Two Niagara-on-the-Lake teens are hoping to clean up in the soap and bath bomb business.
With encouragement from her parents, Cory and Kimberly, 15-year-old Emily Abt is in the process of transforming a hobby into a summer business. Emily had been planning to make lip gloss for family and friends when her dad discovered the Summer Company Program.
Funded by the Ontario government but administered through the Niagara Falls Small Business Enterprise Centre, the Summer Company Program offers grants of up to $3,000 to help students start their own business. They are provided with half of the grant upon approval, and given the other half at the end of the summer. Along the way, they receive expert mentorship through sessions with small local business owners.
Though the application deadline was just four days away when she learned of it, Emily sat down with her father and completed the business plan. She was shocked, yet pleased, to learn this spring that she was a recipient of one of this year’s grants.
“It was exciting. I started thinking about how much work it was going to be, and how much I’m going to learn,” she says. “I’ve always kind of been interested in business, with my dad in business, I’ve always wanted to learn more, so I knew that I was going to be doing a lot of new stuff.”
For the time being, the Governor Simcoe Secondary School student (she begins Grade 10 this September) has put aside the lip gloss idea. Instead, she has been developing the formulas she will use to make the soaps, body scrubs and bath bombs she will sell under her new business name, True You.
“I went through about 30 different names on my own, and I couldn’t find anything that I liked,” explains Abt. “Then I asked all my friends for ideas, and my best friend suggested True North. I liked the ‘True’ part, but didn’t like the ‘North’ part, so I changed it.”
Abt is taking a cautious approach to get True You up and running. She is using that first $1,500 to stock up on supplies, and learning about running a business along the way.
“I’ve been spending it on all the different things necessary to manufacture my products,” she says. “I have to order a lot of it online in bulk, while some products I can buy at Costco. I had to pick up corn starch from a restaurant in St. Catharines, because they get it in big bags. And I bought moulds at Michaels.”
Emily has been taking over the family kitchen in Virgil, whipping up batches of bath bombs she will sell via her True You Facebook page and her @TrueYouSkin1 Instagram account. But a possible bulk sale has the young business mogul even more excited.
Through Cory’s business contacts (he is the managing director of HEMA North America, a company that manufactures protective systems for machines), she was able to line up a potential contract with a St. Catharines spa that has multiple locations. Her focus this week is to perfect the ingredients for six different scents to impress the owner. If she wins this contract, it will go a long way to reaching her goal of $5,000 in sales this year.
The member of the 809 Newark Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron hasn’t decided what her future career path will be. For the time being, though, she will learn as much as she can running True You with the help of the Summer Company Program.
Abt may have a little bit of friendly competition from 18-year-old Elizabeth Penner, a recent Laura Secord Secondary School graduate.
Like Abt, Penner came to the soap business through a passing interest. Following a visit to an aunt in Vancouver, the idea of taking it to another level started bubbling up.
“She is a very successful soap artist,” says Penner. “We made soap together, and it was so cool to be able to put so much creativity into something so useful.”
Upon her return to Virgil, she began to conduct research into bath and skin products, and began to consider making a business out of a pastime that she had begun to do for fun.
Penner calls her company Naturally Nice, with a focus on making products from either all-natural ingredients, or home grown plants and herbs. Her product line includes soaps, bath bombs, lotions and sugar scrubs, with prices ranging from $5 to $10.
Though she is also concentrating on online sales, she took advantage of the opportunity to showcase her wares at the Crossroads Public School Home Show this past March. The pandemic hit a week after that, throwing a wrench into her plans for further in-person sales at similar events.
“COVID-19 did take a toll on my business,” admits Penner. “Since I am just starting out, I was and still am very motivated to work as hard as I can, which for me means booking lots of shows. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend most of the shows I had booked. It was a very tough time for me.”
But she took it all in stride, using the pandemic time as an opportunity to do more research. She says she made a lot of products, touching base with her customers to ensure she was meeting their needs.
Penner is foregoing college or university for the next year to concentrate on building Naturally Nice into a viable venture. Currently she rakes in about $70 a month in sales, but sees that steadily increasing.
“I plan to continue to work hard on my business, doing the most that I can to get my name out there,” she says. “Right now, due to COVID-19, I am playing it month by month, continuing to do what I love and trying to do my best at advertising and creating new products. Whatever will come within the next year, I will continue to adjust and work hard.”
This summer she is balancing her business endeavours with her job as a supervisor at the Olde Tyme Candy Shop on Queen Street. She has also recently become a financial representative for Primerica, which she thinks will help to develop her business acumen.
Naturally Nice products can be ordered through Elizabeth Penner’s Facebook page and through her Instagram account, @naturally._.nice. She is planning on launching a website in the next few months.