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Ep: 186: How this entrepreneur created a successful e-commerce biz from her passions with Monique Davis

In this week’s episode, I speak with Monique who is the founder of Spotlight Body. A self-care e-commerce store that specializes in unique and luxury soaps. 

Spotlight Body is made for women just like Monique: inundated with obligations from every side, craving a moment of Me Time. Her company’s tagline sums up the vibe perfectly: whether it’s a minute long hand wash or an hour-long bath, indulge in a moment that’s just for you.

Listen on to find out how Monique has been able to create a successful e-commerce lifestyle business.

Listen Below:


 

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Transcription:

Debbie:

Hey everyone! Thank you so much for being here. I am so excited to be speaking with my guest today, Monique. 

Hey Monique, how are you? 

Monique:

I’m doing well, Debbie. How are you?

Debbie:

I am great. Can you tell us about you and why you live an offbeat life? 

Monique:

Yes. So, my name is Monique. I am the creator of Spotlight Body which is a handmade Soap Company and I have been running my business for about 8 months. It actually started off as an offshoot of my nail salon, though. 

I’m a licensed nail tech and I have a home-based studio where I was taking clients into my home. And over time, I’m just through conversation with just friends and family. It became pretty apparent that I wanted to add a product menu onto my list of services. 

It just became really important to find ways to generate income without me having to physically be touching the client. And so just through trial and error, I came out last holiday season, so, November, December 2019, with a small assortment of products that were going to compliment my nail service menu. 

So I had cuticle oil, I had body butter, I had a scrub that I use on all my pedicures, and also some hand soap. And I was selling them to my customers and clients that were coming into the salon,

 And I decided, because it’s the holiday season, to go ahead and try to do a couple of bazaars and the people just went nuts over the soap in particular. And I think it’s just because there was so much variety: there are so many different scents, so many different colors. And they just felt like they needed to have one of everything.

And so, that’s kind of how the soap part took off. I said, “Oh my God. I had no idea that soap was going to be the “thing” but it ended up being the thing. 

And so fast forward to the end of the holiday season and the turn of the new year, I started looking into ways to increase my margins. And the way to do that was to actually make the soap myself because when I was just testing it out, I had gone through a private-labeled soap through a wholesale company.

So once I decided to take the leap and make the soap myself, things really just accelerate from there. I put them up on their own website and just really started trying to touch base with social media influencers. Just getting it out there. 

People really just went wild and the timing was perfect because, I don’t have to tell you, the entire world basically shut down about six to eight weeks after my website went live. 

And so, being a person who was doing the super close contact through the nail salon services, that business was just completely shut down. And so, all of that income disappeared.

I basically became just an online-only soap seller, soap creator, soap distributor. And that’s kind of where we are now at the end of June. 

Debbie:

It’s kind of funny how life takes you to a different direction that you didn’t know you we’re going to turn to. And also I ordered some of Monique’s sampler for the soap and they are so good, everyone. 

They smell so good and I’m like, “Oh my God.” And they also are really beautiful. I love all the colors and I’m like, “How do I match this with, like, certain things though?” ‘Cause I was like, “There’s so pretty.”

Monique:

Yeah. I felt like it’s almost like having a perfume assortment. You’ll be like, “Am I in the mood for today? What kind of soap am I in the mood this time?”

Debbie:

I’m very sensitive to sense and I do get allergic but with yours, it’s not strong. It’s just very light and it complements things. It’s not like overpowering which I really love that’s why I was like, “Oh my God, this is so good.”

Monique:

Thank you.

I kinda get the opposite feedback sometimes. People are like, “Oh, the scent doesn’t last very long.” And I have to remind people, I’m like, “Well, yeah. It’s soap. It’s not perfume, it’s not body lotion.”

So, it’s just for a moment. It’s really about just taking a moment to indulge in the scent and, just like you said, the prettiness of the bar and then get back to what you have to do. 

Debbie:

Exactly. I love that though. I don’t like it when the scent is too strong ‘cause I feel like it overpowers your body scent as well. I don’t know, I like body scent so…

Monique:

Yeah. I’m sensitive too. Like, some lotions they really almost, like, burn my skin because they have way too much fragrance or I don’t know – it seems the ingredients. They can get kind of carried away and I did have that in mind when I made this soap.

I really wanted to go with ingredients that are more gentle, not a hundred and fifty different ingredients on the back of the box. Just keep it simple, close to nature. So it’s good to hear that it’s working out for you. I’m happy to hear that.

Debbie:

Yeah. I know. I’m so excited. I’m trying not to use every single one of them at a time. I’m like, “This needs the last.”

Monique:

There’s more of them, don’t worry.

Debbie:

I know. I need to order more.

So, Monique, let’s go back to when you first started your journey. I know you had this huge change that you needed to do and it’s pretty recent. We talked about this before we did our interview and you were saying, “I just started 8 months ago.” And I was like, “That’s great because that means that you are in the thick of things and you have a lot to teach us.” 

So when you were doing your pivot, you were doing nails with people, and obviously, that had to change because of COVID. And thank goodness you made this change, right? You actually saw what the market wanted, what your target market wanted, and they wanted the soap. 

How did you prepare for the journey to actually make this business into an online business?

Monique:

So when I first started kind of thinking about the possibilities of generating income outside of being able to touch each individual client, the idea of subscription boxes was kind of always in the mix.

That’s kind of an industry that is still pretty new. Subscription boxes have been around for maybe like five six seven. Some companies have been around longer but they really are just cresting in the market. 

And so that was always something that was on the table: finding a way to incorporate it as a subscription box because of the potential for what that could mean for a business. But when you were talking about just being able to kind of pivot, it’s really all about flexibility.

Any business owner has to be willing to be flexible and kind of roll with the punches. Because nothing stays the same, that’s just something you have to accept going in – that nothing will stay the same.

You don’t want to be the last person to adapt to the changes that are happening. That’s kind of the opposite of what you want to do as a successful business owner. And so, you just always have to be ready to make whatever changes necessary for your business to be successful. 

I mean, I had no idea that the whole entire world was going to shut down due to coronavirus but what if I hadn’t been ready? I would be making zero income right now. So it actually started before my nail salon journey. Me even becoming a nail tech was a part of this entrepreneurial journey. 

I had my first child about 8 years ago and my husband and I decided that I was going to be a stay-at-home mom for a little while with her. And just me being me, I needed to find a way to stay stimulated outside of the role of a mom. 

And so I decided to go and get my nail tech license basically while I was on maternity leave and that’s just kind of how it started. Just being flexible, always looking for opportunities. I was like, “Okay, how can I make money if I cannot leave my house? How can I leave money if I need to be on my daughter’s schedule? What is the solution?”

Just trying to be solutions-oriented and being flexible. That’s really the thing that’s really helped me. 

Debbie:

I love talking to someone like you, Monique, who is a stay-at-home mom and you still find different ways to create income, finding those side hustles. 

And also, by the way, everyone, being a stay-at-home mom is a full-time job itself. And then on top of that trying something else, doing something else to create income on top of that is like superhero status. 

Monique:

Oh, thank you. Let them know, honey.

Debbie:

Seriously. I mean, I don’t have children but I worked with children for over a decade. Like toddlers and infants and I don’t know how you guys do it and then on top of that you going out there and trying to find another job. That’s crazy to me. 

But anyway, that’s a whole nother conversation we’re going to have

Monique:

But that’s a nice thing about being remote too, just figuring it out on your own because with the soap, it’s been such a blessing. I can stay up, I can make soap at 3 o’clock in the morning and I often do.

People are not usually going to come in to get their nails done at 3 o’clock in the morning but I can be in the lab whippin’ it up, mixing my soaps, and pouring them in the mold anytime. And so that’s been the best part about this company, in this new business. It’s just absolute flexibility.

Debbie:

Yeah. And I love that. It’s also something that you really enjoy doing and you talked to me about this before: it’s kind of therapeutic for you as well. So it’s giving you a lot of different things. It’s giving you income, security, and it’s keeping you sane right now with everything that’s happening in the world. 

And you don’t need to leave the house to do it with technology. You can do all of this when you’re at home which is perfect – exactly what we need to do right now. 

So we all have that what now moment, Monique, when we transition into something different. Have you had that moment yet or are you in the midst of that especially since you had to pivot and make changes with your business? 

Monique:

Absolutely. So my business is doing fine but the world is kind of going crazy. And it’s just a balancing act of how much do you ignore what’s going on and just focus on the business. How much of what’s going on do you incorporate into your business? 

For example, you found a way to incorporate everything that’s going on when you extended this interview to me because you posted on your social media that you wanted to donate interview time to a black women business owners who had joined the remote lifestyle. 

So for me, that was a great way to kind of address what’s happening in the world around you in a way that makes sense for your business. 

Debbie:

Yeah.

Monique:

And so I’m kind of grappling with that myself right now. I’ve been kind of quiet on social media for the past, like, I don’t know week, and a half or so. 

And it’s such a juggling act because you want to keep in touch with your customer, with your potential customers because that’s what we’re in business for but you also want to be sensitive to the moment that we’re in. You don’t want to trivialize the moment that we’re in but you still need to keep your business growing. 

So that what now moment, I’m kind of in the thick of that right now. It’s like, “What do I post about? Is it gratuitous to post a selfie on Instagram at a time like this or is that what’s needed? Are people looking for an escape? Are people looking for some light in this heavy darkness that we’re all in right now?”

So I’m kind of in that space right now, to be honest with you. And I think I’m just kind of just trying to be intuitive and try to make sure that my intentions are always coming from the right place and just let them back guide me and my social media strategy.

But yeah, I’m kind of there right now. 

Debbie:

Yeah. I mean, honestly, for someone like you, Monique, you are a strong black woman who has her own business, who has a family that is there supporting your voice, definitely needs to be highlighted. And I’m so glad that you’re here today. 

And that’s honestly why I love speaking to someone like you and really highlighting people of color, the black community, because everyone is hustling and it’s like you are doing so much for the community. Not only for yourself, not only for your family but also for so many people out there who love your products.

You’re making a difference and you, sharing that out there, is so important. And you definitely need to be heard because it’s definitely a crazy time right now. But I love highlighting business owners who are really making an impact in today’s market for sure. 

Monique:

Thank you. That makes me feel nice. That’s encouraging.

Debbie:

Well, also when you’re in the thick of things, when you’re doing so many different things with your life, with your business, you don’t realize how much of an impact you’re creating until you get a letter, an email, or something – feedback from your clients. And you’re like, “Yeah, I am doing something.”

Monique:

“Keep going, keep going.”

Debbie:

Yeah, exactly. They’re like, “I love your product. It makes me feel so good. It’s amazing. Thank you for what you’re doing.” So it’s always good to hear that. 

Monique:

Thanks. I appreciate it. And that’s kind of like the tagline that I use when you received the box. I’m sure you saw that blasted in big black letters. It’s me time. 

Like, I think a lot of times that I’m guilty of this myself, we as women tend to feel guilty about just taking a moment for ourselves and just indulging in just a minute of me time. You don’t have to kind of extend yourself to the demands of whatever’s going on around you. 

Just kind of slow down, take a deep breath, breathe into scents, enjoy the creamy lather, this is your minute, Even if it’s just a minute, this is your minute. Take it, enjoy it, indulge in it.

Debbie:

It’s also interesting. I wanted to ask you this because I have come across working with families before especially with children. And I come across moms who feel really guilty for taking time away from their children, especially when they’re really young, and then you tend to not take care of yourself anymore. 

Or maybe you feel like you’re working too hard if you’re running a business and then you stopped taking care of yourself, right? Because your whole life is either your children and your business. Taking care of your family and then you don’t take care of yourself at all. 

And then you feel guilty if you get like a babysitter or even a family member to take care of your kids. So it’s like there has to be some sort of a balance because I’ve seen it time and time again, especially to women, that you really need to take that time to take care of yourself. 

And asking for help, there’s nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with that at all. 

Monique:

That is so true. And sometimes you can’t even ask, sometimes you just have to demand it like, “You need to help. It is what it is. Somebody, somewhere, come help Mama.”

Debbie: 

Yeah, absolutely.

Monique:

It’s important and I think the good thing about it is we’re kind of at a place where we’re more aware and it’s becoming less socially acceptable for us to drain ourselves to death. Like nobody’s giving out cookies for wearing yourself out anymore. 

Like we understand the importance of self-care and we’re starting to understand how we need to find the time, make time, demand time for it because we have to, like you said, take care of ourselves. At the end of the day, it’s the most important thing. If you’re unhealthy, you can’t be there for somebody else. 

So I definitely agree with that sentiment.

Debbie: 

And you’re not a bad parent if you take like an hour or two, a week or even a day. I’m sorry, an hour or two a day you should have for yourself. Like take a bath, go for a walk, watch Netflix, do something.

Monique:

I know. Whatever it takes, it’s your time. Like you said, don’t let anybody make you feel guilty like, “We’re just sitting on the couch. Yes. This is my couch sitting time. You have to understand.”

Debbie: 

Yeah. Absolutely. 

Monique:

Whatever it is.

Debbie: 

Yeah. If you have that extra hand to help you, girl, asked for it. You need it. You deserve it. 

Monique:

Absolutely. Like self-care is so important. It’s so important and we cannot just keep making excuses for why we can’t make a few minutes ourselves. We have to do it, ladies. 

Debbie: 

Yeah. So one of the things that I got really excited about when I first started my business was landing my first client. What about you, Monique, who was your first client that you landed and how did you get them? 

Monique:

Okay. So my mother had the brilliant idea of hosting a party at my house when I first launched my products over the holiday season. And so I had about maybe like 20-25 ladies at my house and I had a whole spread, I did a little PowerPoint presentation that I put up on my TV. And I just literally gave them the full treatment.

Like I was passing the bars of soap around, giving them descriptions of what the notes were, I was doing hand massages with the body butters – the whole works. And they just went crazy over the personal touch and I sold out of almost everything that first night and I had to restock. I mean, it was amazing. 

So that core group of like 20-25 women that I came to my first party, I just love them and most of them are still clients as well. 

Debbie: 

That is such a great way to sell something but also it makes it more of an experience, right?

Monique:

Exactly.

Debbie: 

It’s not just you telling them how amazing your product is, they actually feel it. They smell it, they can really understand what you’re talking about when you do these types of things.

Monique:

And that can be really hard to translate into an online space but it’s not impossible. It’s just the principle of just going above and beyond and making sure that you’re treating them how you would want to be treated as a customer.

Answer all of their questions, be patient, break it down, if they need a breakdown explain it again. If they need it explained again on my online store, I actually installed a live chat app. So they can ask me questions pretty much 24/7. 

I have some hours that are restricted but I just like to be really accessible because I don’t want the lack of a physical presence to be an impediment to them or for me. 

And so just finding ways to continue to be accessible even in an online space really made a difference for my business. Even though I’m only a few months old, I have quite a few repeat customers already. 

One of the best compliments I get from people is when they say, “Oh, I haven’t bought regular soap out of the store in weeks.” And I’m like, “Yes, I let regular soap. Who buys regular soap right?” 

But it’s about that personal touch and finding ways to maintain that even if you live on the other side of the world from somebody. On Instagram, people send me DMs. I try to respond as soon as I see them. Just be accessible. I have all the time in the world more or less right now.

So just finding ways to give that exceptional customer service has really been a really big benefit.

Debbie:

Yeah. And that’s what really makes you stand out from the competition. A lot of people will be like, “Well, how do I do that? How do I stand out when there are other soapmakers out there? There are other business owners out there that are doing something similar to me,” and Monique just told you how.

It’s going beyond what people expect from you and surprising them with little things like that is like top-notch customer service that you won’t normally get in just a big box store or something.

Monique:

Right. And sometimes that fact of the matter is when you’re a small business whose no one heard of, you have to do these things. Don’t look at it as optional. It’s not optional for us.

I don’t want to really use names but like Nordstrom or the big department stores. They can afford to have one bad experience. The customer is probably still going to come back after just one bad experience. 

But when it’s just you, no one ever heard of you, they’re already taking a chance on your business. You cannot afford to not go above and beyond.

Debbie:

Yeah. So when you decided you were going to start an e-commerce store with your soaps, what type of budget did you have and how did you make it last? 

Monique:

So I had a very small budget. My budget was probably, honestly, I want to say like $500 to $1,000. The nice thing about the situation we’re in right now with COVID is quite a few merchants are doing extended free trials for things.

So, for example, Shopify normally has a two-week free trial for new online stores, they’ve extended that to 90 days because of covid. So you can have a free online store for 3 whole months before you even have to pay for that space. There are lots of deals going on like that right now. So I definitely encourage looking at that kind of stuff. 

I was crawling through soapmaker message boards and Facebook groups to consume as much information and knowledge I possibly could. 

Because that’s where the actual soapmakers, the professionals, talk about the suppliers that they use, the vendors that they use, and the deals only the people who have been doing this for a while know about. And the workarounds that will help you save a few dollars and blah blah blah.

So that really helped. Just familiarizing myself with the insiders of the industry. Finding where they like to chat online was a great way to get as much information as I could. And I was able to start without wasting a lot of money. 

Debbie:

Those are such great tips that you just gave us and that’s a really good point that you made about merchants and other service providers extending a lot of their services for free. Yeah, definitely go on the lookout for that because there’s a lot of those companies that are doing that right now.

Monique:

For sure.

Debbie:

Aside from that, Monique, are there other resources that you have used to start your business and make your tasks easier as an online business owner?

Monique:

So, aside from Shopify, Facebook groups have been really helpful, Instagram. Pretty much all of my marketing is on Facebook and Instagram. However, I feel like I’m able to really connect on Instagram a lot better.

The Next Step, which is in the works but I have not acted on quite yet, is getting a YouTube channel setup because that’s going to be a great way to directly talk to potential customers and people who just want a closer look at what’s going on to get to know me and my business. So that would be the next tool that I’ll use especially for marketing purposes. 

Debbie:

And also maybe we can watch you make the soaps. That would be so cool. 

Monique:

Yes. I definitely will be putting tutorials up there and all that jazz. Be on the lookout for sure. 

Debbie:

‘Cause, honestly, I like to watch people make things but I don’t actually want to make them.

Monique:

You just want to see how it’s done.

Debbie:

Yeah. I  want to see how you make the soaps and then I’ll order them. 

Monique:

Yeah. Exactly. All that will be on the YouTube channel for sure.

Debbie:

Like,How did Monique make my soap?”

Monique: 

“I wonder if this is the bar that she makes in that video.”

Debbie:

Exactly. I could message you, I’m like, “Can I buy the soap that you just made on YouTube?” 

Monique: 

“Yes, that exact bar.”

Debbie:

You’re like, “Yeah, that’s right.”

So, Monique, let’s fast forward to 30 to 40 years from now and you’re looking back at your life, what legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for? 

Monique: 

30 to 40 years, my goodness. I’ll be how old? Hoo!. 

Okay, so 30 to 40 years, I definitely want to be remembered as a job creator and as someone who made an impact on her community for sure. I definitely see my company kind of becoming exclusively a subscription box service.

 I would love for it to still be sending out boxes every month 40 years from now, that would be incredible. 

But yeah, I mean, I just really want to be able to create jobs for people. That’s kind of what this whole pandemic has been all about. Like not even just a pandemic, just kind of the state of where everything is right now. 

Like access to employment has been a huge issue, especially for people of color and we need more job creators to be able to address that. I mean, quite frankly, we need more black people to create jobs. And so that’s kind of where I see this going. 

I would like to scale as quickly as possible. As quickly as I have the subscribers, I won’t be able to stay in my house for very long. So to be able to have packing and shipping, people doing marketing, customer service and soap design, and so on and so forth. 

I can see it growing exponentially. That’s my goal and that would be my dream. 

Debbie:

Yes. Oh my God, I can’t even talk enough about how I love what your legacy will be. And being a job creator is honestly like a gift, right? It’s a gift to mankind and really that’s what’s going to make a lot of changes in our community as well. 

When you are giving people the opportunity to have a job and make something for themselves and do something better.

Monique:

Exactly.

Debbie:

And they can look at you as an example, obviously, with how you started. You didn’t have a lot of budgets and this is one of the biggest misconceptions. People think when you start a business you need a whole ton of money to do it.

And you really don’t, you can start from a little bit and you just go step by step.

Monique:

Especially in the online space. I mean, my goodness, there’s no brick-and-mortar required. I’m literally in a room in my house. I don’t have an additional utility bill, I have just one. There are ways to make it work. When there’s a will, there’s a way.

And the online space, in my opinion, is the perfect place to do it. 

Debbie:

Absolutely. You can design your website on your own, that doesn’t take a lot of money. It takes some time to do it and it doesn’t have to look perfect. But then after that, you just start marketing and you’re good to go. 

You just keep going like what Monique is doing.

Monique:

One of my biggest tips, especially with online, if you are going to kind of zero in on one area, zero in on your photos. Like, make sure they look incredible. I spend maybe $80 on a LightBox on Amazon and I take the pictures of myself with my iPhone and edit right in the iPhone settings and there you go.

But I make sure that they’re bright, that they’re colorful, that they’re eye-catching. And if you don’t feel comfortable with that, that is where the beauty of influencers come in because I’m able to send a box of soap to somebody who takes gorgeous pictures and that’s all she does.

Her Instagram account is basically her just promoting other products that she’s just taking pictures all day long. And they come out gorgeous. They do things that I couldn’t even have thought of to do and they’re happy to do it. And they’re happy to get free soap to do it.

Take advantage of connections. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people. And that really, really, really helps me. I’ve gotten some really great content from people who I just sent a box of soap to.

Debbie:

Yeah. It’s amazing. I love how, as an entrepreneur, you become very savvy with a lot of things. You start thinking outside of the box to market and sell your products which is pretty incredible. 

So, Monique, if our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find your soaps, where they can reach you, where they should go? 

Monique:

So definitely check us out at www.SpotlightBodyCare.com or you can check us out on Instagram: @SpotlightBodyCare. 

Debbie:

Thank you so much, Monique, for all of the tips that you gave us. We really appreciate it. 

Monique:

Thank you, Debbie. It was so nice to chat with you.

GET THE EXTENDED INTERVIEW WITH MONIQUE WHERE SHE SHARES HOW TO STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD WITH YOUR E-COMMERCE BUSINESS.


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Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith


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