ENOSBURG FALLS — If you notice any particularly pleasing smells on the air this summer, it’s probably the work of three young business owners and their floral potions master.
“We didn’t have any experience with this,” said student Ellaina Murphy. “But we created quality, marketable products, and that’s something we’re proud of.”
Cold Hollow Career Center students Murphy, Emily Noel and Destiny Benware are three of Enosburg Falls’ newest entrepreneurs. With the help of their teacher, Sarah Jo Marcotte, they each created a line of skin and home care products made with essential oils.
Using $2,500 in grant funding, they designed their own products, marketed them to a local business owner, and are now selling them through the Barn Owl Bistro and Goods store in Berkshire.
The students began by experimenting with Marcotte’s essential oils collection and recipes for things like chapsticks and salves. Normally, her Intro to Business Class will have students formulate their own business plans for theoretical businesses, but given the smaller class this year, Marcotte decided real experience as product designers was not only possible but probable.
“I started thinking in November, maybe there’s a chance for them to do something a little more real,” Marcotte said. “It kind of really took off.”
The students tried out different scents, ingredients and combinations before bringing their initial products to Barn Owl Bistro and Goods store owner Heidi LeVell in December. Marcotte and the students went to visit LeVell to show off their prototypes and get cold, hard reviews.
“And she gave it to us,” Marcotte said. “It was exactly what we needed … real, authentic feedback about our products. It’s different when you hear that from someone who is in the market.”
“I didn’t gloss over anything,” LeVell said. “I wanted them to know it’s incredibly hard and totally worth it.”
Marcotte said rather than disheartening or critical, LeVell’s advice was inspiring, and the entrepreneurs went back to their drawing boards eager and excited to test out new labels, scents and brand strategy. Students went back with second and third versions of their products, which were finally accepted by LeVell and given free shelf space for display and sale for a limited time.
Until high school graduation day, this Saturday, June 11, the products will be on the shelves of the Barn Owl for retail sale. All proceeds go directly back to the students.
Homemade skin and home care products
While each of the businesses the students created is based in essential oils, the students each designed their own brands. Murphy said that while none of the students had any prior knowledge of essential oils or their uses, they quickly found research and articles that enlightened them.
“There are special ways to determine whether essential oils are real,” Noel said. “And you want real. Often the real ones come in darker-colored glass to preserve the genuine scent and potency of the oil.”
Noel created a natural home and body care line called “Natural Bliss.”
“Mine went through a lot of change,” Noel said. “But it was really helpful to see the changes in product design and the effect they had on our market.”
After altering her bottles and logos, Noel said she took the advice of her teacher in adopting cobalt-blue bottles instead of amber. Noel loved the look of the yellow sun and the blue bottles, and she added descriptions and ingredients to her labels.
Calm Nights, Clear Thoughts [lavender, frankincense and eucalyptus] and Tough Nails [originally spring breeze] nail bed strengthener with lemon and frankincense] are some of her original recipes now for sale.
Murphy created “Affirm Essence” which she stocked with facial toning sprays and other products named after affirmations.
“We were going to Heidi’s in 15 minutes, and we all sat there together un-labelling all of my products because the recipe was changed,” Murphy said. “It was crazy.”
Being the best person you could be was the inspiration behind Murphy’s brand.
“I saw a Tik Tok where a mom is telling her children that they are beautiful and to be smart and kind that day,” Murphy said. “That drove me. I never see stuff like that on Tik Tok, and I thought that was really positive.”
LeVell told Murphy that the names of her essences should be directly related to the products that she has and should reflect her affirmations. She also made the font bigger on her new labels, and reworked her ingredients.
Benware’s line is called “Nessy’s Essentials” which are natural care products donning black labels and are for both the skin and the mouth.
“We had a solid perfume that we created,” Benware said. “I took the solid perfume and figured I could make a lip balm out of it.”
“Pink Skies” and “Falling Leaves” were her first two prototypes for lip balms, but then she created “Summer Garden” and “Forest Breeze” perfumes with variations on their recipes, and today she stocks all three. She also has two lip balms and four perfumes for sale.
Creating a stable, small business
Normally, as a part of Intro to Business, students create their own business plan, study marketing and branding, and create a theoretical business. Given that the size of the group was smaller than usual this year, Marcotte became inspired.
Just before Thanksgiving break last year, Marcotte brought in materials that she had at home for the young entrepreneurs to experiment with. In their first week of testing, the students mixed and combined different scents and researched uses for the different oils.
For instance, you won’t find suntan lotions with citrus oil in them, so lemon-scented sunscreen was out. But ingredients weren’t the only lessons the students learned in their product development.
After creating their initial products, Marcotte said the creators wanted feedback from other marketing professionals. LeVell opened her small business, the Barn Owl Bistro & Goods last year, and she and her staff have first-hand experience in how to stock, market and sell local goods.
LeVell previously spent decades as a small business owner, antiques appraiser and liquidator and has saved several antique homes from being torn down. She restored them and successfully got them re-recorded on the historic register of their municipality.
When the girls sought her counsel, LeVell dispensed real, hard-hitting and constructive advice, never sugar coating the hard realities of marketing an independent product.
“I was totally honest about the ups and downs of starting a business,” LeVell said. “I shared numbers with them, which they hadn’t heard before from a [business professional].”