Name: Ashley Bester-Barnett
Business: Scents & Such LLC
Industry: Retail/Home décor
Tanya: What is the name of your company?
Ashley: Scents & Such. Essentially, it’s a candle company.
Tanya: Very cool. What was your path to entrepreneurship?
Ashley: I think, subconsciously, my path started at birth. My mother was an entrepreneur until she passed away from cancer. It was never something that I consciously pursued. I began making candles as a self-care practice to combat my anxiety and depression and I would just give them to my friends and family. I’m always creating something. I’m a science geek, so with something like candle making, I get to pair science and art.
Me and my bestie share the same hair colorist. One day I was getting my hair done and she said, “So I heard you are finally going to start selling these candles that you’ve been making and you didn’t even tell me. Well, you have two weeks to get a company nickname, a website and a logo and get products, because I’m having a Christmas bizarre in my salon and you’re going to be going to the venue.” And so it was that just push from my tribe that started Scents & Such, ultimately.
Tanya: I love that. And sometimes that’s what you need, because we, especially as women, can get so in our heads and not launch until every ‘i’ is dotted and every ‘t’ is crossed and it’s perfect. Even big companies test and retest behind the scenes. “Okay, who are real users? How are they using it? What is their feedback?” Do some updates but get it out again.
We should take the same approach. Yes, we make a plan, “Okay, what is my labor? What are my costs? How much am I going to charge?” Do your market research, but don’t just sit and wait for perfect because then we’ll sit and wait forever. That’s great there was a timed deadline for you like, “Get your stuff together and let’s get it done.” What would you say has been your boldest business move so far?
Ashley: My boldest business move was when I decided to pivot and go all in. I spent 39 out of 52 weekends on the road at pop-ups doing small venue spaces. I had two small children. It was not sustainable. It was ambitious because I believed and I knew that I needed to gain traction and I needed to touch my customer base. They needed to touch my product.
In December, I sat down, and I was just like, “This is not going to work. If this is what it is, and this is not me, I’m just going to go back to Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 and that’s it.” And then I prayed about it and I said, “You know what? If I only do large festivals, maybe three to six a year, that allows me to have the time to stay home with my family. That allows me to get more bang for my buck, reach a wider audience in a shorter amount of time,” or whatever. And so, making that decision to go from these small pop-ups at these little high school gymnasium sized venues to go do Summerfest in Milwaukee, Black Women’s Expo, and Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis was huge. And if I’m honest, I am so grateful for my core, for my community because nobody else believed in it. Everybody else told me that I was crazy. That was the boldest business move and it has been by far the most successful decision and smartest decision that I have made.
Tanya: Amazing. I love it. What would you say is your, “I made it” moment?
Ashley: I haven’t had one of those yet, because I don’t feel like I’ve made it.
Tanya: That’s fair.
Ashley: I very much feel at the bottom. I am enjoying the journey, for sure. It’s funny, my first major financial turning point, I was just at a pop-up and I didn’t know how to plan my inventory for the demand. Honestly, BMO, when I won that grant, part of that grant was very holistic in that it hit everything. It wasn’t just a check. We had an interview with this trade show expert and she broke down all of the stuff for me. I was used to bringing as much as I can and praying to bring home empty boxes.
And so I did this event, and it was a small event at a storefront. And I remember I brought $2,000 in inventory. I had so much inventory that we had to lay all the seats down in the truck. I sold out. And there were two other candle makers there.
There wasn’t a lot of foot traffic. And I sold out. And people bought, they stood there, they smelled the candles. They listened as I talked to them about why I made what I made. They would leave and bring people back. And that was so meaningful for me. I sat there crying, and said, “It’s not just me and my friends that like my stuff. People like my stuff.”
This older gentleman and I cried together because I was telling him my mom passed away. And he’s like, “Oh, I need five of those candles. And I’m thinking, “I’m 50 years old, I just lost my mama and I just don’t know what I’m doing. And I’m crying and hugging this stranger.” It was about the human connection that day. And that day was the first time I sold that much product. It was that, that made me say, “Okay, I believe in it, that I’m going 1,000,000% forward with this.
Tanya: What a beautiful story. I think storytelling with selling is super key. Going back to 2020 and the racial events of that summer – how did that impact your business being a Black entrepreneur?
Ashley: There was a positive impact there that left me feeling very happy with it. Speaking honestly, I’m an empath, and so I was feeling everything very deeply and working through my feelings and emotions with my therapist. It felt so wrong, trying to profit off of other people’s pain. I knew I just needed to show up as myself and just say how I was feeling and just promote self-care and taking care of oneself. That’s the core value of my business anyway. And as people were motivated to be intentional with their spending, I knew what I was doing touched a lot of people. And so, it was definitely a positive from a profit standpoint, but it was complicated for me, it was very emotional for me.
Tanya: And I think that’s a great answer. What do you wish people would know about being a Black entrepreneur?
Ashley: It is the most fulfilling, empowering, scary, frustrating, exhausting thing that you could ever do. And it’s totally worth it. And when you chase a purpose and not a paycheck, it’s a game changer. And when you do it with a pure heart and good intentions, I think it comes back to you.
Tanya: That’s a perfect answer to it because that’s it. And that’s what you’re doing. You’re not just selling a product. That man cried with you. First of all, men don’t cry, and this man cried with you because you connected to him authentically with your story. Some people and brands are very good at crafting narratives, but you are genuinely sharing your purpose and how it’s translated into your product, which translates to sales. How can clients and companies support Black women at this time?
Ashley: Companies can support Black women with equity; grants, platforms, retail space, mentorship, valuable education about business structure, taxes, investments, etc.
Tanya: Great answer. How/do you find a balance between personal and professional?
Ashley: I found there is no such thing as balance. Some weeks, I have to eat, sleep, breathe Scents & Such, and I’m ordering takeout for my family’s dinner. On other weeks, I’m Snack Mom for my son’s team, and I’m sitting on the sidelines cheering. The balance, I found, is effective communication. Setting expectations with my family around my availability, listening to their needs, and being a person of my word. Are my husband and children happy when I’m away or working late nights/early mornings in my studio? No, but they remind themselves that family time is approaching, and I will not allow the business to interfere.
Tanya: Is there anything else you would like people to know about Scents & Such?
Ashley: In addition to our scented soy wax candles and candle accessories, we also offer private and corporate candle-making parties. Additionally, we host our Get Lit Candle and Cocktail making classes, where I’ve partnered with Miss Liz’s Mobile Bartending Service and we walk our audience through making their own custom candles and cocktail drinks. It’s an experience with a great DJ, catered food and shopping with some small Black-owned businesses. We started this venture Summer of 2021, and it’s been a great success.
Tanya: I’m really excited for you, I’m rooting for you. I love candles, so I’m definitely going to check them out. Thank you so much for your time.
Bold & Black is a monthly interview series conducted by entrepreneur and Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence Honouree Tanya Hayles. Tanya is the founder of Black Moms Connection, an online global village of almost 30,000 and a national non-profit in Canada providing programs and financial tools through grant programs generously supported by BMO. The statements and opinions expressed by guests & interviewees are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bank of Montreal or its affiliates.