Jessica A. Gray is the owner of Gray’s Apothecary. Jessica and her son both suffer from Eczema. After dealing with the side effects of artificial fragrances exacerbating the problem, Jessica decided to try making her own remedy. Gray’s Apothecary is a handmade coconut oil-based body and skin care line. All products, with the exception of the facial oil cleanser and facial scrub, contain organic unrefined coconut oil. Coconut oil has been proven to treat skin ailments such as psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema, and dry skin. Her products combine coconut oil, shea butter and other oils to create luxurious products that leave your skin and hair smooth and soft.
Jessica was gracious enough to share with us her reasons for starting the business, the obstacles of being a small business owner and what the future holds for Gray’s Apothecary.
Some of the best companies are started out of necessity. You created this product out of your own battle with Eczema. What was the breaking point in your battle that caused you to try your own remedy?
The breaking point really just came from walking the aisles of Target, reading ingredient labels and discovering either 1) I can make this or 2) I have no idea what’s in this.
You studied aromatherapy prior to creating the product. How important is market research in the process of creating a product?
I think market research is somewhat important. Before I really jumped myself out there, I looked for coconut oil based products and realized there were very few mainstream products with coconut oil as the first or second ingredient and not a bunch of additives. In terms of aromatherapy, there are a lot more brands using aromatherapy in their products, but I didn’t let that discourage me. I knew I was still offering something a little different. That’s why I say it’s somewhat important. One thing that I have learned is that duplicity in the marketplace does not mean your business will be unsuccessful. For example, the cupcake market just ballooned into this huge market, especially in DC. I can think of at least 6 cupcake bakeries in DC alone, at least 4 in the Georgetown area, yet they all thrive. Not to mention there are quite a few of thriving cupcake bakeries based out of homes and not storefronts. You just have to find a way to distinguish yourself and sometimes that may just mean pricing yourself more competitively to attract new business.
What are your long term goals for Gray’s Apothecary? Do you want to take it to the marketplace for mass production? Are you currently looking for investors?
This may sound arrogant, but I consider myself sort of a visionary. I always have great ideas but I fall short on execution. With the Gray’s Apothecary being my first executed vision, I anticipate wanting to execute many more, which will require me to take less of an active role at Gray’s Apothecary. Right now, long term I’d like to sell Gray’s Apothecary to a company that will maintain its integrity so that I can pursue other ventures. Eventually I do want to have something of my own as part of my legacy that my children can benefit from. As far as looking for investors, I’m not actively looking for investors, but if were approached by an investor I would be interested.
Prior to “Gray’s Apothecary”, you kept a tablet with ideas to generate more income. What suggestions would you give for those who are wrestling with the thought of implementing ideas?
Implementation is by far the most challenging part of the process. Before implementing any new ideas, I would highly suggest doing a cost/benefit analysis. Write out every detail of how your idea or business venture benefits you, not just financially. I think once you’ve written down how advantageous your idea is (or possibly not so advantageous), that should be motivation enough to dive in or make tweaks to further you along the process. For me, I calculated how much extra income I wanted a month, and factored in how many products I would have to sell in order to see that return. I calculated how much I was initially willing to invest and how much I would have to sell to get that investment back. Once I saw the numbers visually, I thought: “This could be it”! After that, I used social networking to kind of assess the level of interest. Someone once told me “Don’t start a business until you have a customer”. After I sold my first jar, I really put in the effort to sell more.
As an attorney by trade, you understand the legal processes that are attached to introducing a product into the market. How long is the process to trademark and copyright the product, its formula and the images on your labels and logo?
Honestly, I’m not sure. That’s not my area of expertise and I haven’t started that process. I think people get caught up on that end of the process prematurely. While I do think that if you have a very interesting or clever product name or logo, trademarking should be a priority, hiring an attorney and completing that process can be expensive. The application alone starts at around $400. A reputable patent and trademark attorney usually charges about $300 per hour or a flat fee of around $3000. To start, I would just Google your name and/or idea first to see if there is anyone with a similar idea or product using your name. Also, you can search trademarks on the US Patent and Trademark Office website. That site is a great, free, resource for how to file a trademark application without an attorney. The site also helps you distinguish whether you should file for a copyright, a trademark, or a patent. The site does not provide legal advice but it does have a very user friendly application.
Even if you find someone with the same or similar name, that may not preclude you from using it. It depends on where they are located, if there will be consumer confusion, and a host of other questions. I would say once you know that you have a steady profit, then consider trademarking. Additionally, the law does offer some protection of your business name and ideas even if they aren’t trademarked.
With every major endeavor, fear plays a factor. How did you overcome fear (if any existed) when considering your pursuit of this business venture?
Failure was my biggest fear. And honestly, it was social networking that helped overcome that. I follow a lot of dream chasers, go getters, and young entrepreneurs, some I know personally and some that I don’t on Instagram. A friend that I went to high school with just launched a nail polish line. Another fellow Eastern Rambler is the house photographer for the Howard Theatre and Constitution Hall and personal photographer to Steve Harvey. Another is a thriving hairstylist. Another started a denim line. Another operates her own PR firm. Another is a community activist. The Information Age post that you do, especially the one about how to write a book in 3 days was very helpful. Not to mention a host of friends who are in doctoral programs, running family businesses and just thriving on their dreams. That was my motivation to get past the fear. I always say that if your social networking isn’t giving you something in return, then you’re not using it wisely. I use mine for motivation. And not just a bunch of Bible verses but just practical, every day advice and motivation from people I know who are doing it.
What excites you about the future of Gray’s Apothecary?
Well, I started taking orders about 4 weeks ago and after filling over 80 orders in the first 2 weeks, I am so excited for growth this coming year.