This woman went from working in a prison to building a soap empire
"It was not a good fit for my personality, which is sunny side up all the time," Faiola says.
To cheer herself up, Faiola made soap every night. She was self-taught: By reading chemistry books and scouring online chat rooms, she learned everything she needed to know. Soon she was selling her soaps and making thousands of dollars at craft shows every weekend.
After months of deliberation, Faiola quit her corrections job in 1998, put $15,000 on a credit card, and turned her part-time soap business into a full-time gig. She was 20 years old.
It wasn't an easy transition; she landed herself in debt and had to reevaluate her finances. But now Faiola is the CEO of two successful businesses: Bramble Berry Soap Supplies, a national retail company offering all-natural soaps and toiletries; and Handmade Beauty Box, a newly launched subscription service that delivers DIY beauty projects. She is also a published author, blogger, and YouTube star.
We interviewed Faiola as part of our Fast Track Q&A series, in which we're asking various small-business owners the same 11 questions about their professional and personal inspirations. She shared her amazing story, which, believe it or not, involves breast milk and Russian dwarf hamsters. Read more in the series »
BI Studios: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Anne-Marie Faiola: I decided that I wanted to be in the FBI at the age of 14. I loved the traditional concept of good and evil, good guys versus bad guys. And I wanted to be a good guy. I loved the whole concept of order out of chaos and that there were people out there protecting citizens going about their daily business.
I got a degree in psychology with an emphasis on criminal justice and applied to be in the FBI. They told me to get a job in corrections and come back the next year. That's how I became a corrections officer.
How did you get the idea for your business?
Bramble Berry came about because I loved making soap, and it turned out that people buy handmade soap. I realized that I could help women all over the world start making businesses of their own.
Handmade Beauty Box evolved out of the idea that I wanted life to be easier for people to make their own DIY products. There are so many ingredients and products out there that it can get overwhelming, but Handmade Beauty Box is designed to be a mini personal lab that arrives at your doorstep every month and makes it easier for you.
How did you pick the name for your business?
I actually wanted to call it "Bramble" because I wanted to do something that was fun and whimsical. Bramble seemed like a nice, unisex name. It evoked purples and greens and the colors I really liked. But Bramble.com was taken, so I came up with Bramble Berry, which I didn't know was a generic name for a berry that falls off a bramble.
For Handmade Beauty Box, we wanted something that said what the product was. Unlike Bramble Berry, where we weren't sure if we wanted to expand into other things, Handmade Beauty Box is exactly what it sounds like.
What is the biggest risk you've taken in your career?
It was quitting my job at the age of 20 and supporting my family since my husband at the time - now my ex-husband - was a student. I was a corrections officer at medium- and minimum-security prisons and found myself becoming increasingly despondent over my ability to change anything within the system. It was a cycle of crime and abuse. So many people in prison didn't know any other way and didn't have good role models.
I would come home and make so much soap that I had to sell it; it took me six months to ramp up the soap business. I look back on that 20-year-old putting $15,000 on a credit card and marvel at the guts that it took.
What's the strangest request you've ever gotten from a customer?
We get a lot of really interesting, fun, and unique requests from customers, but the strangest question I can remember is, "How do I make soap using my breast milk?"
There's an entire population of women who feel very strongly about breast-milk-based soaps being the best thing for their children's skin. We help them with the formulas and talk them through how to make sure the breast milk comes through as complete as it possibly can.
What is your greatest talent (professional or otherwise)?
I am ridiculously, boringly persistent. When I look back at all the trials and tribulations through Bramble Berry and Handmade Beauty Box, I am most proud of the fact that when I have a plan and set it into motion, I work on that plan every single day. I've always been extremely goal-oriented. If you look at my office, you wouldn't say it's terribly organized, but I'm organized with my thought process and how I lay out my life. It's a very deliberate life, and I derive great pleasure from organizing my schedule.
What's the first job you ever had?
I had two legitimate first real jobs around the same time. I worked as a piano player in a ballet studio and a medical file clerk in my dad's office. He was a doctor and has always run his own medical clinic. All of the doctors' kids were allowed to work there so long as they weren't treated special.
What's the weirdest job you've ever had?
In high school, I bred and sold Russian dwarf hamsters. It's kind of hilarious. I would run ads in the local newspapers and sell these little hamsters all throughout the area - and I loved it. I loved retail sales and interacting with people.
I would drive in my 1998 Ford S4 all over Lewis County delivering hamsters to people's houses and taking cash payments. My parents must have been so freaked out.
Which entrepreneur or business personality do you most admire?
Richard Branson is someone I really admire. First of all, he seems to have a genuine joy in what he does and seems to appreciate how lucky and blessed he is with his business and his life. That gratitude comes through in all his interviews.
Also, Oprah is so authentic in how she has built her businesses and deliberate about building them around her passions. For example, she and Deepak Chopra are doing a huge meditation series - they're selling meditation courses for $30 - because she's passionate about meditation and figuring out how to share it with others.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
I would like to be able to stop time so that I am the only one who can keep moving. I want an extra couple of hours in the day to get my own work done.
What advice would you give to an aspiring small-business owner?
Here's some advice from business guru Jim Collins: "Fire bullets, not cannonballs." Try out something small and then move onto doing it larger. Don't quit your job, sell your couch, and put all your money into cupcake magnets from China. Build up your business before you make the leap. It's not an all-or-nothing game when you start. Turn off the TV and keep your day job until it is untenable to do both.
Secondly, read everything you can. Learn from the best of the best. There are so many amazing books, podcasts, YouTube videos, and magazines. You can learn from every single business guru you have ever wanted to learn from. You don't have to go at it alone.
This post is sponsored by Spark Business℠ from Capital One®.
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