The reason that this article was written — in response to a cold email pitch from an entrepreneur named Juan Valencia — is the reason business owners should never be afraid to take a risk.
“I wrote emails to like 60 people, and I think two people replied, including you,” he tells Hello Alice. “You take the risk, and I feel very thankful when it pays off.”
This attitude has followed him ever since he arrived in the United States from Colombia. A veteran of the beauty industry where he worked in sales and marketing for a wholesaler, Valencia decided to branch off on his own and found Kiros Beauty, a sales and marketing outfit that helps brands get on shelves and in front of customers.
It was a natural step that allowed him to build on many of the relationships with clients from his previous full-time job, but that’s not to say that there haven’t been challenges along the way.
“Before, there were a lot of people around helping me,” he says of his corporate days. “When you start your own company, you start alone. You pack, sell, do account receivables. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. You make mistakes. You work with some bad people. You try again.”
Free resources — from mentorship attained through his local SCORE chapter and free classes on how to write a business plan — have been a huge help, but he’s also found much of his success by tapping into the local community of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, a historical center of the Amish community and a more recent hotspot for refugees and immigrants from around the world.
Trips to the area’s many beauty stores and ethnic markets helped Valencia forge distribution relationships for products and even exposed him to new, local customers looking for help growing their brands.
“I was in an Amish store, and someone started speaking to me in Spanish,” says Valencia. “I was surprised because he was Amish, speaking Spanish! He said, ‘Hey, you sell beauty products, can you sell my goat milk soaps? We have a dairy, and we produce soaps. I want them to be sold in other stores. Can you help me?’ That situation happened with other brands, over and over again.”
These newfound relationships have also allowed Valencia to introduce new products to previously untapped audiences, particularly the Amish. As an example, Valencia points out that although the Black community has long known the benefits of cost-effective products like shea butter, it remains relatively obscure among other groups.
“Some people in the business community will say that I’m crazy for selling shea butter to white people,” he says, “but it’s not always about the money. I have a feeling that it’s very good for them, too. It’s a natural product that should be used by everyone.”
Valencia’s decision to self-fund his business has both allowed him the freedom to pursue risky ideas and the drive to succeed.
“For me, personally, I feel more safe spending my own savings even though it can hurt me,” he says. “Sometimes you have to invest money and you don’t see the results right away. I’m pioneering a lot of categories, and outside investors might be turned off by how the reward isn’t instant.”
There are many instances when his instincts pay off despite the risks, such as Valencia’s most recent expansion, Kiros Naturals, that is his first foray into the world of e-commerce. The new online marketplace seeks to become a one-stop-shop marketplace for all things natural, from Columbian coffee beans to natural skincare and cosmetics — a well-timed play that responds to the COVID-19 pandemic’s shift toward online sales.
Valencia has also taken this time to get creative with his marketing efforts, hiring freelancers to help him create blogs, videos, and product photography. These media allow him to not only gain exposure for his vendors but educate audiences on how they can improve their lives with certain products. He’s found success placing flyers in local beauty shops and even providing text for the Amish community to include in their community newsletters and periodicals.
“They love to read, they pay attention to what they read,” Valencia says of the Amish community. “When we explain the shea butter products, we give some recipes. How to use shea butter for face masks, for example.”
Another opportunity includes the recent demand for hand sanitizer. In this case, Valencia was able to connect a local Pennsylvania manufacturer with a chain of supermarkets hungry for “Made in USA” brands. “We have been able to do well,” he says of recent months.
Valencia admits that he may not have anticipated every turn his life has taken in the last couple years. At the same time, starting and running a business fulfills a lifelong dream that compelled him to immigrate to the United States in the first place.
“Entrepreneurship is kind of a journey,” he says. “If I die today, I’m okay. It’s not about a lot of money. You tried something that you really felt passionate about, and you learned that sometimes things work out. But if you don’t try, that’s the difference. I decided to try.”
Are you looking for ways to launch or grow a business similar to Kiros Naturals? Check out the Hello Alice Beauty & Wellness Industry Resource Center for up-to-date resources, how-to guides, and funding opportunities today.