By: Lisa May Francisco | Stories from the Storefront
Stories From the Storefront turns the spotlight on the bold, passionate small business owners who put the work in and never stop chasing the dream. Just the Goods, launched in 2009 by Milena Lye, is an affordable plant-based skin care for everyday life. While the business has grown considerably in the last 10 years, Milena is no stranger to the hurdles of trying to get a business off the ground by balancing a full-time job and a side hustle. We interviewed Melina to find out more about her journey as a small business owner and share her nuggets of wisdom. Follow Just the Goods on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Lisa May Francisco: Tell me about your business.
Owner, Milena Lye: Just the Goods is a producer and direct distributor of handmade plant-based products for skin, body, hair care, and home spa. All Just The Goods products are certified cruelty free by the Leaping Bunny Program, and a growing number are recognized as safe cosmetics through the EWG VERIFIED program. Just the Goods serves clients in 50 countries worldwide.
How long have you been in business?
Since 2009–10 years last month.
What motivated you to go into business?
I was motivated to begin making skin care products out of frustration with the non-toxic options available at the time in that I was tired of safer alternatives to petrochemical laden drugstore brands being treat like luxury items, and priced accordingly. I couldn’t justify spending tons of money on those products, and decided to start making my own for personal use. I quickly realized there was absolutely no reason for safer products to be priced as they were, and observed that an operation with intentionally lower overhead costs could easily make safer products at a more affordable price. Without high end branding or expensive marketing campaigns, and without padding the product price for every stop along a distribution chain, I’ve proven that it’s possible to handcraft high quality, safer cosmetics at a fraction of the cost.
What’s been the most unexpected part of starting or running your business?
I started Just the Goods while I was still working as a self-directed curator of contemporary art, so I approached it as a side-gig to avoid taking an administrative job with an organization. I initially thought I would only sell products locally, but after listing them online, I was amazed by how quickly JTG drew interest from folks in other cities and countries. That’s when the reality of shipping costs hit me and sadly, since Canada Post doesn’t offer a light packet option, figuring out how to keep products affordable while tackling the issue of long distance shipping completely caught me off guard. Compound this with folks everywhere being trained by Amazon to think shipping is both free and instant and, well… surprise! It’s not *lol*
What business or personal hurdles has QuickBooks helped you overcome, and how?
Without any sort of intentional growth strategy on my part, Just the Goods’ became so popular that by the end of 2013 I gave up my work in the arts to make JTG my full-time occupation. At this point I’d already spent a number of years working independently and loving it, so I intended to continue alone because, despite having ample experience managing volunteers and staff in my previous line of work, I never enjoyed the notion of being a supervisor or “boss”. Nonetheless, each month my hours exceeded the one before, and I got to a point where I simply couldn’t continue without assistance. In January 2017 I explored what it would be like to work with another person by hiring part-time casual assistants to help with labeling and clean up, and readied myself to take on a full-time assistant by summer 2017. I received a shockingly high number of applications for the position, and I fortunately found someone awesome who also enjoys a drama-free workplace and filling otherwise awkward silences with podcasts and Netflix ;-)
How has your business evolved since you started, and how have you adapted?
In the early years I’d make and ship products daily, but knew that wasn’t an efficient use of my time. People wonder how two individuals offer 140+ original products handcrafted on-demand to thousands of clients each year, and the answer is the production and shipping system I’ve finessed over the past decade. Without going into too much (boring) detail, we operate on a two-week cycle wherein orders received in week one are made and shipped in week two, while orders received in week two are made the week after that. This is essentially my version of a just-in-time inventory system in that it allocates raw materials in the most efficient way possible, ensures we only ship the freshest products possible, and completely avoids waste. This system also allows time for clients to adjust their orders, as they frequently do upon spending more time at the website and/or telling a friend, then wanting to combine multiple orders into a single parcel. This system is not at all like a fulfillment warehouse, so our current schedule is always published at the top of each page of the website to communicate clearly before an order is placed.
What’s your next business goal or milestone to cross, and why is it important to you?
I’d like to figure out how to create more personal time away from work. As it stands, I’m very readily available to client enquiries via email — I think it’s part of what people like about their products being handmade by an identifiable human being, rather than inside a random factory. However, since my natural tendency has always been toward overwork, it’s been a long and ongoing process to acknowledge the importance of rest and leisure. I guess you could say I’m working on it *insert whomp whooomp trombone sound here, ha ha!*
How do you define success — money/financial freedom, influence, more time with your loved ones, creative expression or innovation, or something else — and why?
My definition of success has changed dramatically over the years, much like my vocation. When I was a curator, validation from peers was essential because that is specifically what makes it possible to continue working/creating. However, now I define success as being able to do what I want to do without needing “permission”. If I want to create a new product line, I do the work and make it happen… I don’t need to convince others for funding, space, or other resources to give the project life. I still love to collaborate, whether with folks directly in my line of work (i.e. other skin care makers) or across fields (i.e. health and wellness practitioners), and it means a lot that I can do it out of shared passion, not mandatory strategic alliance.
What advice would you give to aspiring business owners?
My greatest advice has always been the same, whether speaking with business owners, or curators, or artists, etc., and it’s: know your values before you start. And, by extension, establish your ethical lines so that you don’t end up down a slippery slope compromising the things that make you the human being you are, or aspire to be. I’ve said no to all sorts of “opportunities” on the basis that I didn’t agree with the way potential partners either appropriated or exploited others. Did I lose out on so-called “growth opportunities”? Sure, but I’m doing just fine and I can still look at myself in the mirror and know I did the right thing.
How do you want customers to feel when they leave your office/store?
I want people to know that I’m committed to honest transparency, not only in how Just the Goods products are made, but in who I am and what I care about. And, when a Just the Goods product reaches someone’s hands, I want them to feel well assured it has been made with good ingredients and good intentions backed up by solid research and comprehensive thoughtfulness.
Meet author (and QuickBooks employee!) Lisa May Francisco joined the QuickBooks communications team in 2017. She has a passion for connecting with others and hearing about how their personal experiences have shaped who they are. Lisa is currently pursuing her MBA at UC Davis and when she’s not studying you can find her diving into an arts & crafts project, working out, listening to live music, or exploring the Bay Area with friends and family.