Etsy Seller Inkling Scents Shares Her Secrets for Rapid Business Growth
- July 29, 2015 | Suzanne Kearns
All Tiffany Kirkham, founder and CEO of Inkling Scents, wanted to do was find a natural cure for her niece’s eczema. She soon began working with the local oil distributor and discovered that she had an interest in perfumery.
As she learned about perfumes, she realized that name-brand fragrances have essential oils at their core, but she also discovered that those oils are diluted with synthetics and alcohol in order to stretch the supply and increase profit margins.
“This is what causes so many people today to break out in hives, develop rashes, headaches, or a host of other reactions at the mere mention of perfume,” Kirkham says.
So she teamed up with her sister to create a test product and enlisted the help of a woman who has never been able to wear perfume because of an allergic reaction. When her tester didn’t react to the scent, they tested it on dozens of other sensitive people, none of whom had an allergic reaction. Kirkham quickly went to work creating twenty-two fragrances and now offers them in various beautiful bottles.
The company brought in $20,000 in revenue in its first year in business, but project that it'll reach $180,000 in sales this--its second--year. We spoke to Kirkham to find out how she’s been able to grow her company so quickly. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.
What’s the story behind your name?
Kirkham: Our name stems from two ideas: the first is that fragrances can be elusive: wafting loveliness behind the wearer, leaving an "inkling" of something beautiful and intriguing. The second is that we were raised by literary parents, with a love for classic writing and writing implements. Our dad collected fabulous pens and practiced calligraphy before Parkinson's hobbled him. So, the name is a nod to them and allowed us to incorporate some of those elements into our product designs.
Once you developed your products, how did you first attempt to sell them?
Kirkham: We first launched our products on Etsy for direct sales, and in a friend's art gallery here in Salt Lake City.
Where do you sell your products now besides your Etsy shop?
How did you first begin wholesaling your products?
Kirkham: Initially, a friend allowed us to place our products in his art gallery. From there, I hit the road and pounded doors, meeting with shop owners, spa directors, and whoever else would listen. It not only helped our sales to get into shops, but I feel that it legitimized our business.
What was the most challenging aspect of managing your business as it grew?
Kirkham: The most challenging part has been handling the growth by myself. My sister Sarah stepped away from the business as she is now pregnant with her 4th baby and couldn't do it all. So I get to wear all of the hats! I still consult with her, and other professionals and family members, but the burden really falls to me.
What apps or software do you use to make your back end operations run smoothly?
How do you market your business?
Kirkham: Trying to market this business is a unique challenge. The majority of our sales are online, but describing scents to people who can't smell them before they buy is tricky! We use a lot of reviews and referrals to back up our claims, and we have connected with reporters through HARO and seen lots of publicity that way. In addition, we have attended trade and craft shows and held flash sales on Jane. It's a rather buckshot approach, but we do the best we can.
Why do you think your sales skyrocketed like they did?
Kirkham: The number one reason for the growth is a contract we had this year with FabFitFun. We placed 60,000 roll-ons in their summer luxury subscription box. The initial sale was a boon, but the ongoing exposure has been, and continues to be, spreading like wildfire.
What is your biggest piece of advice to those who want to open a creative ecommerce business?
Kirkham: One of the biggest tips I'd give someone starting an online business is to invest enough money to get killer photography. Since customers can't rely on a tactile appreciation for the products, we have to appeal to their eyes. In order to be impactful, the photos need to be simple, sharp, and amazing.
Perhaps another reason Kirkham has been able to grow her business so quickly is her attitude toward her customers. "Fragrance is one vehicle by which an average, ordinary person can apply something that leaves them feeling special, beautiful, and cared for. So our customers are young and old, thin and not, wealthy and modest--we try to appeal to them all."