A heartfelt conversation on joy, faith, and knowing who you are.
Everybody has a story to share. Strength and beauty live in all our extraordinary ordinary lives.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Jennifer Strain of Good Fortune Soap & Spa.
Owner and founder of a relaxing boutique soap and spa specialty store, along with a beautiful luxury retreat nestled above the store (Relax Chattanooga), Jennifer provides a little bit of something for everyone, from men’s shaving needs to creating your own custom oils and bath products, to gift baskets, to relaxing experiences. It’s truly the experience that keeps you coming back for more.
I loved talking with Jennifer of Good Fortune Soaps in the interview below! She had so many great life lessons to share that we all need to be reminded of daily!
Jennifer’s business originated from her home in Athens, TN in 2006 to open her own storefront in 2013 in Chattanooga, TN.
“After 8 months in the lab, December 2006 marked Good Fortune’s first big open house. In just two days, I sold hundreds of bars of soap and gift sets. Further, two Chattanooga, TN-based gift shops placed orders, purchasing Good Fortune’s entire collection of scents and gift sets. This success prepared me for the next step-going full-time with soap”https://www.goodfortunesoap.com/our-story/
While owning any type of business, whether traditional brick and mortar, exclusively online, or an eclectic mix is hard work, Jennifer runs her life and business with grace, joy, kindness, and perseverance.
I first had the good fortune (pun intended) of meeting Jennifer and sampling her amazing products at our local farmers’ market.
I’m forever on a tight budget these days, so I usually just browse and dream at these functions. But as soap is a necessity of life, I justified buying some soap on this particular day.
Deciding which scent to buy on any fragrance product is my favorite part of the experience as I will spend what seems like hours to the people accompanying me sniffing all good smelling and interesting smelling things and then analyzing the best options, before finally making a decision. I did finally decide on some basic versatile soaps along with this handy mesh bag.
So, I am now officially hooked on soaps. No more body washes for this gal. I’m a soap girl all the way. (Though I never refuse gifts of body washes.) Now every chance I get, when I spy a soap store, I meander in for some soap, but after visiting several, I will say Good Fortune Soap & Spa is still my favorite.
And now, The Interview: (Note: My words in bold and Jennifer’s in italics. Some answers edited for readability.)
Follow along in our conversation on what it takes to start a business and how knowing who you are and being okay with that is vital to any type of success.
Question 1: In your story, you mention having a bracelet making business when you were 12 as well as some other ideas. Could you share some of your other ideas as a teenager?
One that I got in big trouble with was I went around to neighbor’s yards and picked their flowers and then tried to sell them as bouquets. My ethics weren’t very strong back then.
I also always participated in the photography club or I would paint my room a different color every week, or take my closet doors off and turn them into 3-d art. I would do Paper Mache for decorations in my room. I was always just being artistic and creative.
Question 2: What has been one of your biggest challenges to overcome?
The growth. You can go into debt and get loans. I went more on the slow growth method of being self funded.
I had to be okay with that. It was hard not comparing myself to other businesses or other people, because I did not seem to have as big of a business or as much money, or as much success because I chose to do it in slow growth method.
You have to decide. Do you want to be on Oprah and be in Wal-Mart or do you want to be in the farmer’s markets and have a small business.
I had to wrap my head around, “Where do I want to go and where do I want my business to go and having realistic goals? Just being real.”
Me: You had to learn to be real with yourself and not compare yourself to other people.
Right, it’s not even every day. Sometimes you attend a show and you see a booth that looks really busy, or you get an email and this email looks fabulous and like they have their life together. In those instances, you don’t get the full story. It looks from the outside like something you don’t have. You play that game, which is the devil. I’ve stopped that.
Question 3: At what point did you consider yourself successful?
Probably the year I opened the retail store. Six years ago. At that point I was able to afford the retail, the location; we had employees. We were doing it.
I did change the business model that year. From wholesale distributor to more of a retail store, a completely different business model.
I felt much more at home because I got to stay at home and customers came to me, versus packing up pallets and shipping them and flying all over and having some good shows and some bad shows.
That chapter is behind me. I am established. I have a home. Chattanooga is where I’m going to grow. Even though it was scary, because retail businesses don’t always make it in the ecommerce society, but I felt really good about it
Question 4: You quit your full-time job as a graphic designer to pursue your business. That sounds like it would be really scary. Do you have any tips for somebody contemplating a career change like that?
Definitely have a plan, Test the business model.
I had been doing it on the side for eight months while keeping my full-time job. I had built up products and packaging. I had received feedback and a few wholesale accounts. I was already making money and felt like I had a solid business plan. I didn’t just quit and then start figuring it out. I had already spent eight months trying to figure it out before I took the leap.
At that point, for me, it was the perfect timing because I was single with too much stuff. I was basically able to sell my house and sell my car and take my $20,000 equity and move into a one bedroom. I got a super cheap car. The business was my life.
I know a lot of people who are moms or married can’t really do that. But whatever that looks like for you, being able to make a sacrifice.
My business is also very faith based. For me, even though it seemed very crazy because it was not my degree and I didn’t have insurance, I knew that this was a direct calling from the Lord. I answered that calling just on blind faith.
I knew, realistically I was not going to have the house with a pool .I was going to have a one bedroom apartment, but I was going to have joy, because I was not going to live with regret.
Question 5: When you first started pursuing your dream did people call you crazy or did you find that people were supportive?
No, most people were like, Really? What? Why?
A part of that is healthy. If people were constantly flattering, you would be in this artificial reality.
My personality, as most people knew, even though they were asking why, they expected things out of me because I had a history of doing what I said, following through, and striving to do my best. Most people who knew me, were like okay, she’s going to do it. Let’s just watch and see.
At the same time, they were like, “Why soap? Are you sure? You don’t know anything about it? How are you going to do this? Where are you going to sell?” All good questions!
For me, it was one thing at a time. I’ll just have to figure it out. You can’t always unroll the entire business plan, especially as a single partner business and have it all figured out. You have to be willing to figure it out as you go.
Question 6: Do you have any specific advice that helped you with the criticism?
I just answered it with because God told me so and you can’t really argue with that. That was a way for me to share my testimony to others also.
There’s a lot of fear in life and to see somebody who is going forward in faith and not letting fear hold them back; I think is refreshing.
I wanted that to be a huge part of why I was choosing to go this route because I felt fully equipped for the journey.
It was already something in my heart, I just knew that whatever was going to happen, that even the failures I might have would be counted towards joy.
It would be a learning lesson. I didn’t even fear failing because I knew whatever was coming was eventually going to lead me to where I was supposed to go.
Having that kind of positive mindset is who I am as a person anyway. I try not to make a fear based decision.
Right, What’s the worse that’s going to happen? I like to say the answer is always no if you don’t ask, If you don’t try you will never know.
Question 7: Do you have any other hobbies or passions?
I am mom of an almost three year old so she is my biggest hobby. My husband and I are both scuba divers. We love adventure, excitement, the outdoors. We are always hiking, or riding our bikes. I’m always active. If I’m not active with my business, I’m moving or shaking with the baby or with sports.
I love design and art. My degree is Fine Arts with a minor in Graphic Design. I do all kinds of things: graphic design, photography or interior design. I like making things pretty.
My daughter would love you! That’s one of her favorite things, making things pretty!
Question 8: As a mom, how do you find a balance between being a mom and an entrepreneur?
It’s hard. My child is very amazing. I’m very blessed. She is very independent like me. She’s social. I have her in mothers day out and I have a special day a week that she spends the whole day with her grandma.
That gives me three days a week that I have help. I really try to use those times away from her to be extremely focused and not do things that are a distraction. So that when I am with her she’s helping me cook or run errands or do something with me and learning.
When I’m away from her, I don’t let guilt creep in. I know that wherever she is at, she’s having a blast. She’s doing what she needs to do to become an awesome little person. Her world doesn’t revolve around me. I want her to become her own person.
It’s a juggle. I try to hire and delegate things so that I don’t feel like I’m responsible for the house and the bills. I’m willing to ask for help.
I don’t pretend to be this person that has to be everything to everybody. I say no and delegate. I chose my time wisely so my daughter has the best of me and my business gets the best of me.
You have to take time for yourself. That is the best answer. It is so easy to forget that. I need these reminders every day.
Question 9: Do you have a favorite blogger or inspirational leader you follow?
I like Marie Forleo for business. She’s a boss. I love her so much. I’ve done her B school; I listen to her podcast: I get her newsletter. She has really great nuggets of information. She’s a fun person to watch and listen to.
Question 10: What do you think makes your store stand out?
Our store is an experience. It’s not just a shopping store.
Customers can come in and create their own signature scent, make their own candles, lip balms, bath bomb.
It’s a really fun thing for families to do together. We cater to young people, brides, everybody really. There’s something for everybody, even men.
We get a lot of people that come in for the experience, and then they learn about the products. It’s not really the soaps or products, it’s the experience.
Question 11: What was one of your biggest mistakes and what did you learn from it?
I moved all of my products to a distributor in Indiana. They were going to be my sales rep and ship it for me and everything like that. Because that’s just what you do to grow a big business. That didn’t end up working out so good for me. I don’t know if I just wasn’t ready for it or it wasn’t a good fit.
I’m too trusting. That can be even letting people in my life and business. That’s when my positive outlook comes in play. It can also really bite me in the bottom sometimes because I love everybody. Then they steal from me or hurt me or do something to hurt my image.
I need to be more protective. Ask more questions. Find out if this person or this organization fit in the culture I’m trying to build. Do they align with my values? If they don’t, it’s okay just to say no. Don’t hire them or don’t allow them to do that.
Everybody doesn’t have to believe the same things I believe, but they do have to sit within my culture if they want to be in my life, in the business sense. I’ve let people in because they looked good on paper or they made promises and then it came back, and I learned it was because I didn’t ask the right questions.
Know who you are. Don’t be afraid to say no. That’s so important!
Question 12: What is your favorite product?
Lavender essential oil. Just the pure therapeutic grade essential oil. I love it for stress, sleep. My daughter, ever even since she was a newborn, I’ve used it on her for a plethora of reasons. I’ve used it topically. I love the way it smells.
Literally, you cannot go wrong with lavender essential oil, in my opinion. It’s so universal.
I like finding value and getting multiple uses out of products and things so a lot of my things, like the body oil, it’s a massage oil and a bath oil. I like to stretch things, and make things have a long shelf life.
No matter what you buy, you’ll find a way use it, and use all of it and hopefully comeback for more.
Question 13: Any upcoming projects or endeavors?
The hotel just opened, upstairs. It’s boutique hotel. It’s called Relax Chattanooga. That is an extension of Good Fortune. It’s like a luxury retreat. It has big showers. It’s filled with all of our products. It sleeps up to 12. We’ve been hosting a lot of bachelorette parties, so they stay upstairs and then they come downstairs and have spa parties. That’s a ton of fun.
We are also toying around with the idea of franchising, so that other women or people can open up their own Good Fortune franchise.
Final question: Do you have anything else to add or that you would like to tell my readers?
I think if you’re making a product that personally serves your life, then other people are going to be drawn to it. A lot of people will say, why don’t you make this or why don’t you make that? Really, I just make products for me and then I sell them and everybody else likes them.
As long as you can stand behind it and you’re in love with it then I think you’re going to be good. Trying to force yourself to run a business or do something that is not your thing, I think it’s not going to be authentic and people will pick up on that.
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As Always, Thanks for reading! I hope you found Jennifer’s story as inspiring as I did!
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