane bound for Phuket. I spent 10 days face-down in Buddhist temples, journaling on the beach at sunrise, and meditating daily in a floating sala surrounded by lily pads. I took wheatgrass shots three times a day, retired to bed by 7pm each night, and forced myself to take inventory of my life and my business.

 

 

And what I realized in those ten days was this: Bella Lucce was my training ground, not my destination. I had always seen Bella Lucce as my “end game”- the alpha and omega of my entrepreneurial life. But I realized that the experiences I’d accumulated were simply a set of training wheels, preparing me for what was to come. The idea of using the wisdom and strategies that I’d cultivated in life and business to support others was born in a kayak, drifting through a series of caves in Southeast Asia. I flew home and got to work. Fifteen months later, Lucky Break launched in November of 2012.

 

If you must have a nervous breakdown, this is a lovely place to do it, yes? My villa had an outdoor shower, a meditation sala, and a private pool. I did some good thinking here...

If you must have a nervous breakdown, this is a lovely place to do it, yes? My villa had an outdoor shower, a meditation sala, and a private pool. I did some good thinking here…

 

A lot has happened since then: I’ve watched my sweet girls enter adolescence. I waved one off to college in the Midwest. I relocated from Columbia to Atlanta. I’ve been blessed to do some passion work via nonprofit boards and personal philanthropy. I’ve seen much more of the world. But at the end of the day, I’ve also been working 80+ hours a week for more than five years, balancing Bella Lucce and Lucky Break. It’s been a fulfilling (but tricky) five years.

 

 

Lately, I’ve been feeling the need for a purge, to burn away that which isn’t essential. I asked myself about what’s serving me well. I meditated on what facets of my life are challenging me to grow. I took inventory of what feeds my energy and what drains it. I thought about what’s “next” for my family. And the more deeply I dug into my own psyche, the more I realized that I’m clinging to Bella Lucce because of my own insecurity.

 

Sitting in on an lesson at a rural school in Morocco. We eventually sponsored that school for several years, supplementing teacher salaries while providing a library, playground supplies, and backpacks filled with school supplies to the kiddos. Some of my favorite work!

Sitting in on an lesson at a rural school in Morocco. We eventually sponsored that school for several years, supplementing teacher salaries while providing a library, playground supplies, and backpacks filled with school supplies to the kiddos. Some of my favorite work!

 

She’s like a warm blanket that I’ve been clutching for fifteen solid years. So much of my identity is tied up in my role as the founder of Bella Lucce. In the back of my mind, I’ve always known that if Lucky Break fails in spectacular fashion, I can always fall back on my beloved Bella Lucce. Will people even recognize my name if that company ceases to exist?

 

 

It’s time to find out.

 

 

I’m finally ready to pull the ripcord. Cut the umbilical cord. [Insert your own odd analogy about cords here.] It’s with great pride (and a tinge of sadness) that I share that the doors of Bella Lucce will be closing at the end of this week. I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t some tears as I cleaned out my office a few weeks ago. But my family and my teams (at both Bella Lucce and Lucky Break) have been so incredibly supportive of this decision, and I know in my gut that this is the right move.

 

Teaching a workshop in Ghana. The ladies and I created a shea butter- based hair pomade product that's still created and sold today. All proceeds benefit a nonprofit that works with widows and orphans.

Teaching a workshop in Ghana. The ladies and I created a shea butter-
based hair pomade that’s still sold today. All proceeds benefit a nonprofit that works with widows and orphans.

 

Change is a hard concept for me. I often joke that I practice Buddhism because the heart of the religion is this: the world is in a perpetual state of change. And I’m stunningly shitty at processing it. There are facets of this decision that are bittersweet. But mostly, I feel excitement. I’m excited to welcome additional mental and emotional bandwidth as I streamline my life and reduce my “to do” list. When I think of flying off this cliff and fully spreading my Lucky Break wings, I’m giddy at the thought of what that could mean for me, my family, my team, and my clients. And thanks to some clever deal-making, pieces of Bella Lucce will live on, even if they aren’t visible in an incarnation that you immediately recognize. *wink*

 

 

I started my first business because:
1. I wanted to prove to myself that I had the power to fashion my life into whatever I desired.
2. I wanted to role model tenacity and courage (on nearly reckless levels) for my daughters.

 

 

One of my favorite sourcing trips: learning about cocoa production in St. Lucia.

A sourcing trip to St. Lucia to learn about cocoa production (these are beans drying in the sun). I so enjoyed the sourcing trips: rose farms and essential oil distilleries, raw clay being pulled out of the mountains, argan oil cooperatives where women smashed nuts between rocks, protected shea parklands in East Africa, and spice factories in India. Every drop of it has been fascinating!

 

I’ve recently come to realize that my life has gotten a bit more bloated than I prefer. My soul is stirring and it’s time to shake things up. To again show my daughters that whatever served you well yesterday may not be what serves you well tomorrow. That part of our journey involves constantly taking stock and fine-tuning our existence. And that sometimes those “fine-tunings” morph into big leaps of faith… but those leaps of faith are always where the magic lies.

 

 

This has been the most wonderfully transformative fifteen years of my life and I’m grateful for every step. Starting a business is a revolutionary act and I’m so proud to support product-based entrepreneurs who are on similar journeys. It’s unimaginably hard, but this work is so worth doing.

 

I once took the Bella Lucce team skydiving. Good times! We also enjoyed some amazing travel all over the world. You all are what I'll miss most!

I once took the Bella Lucce team skydiving. Good times! We also enjoyed some amazing travel adventures together all over the world. You all are what I’ll miss most!

 

I hope you’ll join me in raising a toast to dozens of employees over the years, 15,000+ wholesale orders, 60+ passport stamps, and almost 2 million products sold. It’s been a wild ride and I will forever be grateful for this adventure. If you have a memory of Bella Lucce, then I hope you’ll share it with me in the comments. When we close the doors for the last time on Friday, I’ll be on a boat floating somewhere off the coast of Mexico. But I’ll have a good bottle of Malbec at the ready and I’ll be indulging in a walk down memory lane. I hope to be able to come here and read your memories, too.

 

 

Onward and upward, friends. Always.

 

 

What Kind of Brands Does Lucky Break Work With?

Lucky Break Clients - Pen + Pillar

Lucky Break recently celebrated its fifth birthday (damn, that makes me feel old!). It’s sometimes hard for me to believe that I began this journey that many years ago! For a long time, I believed that my first company (an apothecary brand catering to the spa market) was the alpha and omega of my career.  It was my one and only plan. I was obsessed with building an empire… reinventing myself from single-mom-on-food-stamps to self-reliant-role-model-for-my-girls.

 

But after spending a decade building that skincare company, I launched Lucky Break to help other makers and product designers avoid some of the pitfalls I had become snagged in as I grew my business. I had made so many mistakes (sooooo damn many) in those early years and I relished the thought of helping other entrepreneurs avoid some of the landmines as they navigated their own entrepreneurial landscape.

 

Truth be told: I had no idea how to best deliver curriculum when I launched Lucky Break. I’d never attended a webinar or built a PowerPoint. But I had bootstrapped a multi-million dollar business. And I had a tremendous passion for helping others, even though I didn’t necessarily have a firm grasp on what kinds of entrepreneurs would tag me into the ring to help. Helping others on this wild ride of owning a business helps me evolve my crash-and-burn mistakes into key business lessons, deep empathy, and an uncanny ability to understand the challenges facing modern artisan businesses. So I put my nose to the grindstone and cultivated the tools, techniques, and strategies that have become Lucky Break’s hallmarks over the past few years.

 

In honor of Lucky Break’s fifth birthday, I indulged in a leisurely walk down memory lane.  As I poured over my client list, I was struck by how incredibly varied it is.  Some brand owners come to me in the pre-launch phase. Others seek out my help after they’ve been hitting the pavement for a few years. And sometimes I have the opportunity to help refresh or reinvent a business that’s been around for a decade or more! There’s not just diversity in the length of my client’s business journeys or their annual revenues, but a tremendous diversity in the kinds of artisan products I have the pleasure of working with, too.

 

I curated a list of some of my favorite clients and I thought you might enjoy a peek. Some have put Price-O-Matic (my pricing software tool) to good use. Others have worked more intimately with me on their brand development via Brick House Branding. I’ve created gorgeous line sheets to put their best foot forward with retailers, and I’ve helped many of them reach out to new retailers via my Wholesale Matchmaker service. However we’ve ultimately worked together, it’s been an honor to help nudge these savvy brand owners in the right direction while avoiding some of the trickier pitfalls along the way.

 

I hope you’ll explore their sites and throw some love in their direction!

 

Lucky Break Clients - Pen + Pillar

Pen+Pillar

STATIONERY + GIFT

Pen+Pillar
Wayfaren
Native Bear
Of Unusual Kind
Smudge Ink
Pigment & Parchment
Whimsy + Wild
Little Truths Studio
Arden Hands Studio
Best Day Ever
Indigo Ember
Unicorn Crafts
Wholesome Soul
The Pursuit of Cocktails
Print Therapy
Tiny Bones 
Print Arms
Tick Tock Press
Studio Pep
Felicette
Fresh Out Of Ink
Pixelimpress
Iinky 
Paper Berry Press
Studio MME
California Lustre
Type Shy

 

 

Lucky Break Clients - Osmia Organics

Osmia Organics

APOTHECARY

Stewart & Claire
Azalia Spa Goods
French Girl Organics
Comfort & Joy Apothecary
Sweet & True Sugaring Co.
Sigil Scent
Oille
Leahlani Skincare
Bambu Earth
Zandra
Outlaw Soaps
Osmia Organics
Rachel’s Plan Bee
Lily De Mai
Oyin Handmade
Thorn & Bloom
Goodnight Darling Co.
CeeCee & Bee
Laurme
Pure Thoughts
Vertere Skin Care
Florapothecarie
Barnwell Co.
Naturalicious
Aveseena
Wild Air Skincare
True North
Redbudsuds
Femme Noire
Ambika Herbals
Etta + Billie
KBShimmer
Yuzu Soap
Wildflower Gypsy
Miyu Beauty
Blossom’s Barn
Pep Soap
Burly Stone
Black Ship Grooming Co.

 

Lucky Break Clients - Standard Wax

Standard Wax

CANDLES + HOME FRAGRANCE

Standard Wax 
Opal & Wonder
Candelles
Sawdust & Embers
Southern Elegance Candle Company
Sparklefly Candle Company

 

Lucky Break Clients - Waxing Kara

Waxing Kara

SPECIALTY FOOD

Hudson Henry Granola
Blue Flour Bakery
Dell Cove Spices
Waxing Kara
Artisan Sugars
Prana Foods
Plum Deluxe Teas

 

Lucky Break Clients - Elizabeth Benotti

Elizabeth Benotti Handmade Ceramics

HOME + GARDEN

Unique Pl8z
Elizabeth Benotti Handmade Ceramics
Quiet Clementine
Claire Crowe’s Alchemy Collection
Wood & Barrel Co.
Small Company Artworks
Oh! You’re Lovely
MamaSuds
Apricity Ceramics
Happee Monkee

 

Lucky Break Clients - Siamese Social Club

Siamese Social Club

PETS

Janery
Treats for Chickens
North Range Dogs
Siamese Social Club
The Blissful Dog
Big Daddy Biscuits

 

Lucky Break Clients - Inkling

Inkling

BABY + KIDS

Inkling
Hi Tree! 
Modern Moose
Goobie Baby
Venetian Decor Oh Baby
Sasa Loo
Euphoric Herbals
Because of Zoe
Handcrafted HoneyBee
Zoe Organics
Baby Blossom Company
KidEssence
MarshMueller
Hemmed In

 

Lucky Break Clients - Zenned Out

Zenned Out

JEWELRY

Zenned Out
Izaskun Zabala
Kate & Moose
Kendra Renee
Metalicious
Amy Bond Glass
Jen Crowe Studio
Marja Germans Gard Studio
Tree Myriah
Charliemadison Originals
Zoe & Piper
Raegen Knight Jewelry
Beth Jewelry
Cindy Liebel
Alexander Betty
With Care Jewelry
Tiny Hands
Freshie & Zero
Laura Tanner Jewelry

 

Lucky Break Clients - Tal Angel

Tal Angel

APPAREL + ACCESSORIES

James Vincent Design Co.
Wee Rascals
Tal Angel
Married & Bright
Bagnet
Trovelore 
Pineapple Grip Socks
Maiook 
Mr. ShorTie

 

Meet the Maker – Renan Kennedy of Sans Skincare

Renan Kennedy of Sans Skincare

Renan Kennedy of Sans Skincare

 

Today in our Meet the Maker series, we have a very special guest in the form of LBU alumna Renan Kennedy of Sans Skincare. Renan joins us from Potomac, Maryland, and we are thrilled to share her story with you today. Welcome, Renan!

 

LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneur?

Renan: I have been an entrepreneur all of my adult life; I have always worked for myself, so for me it was not a leap, but a part of who I am and what I’m used to. Being an entrepreneur is all I know and all I’ve ever done. Actually, if I were ever to work for someone else, that would be a leap for me!

 

LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?

Renan: I started my business in such an unplanned way. I always say that the universe pointed me in this direction. I originally started Sans Skincare to help my beautiful mother, who at the time was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I wanted to find healthy products to use on her skin. But as I look back, I realize that I started Sans also to help myself get through a very painful time in my life. Starting Sans at the time I did, when my mother was so sick, distracted me from the awful reality of what was going on. So because the start of Sans was so unplanned, I really didn’t envision anything. At that time, I was really taking one day at a time.

 

LBC: How would you describe what you create?

Renan: I would describe my products as pure and simple skincare. I try to create products that are simple in every way. Simple from the ingredients I use, to the number of ingredients I use, all the way to the very simple and minimal packaging. There is a serenity that one gets from simplicity. Simple is important to me.

 

LBC: Where can we find your products?

Renan: You can find Sans Skincare products on our website (www.SansSkincare.com), at small boutique spas and stores, and being used by estheticians.

Renan Kennedy of Sans Skincare

 

LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.

Renan: I am an early riser, so things start pretty early for me. I must have gotten used to that from years of taking my older son to water polo every morning at 5 o’ clock!

After taking my younger son to school, my first order of business every morning is a hot cup of tea with our homegrown honey. Can’t start my day without that! I typically like to address emails first thing so I don’t keep anyone waiting. This way I know that I have gotten back to everyone in a timely manner before the craziness of the day begins.

Since I wear all the hats in my business, each day is different and I try to designate specific days for specific tasks. For example, I try to do all of my formulating early in the week, and try to get all orders out early in the week so no products sit around on a truck over the weekend. Days that I am formulating, I usually just formulate and nothing else. Later in the week is designated for business things. A typical ‘business’ day might be working on collateral materials for marketing, then doing a photo shoot of products and other related items to be used for social media.

Organization is an ongoing process, and I do it every day, trying to make my processes more efficient. The evenings are usually set aside for things that I can easily do on my iPad like social media, research, planning, note taking, etc. I even sleep with my iPad next to my bed for spontaneous ideas in the middle of the night!

 

LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?

Renan: I think the most important question one can ask themselves before starting a business is if there is actually a need for their specific business. I see so many people starting businesses without doing the upfront research needed to see if their product or service will actually sell. This is so important and can save a lot of frustration, time, and money. I even suggest doing a ‘dry run’ before actually launching. Put your idea or product out there on a small scale first and see if there is any interest, and realize that you are not only looking for interest, but you are looking for sustainable interest.

It’s also very important to think your business model through well…very well. Not just what kind of a business will it be, how will it function, but also a very important question to ask is, “How will this business integrate with my life?” For me, it was very important to find a business that will fit in with my life. My younger son has special needs and requires more attention than a typical child; for this reason, I needed to create a business that would provide me the ability to have flexibility. My business must work around my family. I firmly believe that one’s business must fit into their life, and not the other way around. It makes for a much happier and less stressed life!

Lastly, but certainly not least, please, please ask yourself if you can afford to start your business at this time. This sounds very simple, but the reality is that many businesses fail because someone didn’t calculate the upfront costs, and they didn’t factor in that somehow you have got to be able to have an income stream coming from somewhere else while you are trying to generate this new income stream.

 

Renan Kennedy of Sans Skincare

 

LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?

Renan: I really don’t get overwhelmed. The times that I do become frazzled, I try to step back and look at the big picture, and put things into perspective. I think it’s important to assess the situation and reassign importance and reaction. In most cases, I realize that I am giving a situation more importance and reaction than it really deserves.

 

LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.

Renan: My training is in graphic design and I have had my own design firm for the past 15 years. Initially, when I started Sans, my inclination was to hire a designer to create my brand look. I thought I was too close to the process and thought that I wouldn’t be able to do a good job for my own company. After much thought, I decided to keep the design in-house and do it myself. It was difficult I must say. Much more than anything I have ever done for a client in my 15 years as a designer. I suddenly knew what it felt like to be on the other side of the table. As difficult as it was, I’m glad I took he project on myself. It probably took me 3 times as long to come up with my ‘look’, but I’m happy with it, and I saved a lot of money in the beginning when every penny saved was so important.

I also think in the beginning it was a very good idea to involve my friends and family in the marketing of the business/products. I have an amazingly loyal and loving family and friends. When I launched this business, everyone took serious responsibility for getting the word out, passing out samples, and calling on all their connections (I have some well connected family and friends!) This was huge in getting the initial big push. I would say to anyone starting a business use your resources, task your friends with getting the word out; one person tells another tells another.

 

LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?

Renan: My biggest obstacle was right after I had developed my brand – after I had developed the formulas and my packaging was on lock, I was ready to get started, but I didn’t know what to do next. I was trying to figure all this out by myself, but I had never created and tried to sell a product before. I somehow found the Indie Business Network (IBN) and I joined. I initially joined just to get my liability insurance, but I quickly realized what amazing, amazing support IBN, and other groups like it, can provide. The help, knowledge, inspiration, and resources I was able to get from fellow makers was incredible. I soon began asking questions and really involving myself. I think the big lesson I learned was to not isolate myself. I was able to get so much direction from other makers.

 

LBC:  Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?

Renan: Of course, the cure for cancer is important for me. A portion of my profits have always gone to cancer research. But recently my focus has taken a turn. I am still, as a company, very interested in supporting the cure for cancer but now this support in much more focused. I have recently come upon a doctor who is making huge strides in the cure for cancer. He is not well know at this time, but I’m confident soon he will be as his protocols are currently going through the last stages of FDA approval. This doctor has spent his life fighting for those with cancer and first hand I have seen this remarkable man cure those who are stricken with this awful disease. There is currently a documentary in the works about him. I am so taken with this wonderful doctor and his work that I want to support him in his efforts.

 

Renan Kennedy of Sans Skincare

 

LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?

Renan: 1. My iPad. I can’t live without my iPad. I have everything on it; I use it to research, store information… I use it for absolutely everything. I would be completely lost without it (don’t worry, it’s backed up!)

2. Social Media. I am on social media every day. Where else can you reach so many people and get so much visibility for free? Social media is modern day advertising. Fewer people are buying expensive media spots and doing all of the advertising/connecting with their customers with social media.

3. My Board of Directors, and I use this term very loosely! Over the years, I have assembled a group of very trusted people. Each of these people have expertise and are very accomplished in a different area. When I have questions, when I don’t know what I’m doing, I call on them. It is one of the best things that I have done for my business!

 

LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?

Renan: I hope you will see a company that is secure and sound. I hope you will find a company that makes good decisions and shows a healthy increase in sales every year. I hope you will see me having the time of my life running this company. But most importantly, I hope Sans can be part of a greater mission, a mission that encourages people to think about their well being and to consider what they are putting onto their skin, what they are eating, how they are living. I hope we can help people realize that it is within each of us to take control, to make our own lives the best it can be and to make our beautiful planet the best that it can be.

 

LBC: Which Lucky Break products or services have you utilized and have they proven helpful? 

Renan: As I described previously, one of the best things I did was to join the Indie Business Network. It was there that I could get answers to my questions. I asked many questions and would get many wonderful answers. But the answers of one really nice, curly-haired woman always resonated with me. She always had very sound answers and advice. One day, I looked her up and found that she had a business consulting company. I went through her website with a fine-toothed comb. Now, you have to know, I’ve never taken online courses, and really didn’t think a course could be taught very successfully online. But I really liked what this woman had to say in our IBN Facebook group, so I took the plunge, with a smaller course to start.

The first course I took was Mastering the Spa Market. It was taught over the course of a couple of nights and honestly, I thought, what can you learn in a few nights? Well, the first night of the class, this woman came online, with her southern drawl, and started teaching. It was after that first class that I knew I’d be around, taking classes from Lela Barker for a long time! This course BLEW ME AWAY. I learned information in that course that, had I tried to learn on my own, would have taken years of trial and error to pick up.

After the Spa class ended, I was all in, no stopping me. Soon after, I registered for Lela’s LBU, class which was everything you ever need to know, from A-Z. I just recently completed the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) class. So much information, so well taught, so easy to follow.

I am so happy. I really do feel that I have a partner in Lela; she is always there to help.

 

Renan Kennedy of Sans Skincare

 

LBC: What’s one thing you would eat, if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life?

Renan: Salad. Cold greens. I love fresh, straight-from-the-garden veggies. I could eat salad for breakfast, lunch and dinner…no problem!

 

LBC: What’s your favorite quote and who said it?

Renan: My favorite quote is not really a quote; well, it’s more the words of a song. and the song is “I Hope You Dance”. My beautiful mother dedicated that song to her grandchildren and said to them, “And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance…” That is how I live my life…I try to dance!

 

LBC: If you were given a million dollars, but were not allowed to keep a single penny for yourself, friends or family, how would you spend it or give it away?

Renan: Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve said this hundreds of times. I wish I had so much money that I could know what it feels like to give it away. But it’s got to be enough money so as to be able to completely change someone’s stars, to change their life.

If I were just given a million dollars, I would try to find those who are good people, hard-working people but because of circumstances in their lives beyond their control, they just can’t seem to get ahead. I would want to make their lives completely changed and create happy people who don’t need to struggle anymore. I would love that!

 

Thank you, Renan, for sharing your talent with us!  We absolutely love what you’re doing; we’re so honored to be associated with Sans Skincare, and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for you. We’re cheering you on!

 

Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!