2019 was another good year for us when looking at the big picture. Although we had some great wins, there were certainly some opportunities this year.
Any business’s 5th year is a mixed bag full of growing pains. It has been no different for us. We were presented with some challenges that we may not have handled at our best as well as amazing wins. Through the year we added a lot of new features and benefits to our online store, and have changed how we handle our Festival and limited Pop-Ups.
This year we introduced gift credit [cards], product subscriptions, order specific automatic reward emails and a shopping membership club. Little by little we have been updating our product information within our website to provide more information in a less cluttered manner. All of these things will continue through 2020, but there may be further improvement tweaks to how the operate. We know not all things are for all people, but it is awesome to have options. And, every option we offer allows the shopper to have the experience that suits them best.
Our biggest challenge this year came from our Festival participation. As much as these can be a huge business driver for us, they can also be very problematic. Too many factors can create a negative experience for us as well as those shopping with us. This year we had to deal with unruly crowds that blocked access to our booth, poor assigned booth locations that made interactions with shoppers near impossible, and poor weather that kept people away from the festival entirely. As these outings are very traffic driven, fewer people in attendance means fewer sales. With the comparatively lower average price per item, we have to work harder than many vendors to break even at these festivals. Anything that negatively affects our ability to engage with those attending can means a loss for us. To be fully transparent, we only had 2 successful outings this year.
Despite the troubles with events, our on-line business saw substantial growth. This is ultimately where we need to be until we have a brick & mortar location. While the events do a great job an introducing us and providing a means to interact with us and our products, they do not provide consistency. Seeing our online business grow allows us to plan and understand trends more accurately. This is how we can gauge customer loyalty and truly see what sells and does not sell.
For 2020 we are revamping our involvement with outdoor festivals. We will only participate in those that genuinely support their vendors. We plan to take part in a couple maker-seller events instead of “street festivals”. Such events focus on vendors like us, and are not about selling beer and providing top-notch entertainment. Through other vendors, we have been encouraged to take part in such events.
2020 will be a year of change for us. It is true that we have been a constantly evolving organization, but this year we intend to fully revamp our J&L APOTHECARY branding as well as overhaul many products to make them more sustainable and environmentally friendly. This has been important for us from the start, but when you are a tiny business it is financially difficult to procure GREEN packaging. As me move through existing packaging we will transition to more metal, more glass and more easily recycled plastics. We also plan to take steps to reduce shipping costs as well as end user plastics by offering a “re-fill” concept for liquid products. This will allow us to sell you a larger capacity product that you can easily store in your home and fill any bottle of your choice, or buy a more decorative bottle from us.
Over the last few months we have moved to a wax paper packaging for bar soaps. The wax is an organic material that protect the product from moisture and along with the paper, it is biodegradable as well. Unfortunately, we cannot move entirely away from plastic, as the trade offs lead to heavier products that are more expensive to ship and are may break in transit or in your home. The majority of our products are intended for use in bathrooms where water and glass can be a major hazard.
This new year will also kick off our plans to restructure our debt to free up cash flow. The measures we plan to take will allow us to advertise more which will gain us new customers as well as permit us to improve many aspects of our business – from supply chain to administrative.
We are also willing to explore other means of increasing our capital. This can be done through various investment opportunities or bringing on board an equity partner. These are options we are still sorting out and will consider if presented to us.
Expect to see a lot of new fragrances coming over the year. We plan to expand the use of 3 scents we tested this summer and we have a few more in development. We intend to make it easier to offer more options in fragrance through a “scent to order” system that can be implemented for online as well as in person sales. Many of our oils and liquid soaps can quickly scented on the fly as needed. This will allow us to reduce waste while offering more options. This system will roll out over the year as well sell through existing inventory and transition to the “re-fill” system.
Our mission for 2020 and beyond is to:
- Continually improve our products, packaging and other offerings to be an even better option
- To improve the shopping experiences online and in person
- Free up cash flow to streamline our operations and support continued growth
- Introduce new and improved products that further reflect our core values
- Maintain our premium quality while still offering a more affordable price
- Further violate expectations of our industry – to be even more visionary and breaking barriers
Since our launch we have seen real competitors come and go. They flash big with a lot of fanfare and advertising to then fade into oblivion. Many of them relied upon gimmicks or lacked originality when it came to their products or their image. We are still here! Despite some challenges we are stable and we are growing every day.
We are very humbled by our success up to this point. What was meant to be just a little “side gig” has become a full-time business. Although we are tiny and have taken our time to grow, we feel we are poised to break through this year. The last 5 years was like a BETA test in some ways. We offered a functional product and relied upon your feedback to make it better. We feel that this coming year we are finally able to come out of beta, and release a robust and complete experience for everyone. To those who tried us early on and was not impressed, check us out now! We are only going to get even better!