This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We ask readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories.
Introducing Jessica Lafleur, owner of Stark Skincare, a online skincare company that sells all-natural, organic products. She runs the company in Montreal with her co-founder/husband Adriano Ferrari.
1. Let's start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
Stark Skincare's online shop officially launched in Feb. 2012. We're a small line of high-quality, all-natural and organic skincare and perfume. I like to call us the "epitome of a micro-business" as we are a team of two, my co-founder/husband and I, and we operate from our tiny Montreal studio. We're all about having a small footprint, being streamlined and keeping things super-simple; values reflected in how we work and in our products themselves.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
When I first met my husband, he encouraged me to go after my dream of having a little indie skincare brand someday. His attitude of "why not now?" and his belief in my abilities to launch this thing made me realize he was a keeper. Stark is kind of our love-child.
I didn't know it, but I was born to be an entrepreneur. I love the independence, flexibility, rush, and especially that my business is both physical and hands-on (I make every product myself). It's also technical, and I love updating and beautifying the website myself.
Even the stress of running my own business (and there can be quite a bit of it!) can be deeply satisfying. The sense of accomplishment after a busy week is practically euphoric, and I love that this business allows me to just be myself. My husband and I are both creative people, so it's great that we need to wear so many hats. We love to work (my husband has launched his second business while finishing his PhD at McGill all while raising our son) and talk about ideas, and we're obsessed with learning, continually improving on our skills and are always trying out various kinds of lifestyle design.
At any given time, I'm taking one to two online courses to learn more about my craft, or about business, writing, web design, social media -- everything really. Given our personalities, becoming an entrepreneur is more of a question of when rather than why.
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
Although my store is online only, I feel I've built up a special relationship with many of my customers, many of whom have been shopping with us since the beginning. Stark's like a little shop in a small town, greeting everyone by name when they come in through the door. I know many of my customer's stories -- about their skin, their health, their families. We also talk about business, as I'm very open about what's going on with Stark –that kind of transparency is really important to how I run things – and I take feedback very seriously. I guess Stark has made a bit of a 'cult-status' in its genre. We're mostly discovered by word of mouth as we've never advertised. We also get mentioned in some pretty amazing blogs which drives some new customers our way.
4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
Mostly I run Stark, and my co-founder husband works part-time for the company. I do all the manufacturing myself, including research, experiments and formulations for new products. We do not outsource any of that, and what I consider to be the best part of running this business. We also do all of the bottling, labeling, stamping, etc.
The physical creation of the products, as well as general day-dreaming about the company's future is on my plate. I also do copywriting (newsletters, blogs, articles, etc), customer service, purchasing, sourcing, coordinating with our design team and facilitating product launches, PR, some photography, some of the more simple graphic design, and all social media. My husband and I co-run the website, and he is also in charge of the shipping and inventory logistics, bookkeeping and coordinating with our accountant as well as some of the graphic design and coding for our site. He's also my idea sounding-board and sometimes the shoulder I cry on when it's all too much. We have no other employees at this time, but we do outsource our shipping, accounting, heavier graphic-design and various other tasks from time to time.
5. You've been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
First, I think keeping the bar pretty low on what can be considered 'success' has lead to our current state! But seriously, I think people sometimes get the wrong impression about many of these online shops and our level of success. Unlike in tech startups, there is very little funding available to our kind of business and there is a lot of competition. We are by no means a big, wealthy company. However, we have created a good life doing what we love, and we offer a product that make people feel happy, and that is success to me. I absolutely own my days, and that's precious when raising a young family. I think we've gotten as far as we have by being consistent, open, accessible, and by remaining a small, nimble company, we have a lot of control over what we can do for our customers. I think that makes all the difference.