Welcome to a new feature here on the blog, where we get to know our instructors a bit better. First up we’re happy to feature Kayla Fioravanti, a well known and highly respected leader in the beauty industry. I followed Kayla for years online and purchased a number of products from her company at the time, Essential Wholesale. I was delighted to meet her in person in 2013 and she is as kind, generous and encouraging as others had always declared.
Read on to learn more about her vast experience in aromatherapy and manufacturing body care products, how those experiences circled back around to one of her first loves, writing and how she’s married the two to create some valuable resources for all of us who make or sell beauty products. Welcome, Kayla!
Business Name: Selah Press
Tell us about your business.
Selah Press reaches outside the boundaries of genres typically written by Christian authors. The website Selah-Press.com is designed to set aside a contemplative moment of the day to praise God, encourage one another, share our faith, steady our walk and be inspired by the glory of God. My website KaylaFioravanti.com is designed to share my life lessons, experiences and training with others.
What’s the best part of being a beauty entrepreneur?
For me it is exciting to look back at what we built, the lives we touched, the businesses we supported and dreams we encouraged. I have three beauty industry books, but am now semi-retired after selling Essential Wholesale.
What inspires you?
Finding a way to put all the creativity that bounces around in my head to good use inspires me. I love learning new things, new ways of doing things better and seeing how other people harness their creativity.
What’s been the biggest business risk you’ve taken? If you’d like, share how that risk turned out.
Excerpts from The Art, Science and Business of Aromatherapy
Failure #1 – PB&J’s Live
The setting was in the kitchen of PB&J’s Live on a busy Friday night. It was the winter of 1996. Dennis and I were friends and business partners. Keegan, my son, was four years old and I was a single mother. Dennis was single and a budding serial entrepreneur. The stress level at our restaurant, PB&J’s Live, was high. The business was surviving from week to week on the income brought in on Friday and Saturday Comedy nights. I ran the kitchen, and Dennis was in charge of everything else.
Finances were too tight to have a babysitter, so Keegan was tucked in a safe corner within my line of sight. When the orders started coming in that Friday evening, I handed Keegan a box of markers and gave him directions to stay on the milk crate. I could swear that I had also handed him paper to write on, but given what happened next, maybe I forgot? It is likely that I had it in my mind to give him paper and markers, but I had too much on my mind, and the small details must have escaped me. From Keegan’s perspective, the only thing missing in the scenario was upon which to color.
Keegan was always content as long as he was near me. He was especially quiet that night and never left the milk crate. At one point, I glanced over and noticed that Keegan was writing on his hand. I thought to myself that I would go stop him once I got the orders started. I was always rushed to get dinner on every table before the comedy act started.
The hours rolled on, and with each glance at Keegan, I noticed a growing marker tattoo expanding on his body. I kept thinking there would be a break in the dinner rush, which would provide the opportunity for me to go stop his body art, but I didn’t have a moment to spare as order after order after order piled in. I sent plate after plate out to the dining room. PB&J’s Live was hopping, and Keegan was quiet. By the time the final dessert left the kitchen, and I had time to take a hard look at Keegan, I found him, colorful and quiet on the empty milk crate.
Keegan had taken the free opportunity to not only decorate himself from head to toe, but to do so with gusto. He had colored every inch of skin he could reach without taking off his shorts. He had been so detailed in his work that he had colored behind his ears and even inside of them. He was a walking masterpiece. I couldn’t be mad because I had watched him do it and hadn’t stopped him. I simply had to smile while he explained each detail of his design. It was washable ink, so “no harm, no foul” was my thought.
Sometimes we have to make a judgment call on the things that we give the power to upset us. I could have beaten myself down believing that I had neglected my son. I could have been angry at my circumstances as our business was barely surviving. I could have been mad that I worked all day at a regular job and all night at our business and still didn’t have enough money to get a babysitter for my son. But in reality my son was happier with me no matter what I was doing. I had chosen to start a business when I was already financially struggling. I had made choices that resulted in all the events of the night and I chose to not regret the circumstances I found myself in.
However, our business did eventually fail by circumstances outside of our control. Packing our restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights was great for us, but it did not go over well with the other restaurant and a video store with which we shared our parking lot. Our customers took over every space and then some. Not only did we share the same parking lot with these businesses, but we also shared the same landlord. The long-term relationships that the other two businesses had with our landlord outweighed her loyalty to us, and just before Christmas her lawyers sent us a cease-and-desist order. It stated that we could no longer serve hot food, that we couldn’t be open at dinner time and that we could no longer provide live entertainment.
The cease-and-desist order was a business killer for us. We had sunk every penny and more into starting up PB&J’s Live and had nothing left over to fight for our business or even open our doors for another meal without our menu, dinner service and live entertainment. We had made fatal errors in our contract and our location. We simply had to close our doors, auction off our equipment and walk away with a huge business loss and debt.
Dennis and I may have failed at that business but our friendship led to marriage. We all laugh at the stories of the experiences we had at PB&J’s Live now. The markers washed off of Keegan. We all remember how Keegan felt like just as much of an owner of our restaurant as we did – minus the financial stress. He loved to greet people, seat people, and sing on stage before we opened. He was sad to say goodbye to his PB&J’s family, and we learned a very expensive business lesson. But in the end, Keegan grew up with Dennis and I as we built, failed, rebuilt, started over, and grew our family businesses.
Failure #2 – von Natur
When we left Essential Wholesale’s 2500 square foot space to move into our current space, we still had a year left on our lease. Dennis had an idea to convert the vacant building into a store, which lead to the idea of a mini spa. Since I was in quite an ambitious phase of my life, I immediately jumped on the band wagon. Between being a wife, mother and business woman, I had felt separated from my creative side, so I saw a mini-spa as an opportunity to give my artistic side a new creative outlet.
Converting an empty warehouse into a store front and mini-spa took an enormous amount of creativity, sweat and labor. In the end, the space was amazing. A local television station even did a feature on the design of the store. The layout was exquisite. The staff was great. The products were selling like gangbusters. Yet, the store was a bottomless money pit that demanded constant time, money and energy. We expanded, redeveloped and redesigned, and around the clock we worked. The spa was eating up our time and Essential Wholesale was suffering from our divided attention.
We tried everything to stop the hemorrhaging. Finally, Dennis called a halt to it all and we shut down the von Natur store and spa. I was devastated because I had invested so much emotional energy into the creative side of the building, the products and into the lives of the people that worked for us. I had to lay everyone off, admit defeat and leave behind the piece of art I had made the building into. Mentally, the spa was eating us alive. Emotionally, I was crushed.
With the spa closed, we put all of our focus into branding a product line. We launched a new look for the product and took it to trade shows. I would describe the look as “one of those things you thought was a good idea at the time.” The graphics were splashy, colorful and expensive. In reality, I think the stress we were under made us go a little extreme on our look. Buyers loved our product at trade shows, and they loved the concept of our product line, but they hated our look. Our extreme packaging was a shiny, foil disaster.
On top of that, the product line itself was in chaos. There was no relationship between our packaging and the high quality of the product inside. We had not developed clear product lines, so customers were left guessing which cleanser to use with which toner. We were mid-stream, getting notice from the press and enjoying serving thousands of loyal customers. The products themselves were amazing, but we had packaged them inappropriately. We finally decided to end the product line too. To do this, we had to let go of history and wipe the slate clean.
I could not believe we were starting over again. I dreamed up many creative ways that we could use up the packaging and not lose the money we had invested, but there was no option but to scrap what we had and to start from the beginning. We went back to square one to start fresh and new, licking our wounds and learning from our mistakes. That time around, when we revamped the products, we surrounded ourselves with experts and leaned heavily on their advice and counsel. Our employees helped us redefine the product line from the inside out. They shared our burden and made it bearable.
So why did I run a private label manufacturing company, a bulk manufacturing company and launch a retail store/mini-spa along with a product line, all while trying to be a wife and mom at the same time? Well, I suffered from the “super woman complex.” I have been prone to think that I could and should do everything myself. I learned from the experience to delegate, to entrust others with my dreams, my vision and my burdens.
I thought Dennis and I could do it all. Together, we had started Essential Wholesale by ourselves while homeschooling one child, with another child in a back-pack and one in my belly. We worked around the clock for that dream because we had to. Our saving grace is that, when we failed—not once with von Natur, but twice—we were surrounded by a team of people who chose to walk beside us.
We did not open the spa with the intention of learning so many hard lessons. In failure, I was humbled. I learned to let go and embrace the experience and all that it taught me. I learned that failure in business is just that: business failure. It does not equal personal defeat.
We embraced the opportunity to reinvent ourselves, but the opportunity for reinvention only came after financial, physical and emotional breaking. I had created a “whole new me” many times in life. But this time was different. In the case of the spa, I had lost sight of the ultimate goal by only focusing on the playing field that I was on. The spa was the playing field comprised of the employees, the building, and the customers. The goal was to have a successful business. We were not even heading toward the goal, but I was so emotionally wrapped up in the playing field that I fought Dennis when it was time to let go.
I was like a drowning woman flapping frantically for something to stop me from drowning, all the while fighting against the rescue. When I surrendered to the rescue I was so relieved. The burden had been so extreme that even the heavy task of laying people off and closing our doors was a massive relief. Closing the spa was the most logical move we had ever made. Level-headed as I am, I still needed a moment to grieve the failure and the broken relationships and let go. The night before the spa closed I wept privately, but by morning I was all business.
Our lives were changed dramatically in the process of the spa and product lines’ multiple false starts, wrong directions and new beginnings. Since we are a married couple in business together, we have had to walk through this process without laying blame on each other. We have had to fail together, change together, start over together and – above all – put our relationship first.
I have been blessed with a husband who has always seen a very big picture. Yes, I was terrified in the beginning of our business because his vision was so huge! I could only see the orders that were in front of me each day. He would talk about our future, and it seemed so unrealistic when it was just the two of us barely making ends meet. I had to let go of my misdirection and follow Dennis’ lead toward our mutual vision. We had done that once before when we morphed Essential Wholesale out of our previous business model, and I had the faith in him to follow his lead and stand by his side as we put in the labor and hard work each day.
The spa failure was very painful, though, because it was out in the world for everyone to see. I am extremely private while in pain, but this failure, this forced reinvention, was so very public. At first, I resisted being reinvented because it meant a public admission of failure. It meant that my business which others depended upon for income was going to fold underneath them. I was humiliated by the thought of letting other people down and not meeting their expectations.
The biggest thing I learned while going through the process of failure is to not fight against it, so my philosophy is to be open to change. Be open to opportunities that come your way. Learn as much as you can from other people’s mistakes, and from reading business magazines and books whenever possible. When things aren’t working, don’t hold onto an idea, a business, or the certain way you did things before.
Sometimes you get side-tracked and lose your focus on the goal. Don’t beat yourself up, just allow yourself to refocus and change directions. You have to take a moment to have a pity party, but then let go and get on with the business of starting over.
Equip yourself with the lessons of others, your own life lessons, and a heavy dose of reality. One of the great lessons that I learned from failure was to become vulnerable. There are times in business that you make mistakes. You can’t put your failures and mistakes in a bag and carry it around with you, occasionally using them to beat yourself up. The people that I laid off embraced me and faced their new jobless challenge. Many of them are still in my life.
More than anything, don’t make any excuses that stop you from changing. For instance, if you want to lose weight you might excuse yourself from your workout one day by saying, “I’m too tired to exercise.” However, until you start exercising, you will remain too tired. Once you follow through on your decision to start moving, your energy will be boundless.
My decisions got me to where I am in life. I took ownership of them, and the bitterness that could have grown out of discontent died for lack of nourishment. Don’t trip yourself up or hold yourself back with excuses that you invent and hold on to for comfort or for fear of change. Forgive yourself, forgive others, and forgive your circumstances, so that you can be free to move forward and enjoy your journey.
What are your top 3 business success tips for bath and body entrepreneurs?
Allow yourself to blossom right where you are and stop waiting for all of your ducks to be in a row. Maybe your ducks won’t come together in a straight line at first. I know mine don’t. The reality is that tomorrow my ducks could be scattered everywhere, but when I move in one direction, they will follow me. They won’t do so in an orderly fashion, and there will be a lot of quacking, but my metaphoric ducks will eventually fall into line behind me as I paddle toward my goals. If I hang back, they hang back; if I throw my hands up in the air and surrender, they scatter. The very best thing for you to do is to move toward your goals and allow your frenzied ducks to follow.
What’s the best business book you’ve ever read?
Good to Great by Jim Collins
What’s on the horizon for your business?
I have several new book projects on the horizon including: 360 Degrees of Grief, Gogo Naughty Paws, Puffy and Blue and a collection of cookbooks.
Please share how we can connect with you (website, social media, etc).
How did you come up with your business name? What’s the inspiration behind your company?
My daughter’s name is Selah, which comes from the book of Psalms in the Bible. Selah is an instruction that tells the reader to take a contemplative prayerful pause. The mission of my company is to publish books that glorify God in a variety of literary genres.
Thanks so much, Kayla, for telling us more about yourself. Check out Kayla’s book that we offer at Bath and Body Academy: How to Self-Publish: The Author-Preneur’s Guide to Publishing. It is an indispensable guide to self publishing a book. I refer back to it each and every time I write a book (4 now and counting, thanks to Kayla’s guidance!)