Tuesday, September 15, 2009

15 years and counting...

Every day someone asks me or my staff one or more of these questions:
Is your store new?
Do you have any Canadian made products?
What do you mean you can custom scent my products?

I wonder sometimes how to convey all that ellënoire is and has been in a single marketing program or if that is even possible.

Today, I will tell you the history of ellënoire. Many of you know it, some of you have no clue who we are or how we came about.
In the summer of 1993, an old friend of mine(who, FYI I call every Christmas and blame for my many sleepless nights) listened to me whine about how miserable I was with my life: waitressing to pay the bills and taking night courses in anything I could think of that might lead to a career in something I enjoyed doing. Cake Decorating, Wedding Cake Decorating, Pattern Drafting, Manicurist, Modelling, Makeup Artistry...and on and on..
At the end of my ranting, she simply said... (this is my memory's version of her quote) "Why don't you just do that perfume/soap thing you keep talking about? That store in Vermont you tell us all about every time we go shopping and then drag us into soap store after soap store, you keep saying you wanted to do something like that.."
So, without blinking I decided she must be right, if I talked about it all the time I must want to do it...and then I spent the rest of 1993 doing research about opening a business similar to a store I fell in love with in Middlebury, Vermont while I was in college there.
In 1994 after much navel gazing and talking about my "research" I finally did it. I opened ellënoire Just near to Christmas in my living room in Toronto I had 11 essential and fragrance oils, a gallon of lotion, a gallon of massage oil, a gallon of green bubble bath, some bottles, labels and ribbon all dressed up on a pretty shelf ready to make my fortune.... 15 years ago ...WOW!
So, no my store is not new.

The thing that always kills me about the "Made in Canada" question is that the original plan for the ellënoire company was that I was going to make my own products and that was all I was going to sell. Handmade, Custom Scented bath products and some
Custom Blended perfume, that was the business plan. That was until I got my first order. I realized very quickly that one person could not make all the products if orders came in too quickly. I had orders for 10 Christmas gift baskets my first week (I was a bartender with all male clients, it wasn't that hard) So, I looked at lines I liked in the magazines and called their head office and ordered them. I imported from all over the world, having no clue that at that time very few companies my size were importing anything. Somehow in there, I became known for a lot of the rare and hard to find cosmetic and skin care brands you saw in the magazines. Sephora and all it's copy cats were just a twinkle in someones eye when I was bringing in other American and French lines to support the joy I got when making my own products. But no one understood what I was trying to do with my own products so they mostly bought the brand names.
I was the first in Canada to bring in Carol's Daughter, DevaCurl, Bleu-de Lectoure, Smith & Vandiver, TerraNova and on and on. I was so naive I did not realize this was not normal, I just bought what I liked. So, we became known as the store that sells a lot of interesting brand names and then people seem shocked when they learn that we make our own products.
There are lots of days when I think it would be easier just to sell other companies' products but I know, at the end of the day I would be bored silly just ordering things and selling them. Without some sort of creative outlet in my life I go crazy and making perfumes and skin care products is one of my favourite things.
Buying and selling "Ready to Wear" is easy...creating "Haute Couture" is not, but RTW is not my style.. ;)
So, yes our primary Made in Canada line is ours, handmade for 15 years from bottles and jars and labels and wooden spoons and stained recipe cards and my bare hands. Chemical Free, Paraben Free, Petroleum Free, Silicone Free, almost Nut Free(not certified, but no peanut or almond oils go into my handmade things)Sulfate free(except at Xmas, I bring in some bubble bath.. please see my 90/10 rule to see why)and if you want it to be.. my line is 100% scent free.

Which brings us to the custom scenting issue. When I answer this question I feel like I am teaching an English as a second language class. I say "I will custom scent your bath products for you" Which is met with a blank stare more than you can imagine.... which I don't know what to do with... How are the words "custom scent" hard to understand??

So, here is what the dictionary says:
custom –adjective
- made specially for individual customers: i.e. custom shoes.
- dealing in things so made, or doing work to order: a custom tailor.

verb (used with object)
- to fill with an odor; perfume.

The slightly longer explanation is: All of the ellënoire product line is made unscented, quite on purpose. You can buy the product as is, or you can pick from our selection of essential and fragrance oils and we can "custom scent" your bath products as you like them. 15 years ago, people thought I was NUTS( wait we are nut free), BANANAS!!! No one had a clue what I was talking about

So, in order to make a living we allowed the other brands to get the name ellënoire out there and we simply continued to make our line. 4 websites, 4 cities, 6 locations, hundreds of bath bombs, lotions, custom scents, labels and ribbons and year after year of realizing that so many of the products we were bringing in were inferior to many of our own the ellënoire FINALLY outsells all our other lines. We only keep lines that we ADORE and now they complement our own products, and every day we happily struggle to keep up with the demand on us to make more and more products.

In the last 5 years we have added many organic ingredients to our products, we bring in a large selection of essential oils, absolutes and concretes for the Natural Perfumery service that I offer. Bloggy readers know I have started to make soap, hair oils, and many other things. Later this fall our mens line will be complete & on the website and by Christmas our facial line will be ready for you to try.

So all the buzz words you see on skin care labels now: Made In Canada, Locally Made, Chemical Free, Scent Free, All Natural, Handmade, Made with Essential oils, blah blah blah is nothing new. Not to ellënoire. That is how I started it all, in my living room in 1994 and it is how we remain.

How do you explain 15 years experience in a couple of lines? You don't. You stir 15 years experience into every product and hope that one day someone finally gets it.