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Emily Lawson Of Pink House Alchemy On How To Take Your Company From Good To Great

Trust your gut, but back it up with data. I would say I have always operated from a baseline of intuition. I trust myself and my opinions, but no more or less than the group that I work with and depend on to offer accurate data for me to reflect on. Often my direction changes based on what I learn, but what usually gets the ball rolling is trusting my gut!

As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Lawson.

Emily Lawson enjoys food and business and has worked and studied all aspects of both. Completing a degree in Dietetics and Biology at the University of Arkansas helped connect the dots on important healthful food practices. Her work as a food business consultant (bars, restaurants, product lines) has provided the bridge between the creative food world and the habitually elusive business of food. Encouraging others to explore their food/drink passions and giving them the tools to do it in a financially sustainable way has brought much joy to her professional life.

Those experiences inspired Emily to found Pink House Alchemy in 2013 — a farm-to-bottle company that produces a line of simple syrups, bitters, and shrubs.

At a Farmers Market in 2012, she bought her first bundle of lavender from Ugly Bunny Farms in Fayetteville, AR. The connection to farmer and consumer was powerful, so starting a business with passion was a clear path as she could showcase her love for the delicious and the hard-working farmer at one time.

It was during this time that Pink House Alchemy was born in a 100-year-old pink house Emily was living in at the time. Through inspiration of the patterns in roots, barks, fruits, herbs, and botanicals that naturally complement each other Emily and her team have created a suite of products packed with flavor, quality ingredients, and intention to deliver a true experience upon opening.

Today, the Pink House Alchemy business is booming through self-distribution and services almost all 50 states with considerable plans for growth over the coming years.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I was born and raised in Springfield, MO, right in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. My mother’s side of the family has lived there for generations and my father’s family are dairy and cattle farmers. I grew up in the city but spent a lot of time on my great grandparent’s farm, which is where my whole love for food and cooking began. My Nana, who you will read about a lot if you follow Pink House, was an incredible cook, a true woman of her time where out of necessity, everyone would cook everything from scratch. But there was something magical in the way my nana cooked, she would put herbs in everything, would make lemonade out of left-over jam pots and fed farm crews of 20–30 people a hot lunch every day. Her meals were always piping hot, and her tables were always stunning, outfitted with fresh flowers and clean linens, all accomplished between her outdoor chores and while wearing heels! It was through her that I marveled at what all was possible in a single day and my deep love and appreciation for where food comes from sparked in me a lifelong love.

I fell in love with cooking before I could even reach the stove. As I continued to grow, I continued to become passionate about learning and about how things come together to make other things work. The idea for Pink House Alchemy came from when I was working at a farmer’s market in Fayetteville in 2012 and purchased my first bundle of lavender from Ugly Bunny Farms. At the time, I was a pre-med student at the University of Arkansas but was drawn to culinary work. For me, the connection between the farmer and the consumer was powerful and I wanted to showcase my love for the delicious and the hard-working farmer at one time. From there, I made my first simple syrup in 2013 using the lavender I bought from the market. My hope was that using locally sourced ingredients would be a good outlet for farmers, and the syrup could be used in a variety of ways.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

When growing a small business, things rarely go exactly as planned. Within the first few years of the company, we were still understanding the market we were in and figuring out how to produce consistent product. And then all at once, I lost three of my key team members (at that time we were more like a family), and the blow of their departure felt personal. They all worked on the production of the product and were looking for other opportunities in life, which they all found within a month of each other. This left a gaping hole in the most important role in my company, the production of the product by hands that truly cared what they were producing and that I trusted beyond measure to produce our product. So, I adapted. I rehired and reworked our systems for an entirely new team, brought everything back to basics and got back into the kitchen. The result has put us where we are today. It was a gift that they moved on and, in the end, we created a new system where people could thrive in their positions, and I made shifts that we didn’t even know we needed to make. These things happen often in growing a small business. All these common issues are things that we deal with and have learned to meet head on. I always have a plan B and have never wanted to give up.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

When we were starting to really pick up speed, we were four years in, had won a handful of awards and our online sales and wholesale sales shot through the roof. I decided on a whim it would be way more efficient to use styrofoam inserts instead of bubble wrap to ship our bottles. A very savvy sales rep convinced me it was much better for our carbon footprint and think of the savings! So, I agreed to order one month of inserts as our opening order. Sounds completely doable, right? Very wrong. I did not take into consideration how these would be packed or the volume we would be receiving. Exactly two weeks from order our inserts arrived, 26 pallets worth of boxes more than five feet tall to our 2000 sq ft darling little shop. It was insane. There were towers of boxes everywhere and nowhere to put them. Our obvious take away from this experience alongside many other lessons we learned when growing a business, slow down, double check and then triple check new processes and laugh at the honest mistakes. Humor is our most valued asset at Pink House.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

At Pink House Alchemy, the connection between the farmer and the consumer is powerful. We source our ingredients locally whenever possible to support our farmers and to ensure our products are always of the highest quality. We also know that ingredients grow better in certain climates and soils than others, so we make sure to do our research and source from farms that have the best product, all while being mindful of our carbon footprint.

For example, our Blackberry Sage Syrup and Strawberry Syrups are created with berries from McGarrah Farms in Pea Ridge and the herbs that make up our delicious Herbalicious Syrup are from Heifer Village & Urban Farm in Little Rock. Each Pink House Alchemy product is crafted with an experience and story behind it, and we hope our customers continue to enjoy our products for years to come.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Learning to slow down. For me, if something is feeling too intense or out of control, I am able to just stop — a hard stop. That could mean calling for an all staff meeting in the middle of an insanely busy day or canceling a very busy day because my young daughter needs me. These hard pauses allow us to put things into perspective. It gives my staff a moment to breathe and rethink a process that may be burning people out, or, in my personal life, I am able to work a long Friday without feeling guilty because I took special time out for my family earlier in the week. So, long pauses for me have changed a lot in my life.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My family is a huge motivator for me. I’m lucky enough to get to work with my wonderful wife, Kat Wilson, every day. She is an incredible photographer and artist, and Pink House has benefited from her beautiful photography for years. And our three beautiful children are always rooting for us to succeed, and we love having them in the office. I am also fortunate to have the most hardworking employees and loyal customers who constantly support us. I wouldn’t be where I am today without any of them!

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

That’s a great question. A good company to me is a company that strives to improve the lives of their employees and takes into consideration their impact on the world as well as the community they live in. A great company is a company that invests their profits back into the people that have helped them grow and that defines their legacy by taking actions to better their community and world better than when they began their business.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

Choose your money partners wisely. Similar to a marriage, you want a solid courtship period full of ups and downs. Make sure to express yourself and your goals completely, including what is nonnegotiable for you and the ethos of your business. I have gone through the steps to raise capital many times and each time getting very close to adding a partner and expanding Pink House. But, each time something intervened or pulled me away from the investment, they were just not the right fit. When I did finally take an investment partner, it was abundantly clear that this was the right partner for me. My experience with the other potential investment partners or groups had helped me to whittle down my exact needs and how I should value them.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. When running a growing business, day to day there are dozens of small and large stressors. Shipments running behind, entire teams out with Covid, grievances between employees, you name it. This all truly is “just business” as they say. It’s not worth emotional response but instead, clear, and direct responses that allow you to move right on and have a good day. After all, this is what we begged for and worked so hard for!

Trust your gut, but back it up with data. I would say I have always operated from a baseline of intuition. I trust myself and my opinions, but no more or less than the group that I work with and depend on to offer accurate data for me to reflect on. Often my direction changes based on what I learn, but what usually gets the ball rolling is trusting my gut!

Hold your vision close at all times. Put something in your office that represents your goals, write it on the inside cover of your notebook, or save an image on your phone wallpaper that reminds you of why you are working so hard and gives you the motivation to keep pursuing. It is helpful to have these reminders in times of decision making if the direction you are starting to head doesn’t fulfill your vision or long-term goal, you change course quickly and stay focused on your vision. Speak freely and openly with people about where you see your company heading, no matter how early on it is in your business journey. Manifest it!

Keep your meetings and always be on time. This is a simple and extremely important piece of taking a company from good to great. It is important that the people investing in you and your vision know that you respect their time. It gives the people around you confidence in you as a competent leader. Never have people attend meetings you set in your stead unless it has otherwise been discussed.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

I’m not sure if there are other ways to create and accomplish business in our current world. There are so many things that need to be addressed for the health of the world. It is a must to incorporate strong purpose and positive impact for any business that hopes to profit and grow and sustain.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

It takes a tremendous amount of staying power to make it through plateaus or business downturns. I suggest taking time to get inspired. Look to the people that are thriving in your industry or other business leaders that have taken the next big step beyond where you are. It is ok to study competitors deeply, there are always little nuggets of knowledge you can glean. But most importantly, review why you need to grow. Is it for profitability? Is it to stay relevant? Leaders that are used to the cadence of rapid growth have a tendency to become uninspired or complacent during plateaus, I know because I am one of those people! But I learned that these are the best times to review practices, get organized, and plan a very strategic sales blitz. Often when you are just growing and growing, you can let the ship steer you. This is a good time to lean in and take solid control of your ship — if you’re into ocean analogies.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Owning a business comes with its risks. For us, the rise of Covid-19 at the beginning of 2020 was devastating, we lost 80% of our revenue, shuttered our business and road out the first wave, all while I was seven months pregnant with my third child. I was so worried for my staff and how they would get by, I was scared for myself and our children. So personally, managing the stress of pregnancy and the wellbeing of my entire staff was intense. But we persevered.

After shutting down, we put our heads together and came up with a plan. We pivoted and leaned into our online community, and they showed up in droves. Within a month we were able to bring everyone back to work safely and we hired a teacher and had Pink House Academy for everyone’s children that worked at Pink House, including my own. That was a sweet time. We are now trending better than ever with a whole new sense of gratitude. It’s one of my highest accomplishments as a business owner so far, is how we were able to weather Covid and come out stronger on the other side.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

I think people underestimate the time it takes to truly stabilize as a business. High growth and killer profits are great, but time and successfully overcoming failures is what strengthens your foundation and gives your longevity. For example, it took Pink House six years to turn solid profits. We have grown every year significantly, and our profit margin is now starting to grow along with us as we become more efficient and focused.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

It is important to have people that can open and close sales accounts on your team. Those are different skill sets. To be successful in converting potential customers, you need a clear strategy that involves clear education on why your product or services are best for the customer and then switching strategies to gathering payment information and pulling the trigger on an order.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

We have a saying at Pink House Alchemy when things are good or when things are hard, “pour some syrup on it.” Try to sweeten the situation at every turn. That has conveyed how we handle any customer issues we encounter. Problems are often solved with a little sweetness, or you can at least soften an otherwise tense situation. We receive daily feedback in our threads complementing the staff on their helpfulness or kindness in solving an issue or answering questions, which has certainly aided in solidifying our customer base.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

When you are a small company, every single customer, no matter how small, makes a huge impact over time. As we grew, we had all sorts of bumps along the way: ship times were too long, we were understaffed, we grew out of our facility, and hired new team members that made the product. Throughout those changes, we asked for patience, we were painfully honest, we gave away more product that we could afford, we sent handwritten cards and as we stabilized, the kind words would continue to flow in and we post those for the whole company to see. That is what has allowed us to grow and grow, word of mouth has been incredible.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The most common mistake I see CEOs making is regarding capitalization. Often while growing a business, especially if this business is a rapid growth company, things can feel desperate; you feel like you can’t move fast enough, and that business is passing you by. There is a modicum of truth to that of course, but it is paramount. As I mentioned earlier, it’s important that you take capital with a clear mind and ensure that the money is coming from a place that completely aligns in your vision or that you have a rick solid payback/buyout plan.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

My passion lies in food systems. Helping to ensure that resources are in place to encourage farming in every region of the world so that we continue to access the best of what the earth can grow. I marvel at different farm practices all over the world. Nothing ignites joy and excitement for me like the first pick strawberries or shaking mulberries out of trees or splitting open an oily vanilla bean the width of my index finger so fragrant I swoon! Poetic and romantic I know! But it is truly why I do what I do.

How can our readers further follow you online?

For those readers who would like to get in touch, I can be followed on Instagram @drop_the_beet. If anyone is looking for more information on Pink House Alchemy or would like to purchase product, we can be found on Instagram @pink_house_alchemy, Facebook at Pink House Alchemy, on our websites www.pinkhousealchemy.com and www.phfay.com (local Fayetteville orders only), and at our local retail store in Fayetteville, AR.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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