Delicious scents that empower women and offer a way for self-expression – we had the chance to virtually interview Bhatupe, the founder of Bha’s Fragrance Boutique and she told us how she started out, what inspired her and how she plans to extend her Soldigo online business in the future. Read her inspiring story, below:
What is the story behind your store?
I started my online store because I have a geographically spread out target clientele and I wanted to start a ‘global business’ right from the get go. By this I mean, whilst I am physically based in Geneva, Switzerland, my product is really targeting African women, mostly on the continent of Africa and in the diaspora. I know these women are online in various platforms, so I wanted a shop that could speak to them from right where there are at. I am only a woman-only shop/business so I liked the tools of Soldigo.
Why did you decide to start your own business? What did you do before you started the shop? Are you doing it full time? If not, what else do you do?
I got involved with artisanal fragrance design almost by accident whilst studying for my MBA in San Francisco, California. I got the bug and fell in love with oils, formulations and enjoyed the relaxation I get out of it. So after working with a certain design company for a while in this area I had learned to craft my own scents and to run fragrance workshops. It was during one such workshop when I received overwhelming support for my creations that the idea of launching out on my own became a real, viable concept! My customers at the time said- “obviously you know this craft now, you are making these creations that we love, why not start your own brand and do your own thing and grow it into a business?” It was then that I considered taking my hobby and making it a real concrete business. That was in 2012. It took me a while to decide on my brand name, next steps, sourcing supplies, finding a good manufacturing partner and so on. I am not doing this full-time. I like the idea of keeping my business small, but nice, so I work on it mostly on Fridays and over the weekends really, as I am involved in other work Monday to Thursday.
How did you come up with this name?
The first course in artisanal fragrance that I ever took was about learning to identify and create your ‘signature scent’. I learned through this that each of us as a person has a certain natural affinity, or a preference as it were for certain perfume notes, natural oils and scents. So, I figured we can all be at our most optimal beauty by finding, and wearing the right creation meant especially for us. So, when I set out to create my first perfume for women, naturally, I found myself drawn to the pull for authenticity. Also, I thought of it in terms of how I would build my brand. I think there is so much on the market today in fashion and beauty products that women can at times jump for anything and everything. I wanted to use the name “BU” also to mean: Find yourself and be that. Decide where you belong and be comfortable with that. This doesn’t mean sticking to only one thing. But, as in perfumery, it could mean, finding your ‘family’ or where you belong and being content there. It is this classiness, this stability and poise of a woman that I want my perfume and brand to represent- that here is a woman that knows herself, appreciates her worth and goes for what she decides is valuable, not society telling her the dos and don’ts.
Where do you find the necessary tools and material that you use for creating your products?
Well, when I started out in artisanal fragrance it was with a California-based fragrance design studio that is now defunct. But I know from my director then that they sourced their perfume oils from France. These were natural as well as synthetic complex compounds in a range of names, colors and bottling type. Through the company I learned also where to source all one needs in artisanal perfumery: pipettes, roll-on bottles, scent-strips, spray pump bottles, sample vials, and a scale/balance as well as the various oils. I am now getting these through a combination of UK and French-based suppliers. Though of late I do less of the actual crafting of artisanal fragrances and am more involved in the building of my brand and improving my product-the eau de parfum, BU by Bhatupe which I launched last September, 2016.
What inspires you to create your amazing products?
What inspires me is the love of beauty, memories and the passion to restore certain memories. I am also a writer so I know the power there is in stories, our childhoods, our sense of smell. Once I learned to combine this story writing skill with the ability to understand certain basic oils, I knew I could do this again and again. What keeps me going in this craft is that I find this art to be very relaxing. Because i have to absolutely focus, I’ve found that I am calmer, my mind gets more clear and am more wonderful to be around after I’ve spent some time researching, experimenting with or combining oils. I don’t actually have a studio- I use a small home office/room in our apartment at the moment, but am working on getting and equipping an entire studio so I can go in there for hours and get lost in a world of certain. This is some inspiration right now:
Do you have a favourite product at the moment?
Not to sounds sale-ay, but am really in love with my eau de parfum of late! The truth is, other than the occasional OUD perfume samples here and there, I’ve been unable to wear anything else since I finalized my packaging and launched the perfume!
What were the challenges you had to face in your business’ early phase? What has kept you motivated?
My biggest challenge at first was convincing clients of the sale price. But when I see how much goes in the chain and all that I have to pay in terms of manufacturing and other costs I see that I have a fair offer. I’ve learned to not debate my price but just say it is what it is. Of course, I have price discrimination in various regions. Client feedback and my own vision of wanting to grow slowly. I said to myself when I started that this is a hobby and I enjoyed it at such. So when I decided to do it as a business I told myself I would not overdo it and stress myself and get all frustrated, but always leave room to enjoy the why I started. So, I keep it small, work on small bits of the business everyday (but mostly Friday-Sunday) and stay motivated by joining groups and sites of other artisanal fragrance designers online and in person. It’s been very motivational to watch others grow their brands and I can see that I can too, if I work hard enough. Customer feedback too has been good- when I’ve met some of my clients face-to-face, most have had an idea of how I can add on to what am already doing. I try to tell them that, well, it’s not that simple, but I’ve been noting down a few great ideas, things I want to come back to one day. So, this keeps me motivated as I see that I’ve only just begun and have a long way to go.
How long did it take before you started having customers? What did you do to acquire and to keep customers?
I already had a list of interested clients by launch date. I sold 2 bottles at the launch event (I was really focused on just sharing my product, not really getting sales) and 3 more within the next 3 days. I found that having the product on me at all times is the best way to sell, so I always have a bottle or 2 in my handbag, along with my business card for any chance meetings. I use social media avidly, daily and try to stay engaged and simple in every single post. The posts aren’t always about the perfume. I share inspirational quotes around the theme (Be yourself, be authentic…), beautiful scenery, flowers,and am starting out sharing some behind-the-scenes too.
If you could go back and change something about your business, what would it be? What were some of the mistakes you have made along the way? Do you ever regret doing your own thing and starting your business?
I do not regret starting the business at all. In fact, I have much to be thankful for this business- it has given me reason to hope, much to do and a new song to sing. I’ve had some small problems with the current packaging of the perfume, so this is something I am working on to revise. I am currently working on the next edition of the perfume, which will introduce an entirely new bottle design. But the perfume, its formula and overall vision of the brand stays the same, so no harm done. I am certain my clients will come to love the new bottle that I’ll be introducing soon as well.
What are your plans for the future? Do you plan on introducing new products?
My current plan is simply to do more business development. I have the product out there but I’ve had some feedback from some clients on how I can improve this, so currently working on this. Also, My main pre-occupation is to register country-specific chapters of my brand so that I can sell in more cities and be closer to the market (I’ve had overwhelming support and interest from African women!). This, has legal implications and is not so easy and immediate so am taking time to understand each market I want to enter into. I am also looking ahead and planning to do on-board flight sales in the last half of this year (to combat those duty and shipping challenges and be closer to the customers by offering inflight services). Lastly yes, BU by Bhatupe has met a lot of love and support from men, who love to shop for their wives or partners and some (including my husband) have asked, why not do a men’s product? So, the branding work is already done for the men’s cologne version, but am still working on the actual fragrance itself. Watch this space!
What do you think of the service that Soldigo offers and what is your general impression of Soldigo?
I am in love with Soldigo! I love that it’s not too technically difficult to use, so anyone really could get started on putting their products out there to the right audience. What I love most is the payment options-that there are many. In fact, the one criteria I prioritized over all other online marketplace/shop providers is this. Because I am targeting women in Africa, in places where they may not be able to access online payment service providers like credit cards and Paypal, it’s important for me to have a bank account space, which Soldigo offers. And, they allow me to customize the look of the store and currency options so my customers can see my product prices in their local versions. This flexibility is something others could learn.
Would you recommend Soldigo to others?
Definitely. It’s ease of use, friendly staff and speed are great for anyone.
Any advice for entrepreneurs that are starting out just now?
Go for it! Over and over I’d say- don’t overthink it. In business there is always something to be fixed and to work on, but start with the smallest denominator, the basics of what your product could look like. What inspires me and gave me the final push to get started really was a quote I read somewhere (wish I had saved where I got it!): ” If you are not embarrassed about your product, you’ve probably launched too late.” What?? Basically, it taught me that I didn’t have to have it all sorted, that all my challenges didn’t need to disappear before I could start. So, dear friend, if you have a basic product that can be a prototype for your business that someone is willing to pay for, go for it!