Jeanette Price is an artisan perfumer and the creator of Peachy Keen Perfume, a line of handcrafted fragrances inspired by the San Diego area, which Price currently calls home. Her perfumes are available in retail locations across San Diego and Orange County as well as on her website and Gifts.com.
According to Price, the demand for artisanal fragrances by independent perfumers is growing in Southern California and will soon spread nationwide. Price aims to take advantage of that market by providing a well-made, accessible fragrance line that offers an alternative to the mass-market name brands available in department stores.
Price recently took the time to talk with us about her unique path to entrepreneurship and her experiences launching a luxury fragrance brand.
How did you start your business?
I got started out of utter unemployment. I am a military spouse and, unlike most people who find a job before they move somewhere, I don’t have that luxury through serving our country.
Before I was married into this craziness, I earned a master’s in teaching from the University of Virginia, a top 10 university in the United States. I’m bilingual in French. I’ve had international teaching experiences in Morocco and France. I have a really impressive resume that did nothing for me in Southern California. It was a very humbling experience.
I had studied abroad in France and Morocco as an undergrad. I graduated from undergrad in 2009, the absolute worst time to graduate because of the economy. I was in the situation of asking, “Do I move back home to America where there’s very little promise of a job?” I had many friends in Morocco and I knew the culture was so warm and welcoming, plus it is in a stage of development and growth as a nation. I basically moved there with just a suitcase. During my free time there, I got to experience the raw materials that are part of the beauty and cosmetics industry in Morocco, which was life changing. Perfume is much more common there. There are more perfumers who create fragrances for specific customers and more bespoke perfumery. I made friends with a lot of shop owners and got hands-on experience with perfume.
Perfume was something I loved and something I did in my free time, but I never really thought I could make a business out of it. So, here I was in sunny San Diego. I had a ton of free time because teaching wasn’t necessarily panning out. Just being here, I saw the opportunity. In the summertime it’s flooded with tourists and everyone here is very local-friendly. Especially in California you see people ask, “Is this tested on animals?” or “Where is this sourced from?” I knew that those kinds of people were the right kind of people for my brand, because you can’t ask that of perfumers like Chanel or Dior. My demographic is here in Southern California, but also everywhere, as someone who is looking for well-done fragrances that are made differently.
I thought I could do this and make it marketable and something that would really work here. It was just a lot of gut instinct. I knew that if I had a really well done product and I got local interest, I’d ultimately be able to convert it into growth.
I am now at the bootstrap phase of this startup. I do everything myself – I stock, I blend, I pour it into bottles, I label the bottles. But no matter how much I grow, I will always have my brand be handcrafted.
How did you fund your business in the beginning?
I have completely financed the business through my savings. As I’m making money, I put a portion back in to help grow the business.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
I think that’s an endless search, learning how to run a business. Maybe this is just my teacher background or sense of southern hospitality coming out, but I think it’s all just about being nice and treating your customers as you would want to be treated. I think that really goes far in business. That doesn’t mean that you’re a wimp, but it’s about being forthright, earnest and transparent, but also not shortchanging yourself.
All that aside, I’ve learned by reading a lot and research, research, research. I’m learning through doing, which really is a never-ending process.
Who is your first customer?
My first big break in the ice was my first wholesale account. Through Twitter, a boutique owner contacted me and asked me to send her a sample. I sent her a whole bottle because I was so excited. She said, “I’ll take six of them.” Even though that’s not that many bottles off the shelf, it was my first wholesale account and that felt really good, because it was the very first time my ideal customer liked my stuff and bought it.
My ideal customers are boutiques that are selective of what they carry and curate to their customers and also that appeal to the types of customers I’m appealing to. Seeing that I rolled the ball in the right direction and someone actually took it, that was a big breaking point for me.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in the first year?
I’m always thinking about my demographics and events to bring brand awareness. A production event company recently contacted me because they were collaborating with a local magazine for an invitation-only high-end fashion runway event. It seemed so perfect for me. The production event company charged me a pretty substantial amount of money to be a part of it.
The people who actually showed up to the event were not my demographic and I didn’t sell a thing, I got no press, I got nothing. It was literally money down the drain.
Lesson learned: Next time, I think I’m going to be very critical and ask for event photos from previous years and how many vendor spots are being sold. And I’m not going to project so much.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
Networking has landed me my dream team. I’m producing a photo shoot for my new line and I’m so excited because I have the literal dream team of photographer, models, makeup artist and graphic designer – All people who have the exact same vision of what I’m going for. Just reach out; if you’re really specific about what you want, you can find it within your own network.
The second smartest thing I did was automate as much as I could, specifically receipts because they are the bane of my existence! They are everywhere, they flood my life! I have automated through Shoeboxed.com and I’ve automated the mileage tracker when I’m in the car.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
It’s rewarding when it’s working. Rewarding in one word is “fruition.” When this crazy idea I had is actually occurring. When people see I’m not just doing some craft, but launching a brand. Being taken seriously as a Southern California perfume brand and growing in the region is huge. I want to be who I am as a brand and as a perfumer filling a niche. It’s rewarding to do that and to see it grow.
What’s the most challenging thing about running your own business?
Triage of whatever the biggest fire is at the moment. There’s so much going on. Figuring out what is the top priority by asking what the long-term benefits of things are and if it will help me get toward my big goals.
Another challenge is not making my business my whole life. I see this with all the other small business owners I work with. There’s so much overlap, cutting the cord and having some downtime is difficult. It’s hard because it is something you are excited for, but you need to emotionally detach — It’s healthy.
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
The most surprising things are the opportunities I’ve come across that I hadn’t initially thought of. I’m working at the moment to possibly make private label perfumes for boutiques and hotels. I would love to do that, but I never expected to do that. My brand’s name will still be on the label and it will, of course, be of the same quality.
It’s great to have that growth, but sometimes you need to funnel it down or put a chokehold on it to be sure you can do quantity with the same quality. In the past, I might have just done a quick one-month turnaround, but now I’m going to take six months to make sure I can get it developed to the level it needs to be because it has my name on it.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most?
I’m currently reading “#GIRLBOSS,” so Sophia Amoruso is on my mind.
I also really admire Bridget Brennan. She is all about analyzing consumerism and why women buy stuff. She is at the forefront of telling people women make the money decisions, it doesn’t matter who is actually making the purchases. She writes about the social influence of women as purchasers and buyers, be they soccer moms or the fashion editor of “Vogue.” She also talks about how corporate industry has always been run by men and men and men, so we have all kinds of things that don’t cater to women. We have airbags that don’t cater to women and cup holders that don’t cater to women just because of how bulky and large and not nimble they are. Her book, “Why She Buys” is so good at analyzing and letting people know why the woman buyer is the buyer, which I love.
What I’ve Learned
If you could go back to when you were starting your business, what advice would you give yourself?
Be careful with your money.
Be super-confident, like ridiculously confident, cause you will get nowhere if you are timid. You have to be beyond cocky. However, you have to still be nice and gentle.
Be creative. Especially for me as a perfumer, there have been so many precedents that have been set. If you can find some way to challenge those precedents, I think the intelligent consumer will appreciate that and spend more money with you. For example, I make all of my fragrances unisex because I don’t think scent has a gender. That is really fighting against the whole “for her” and “for him” mentality that exists in perfume. I’m finding some benefit to that “middle-of-the-roadness” that I’m taking.
What do you wish you had known before you had started your business?
I wish I had known that everything will take twice as long as you think it will. With product development, naturally you get out of it what you put in. But even things like getting your business license or opening up a bank account. Expect twice the time you estimate on everything.
About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing, located in San Jose, California.