After achieving stability, it may be a good time to review your market and discover new avenues for business growth. Michelle Asence’s perfume business, Zen Zest, was an instant hit when it started in 2001. Since then, it has attracted customers from both sexes and all age groups. That Asence felt it was time to segment her market and create new brands for these segments. In 2005, the company created Scent Station, directed at males. It also plans to start another brand targeting teens and young adults in 2011.
For someone whose mission in life is to make people smell good, Michelle Asence has been on the nose. From her single self-managed kiosk located at SM Megamall in 2001, now—almost 10 years later—her carts and kiosks number over a hundred in almost all major malls in the country. “The P350,000 we invested in [that one] was supposed to be for our family’s US trip,“ she says. “But it covered the inventory and rental deposit.” No worries. With 20,000 bottles of perfume flying off the racks of Zen Zest every month, the return on her investment was quick. There must be something in her perfume.
“It’s funny”, says the CEO of Zen Zest Asia. “That first time I was featured in Entrepreneur in 2004, I was pregnant.” Which explains why her photo in that story was cleverly cropped from the waist up. Then in another feature dedicated to women entrepreneurs in August 2005, “I had just given birth,” she says. And now, as evidenced by her growing belly, “I’m pregnant again.” There really is something in her perfume. And the people seemed to respond to it.
Together with body sprays, lotions, and soaps, Zen Zest now offers a whole range of body care products like fragrance oils, aromatherapy products, and a variety of themed scents. In 2005, the company branched out into another brand, Scent Station. According to Asence, “we decided to create another brand catering to a different market because Scent Station is mostly for males, while Zen Zest is mostly for females.” By next year, they’re planning to open another brand targeting teens and young adults.
At 23 years old, Asence was a young adult herself when she began concocting her own lotion mixtures in her home kitchen while single-handedly managing the first Zen Zest kiosk.
Inspiring? Yes. Easy? Definitely not. “Me and the main people in the company, we have learned so much,” says Asence. “In the six years [since the feature], we have also made a lot of costly mistakes.” Also, their marketing efforts have started to grow.
Her focus on product development, however, hasn’t changed. And that’s a good thing. “Until now we still do research and development,” says Asence. “Although now that the company is much bigger, we are able to go abroad to do research, whereas before we’d just research through the Internet and magazines.”
“Now,” she adds, “we’re trying to expand more through our provincial outlets, since we lack those. We’re planning to do that via franchising.”
However, if there’s probably one thing she wishes she knew from the very beginning, it’s about “being aggressive in opening outlets much quicker. But it’s okay,” she admits, “because even if I didn’t know that much before about inventories, people management, and everything related to the business, I learned from all of our mistakes that the company and myself went through.” The goal, she says, is to make Zen Zest Asia an all-around beauty company. Smells good.
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