Nicole Eckels – Founder & CEO Glasshouse Fragrances

Episode 252

How do you scale a successful brand in a new country? Nicole Eckels, Founder & CEO of Glasshouse Fragrances, shares her journey from taking her iconic candles from Australia to the US, her journey and more. On the next episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be

you just want to make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So

your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go Let’s go. Hi, everyone. It’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show and I am so thrilled to have my next guest here we have Nicole Eckels, who is the founder and CEO of an amazing amazing company and amazing product, Glasshouse Fragrances and we are so excited to have her here today to talk a little bit more about her company, how it started, how it’s going all of that kind of stuff. In 2005, she decided to uproot her life and head to Australia and that is when the idea for glasshouse fragrances started. She is an incredible example of finding your passion, basically walking every day in life and you know, being open to figuring out is there a business somewhere in here and I’ve loved doing the research on her and really understanding a little bit of the background on the company before actually trying her amazing, amazing product that is actually a candle that is all natural fragrances, but also just native sense of Australia. I actually had a flower sent that is just unbelievable. So I am so excited to hear more about her journey and welcome to call.

Nicole Eckles 2:00
Hi, thank you for having me. It’s so nice to talk to you. I’m a big fan of what you do and I love talking to other entrepreneurs.

Kara Goldin 2:08
Oh, amazing. Well, thank you. So you started glasshouse fragrances after moving to Australia. I read I it sounds like such a fun journey to make that decision. I bet it wasn’t an easy one. Maybe initially. But tell me a little bit about the early days like what led you to do that.

Nicole Eckles 2:27
So my background is cosmetics. I was working. You know, I’m from the New York City area. I was working at Saks Fifth Avenue for Chanel for many years. And I left that business and went into corporate sales and I worked for a company that relocated me to California and I lost my job my son and I had moved over there. I didn’t know anyone in California I was living not too far from where you are in Sausalito and I lost my job and I thought cheese What am I going to do now like my friends threw me a going away party in New York and I gave up my apartment and anyone from New York knows that’s like a big deal. Trying to find a new one. So I decided that was going to keep going and I went to Sydney because a friend of mine said oh, you’re really going to love you know Sydney so just why don’t you go over there. I said okay, I’ll go over to Sydney and see what it’s like so I put my son was It was summer break and my mom took my son Gregory and watched him and then I went over there and I thought this is a beautiful place this will be a great place to raise a child and the other main thing that happened was I saw a gap in the market a massive bleeding gap and I thought I know I’ve been looking for a very long time for a gap in the US market and I haven’t been able to identify one but there is a big one here and I’m gonna go for it. So that was kind of the reason that I decided to move there I loved it but I could have just stayed on a bit ah and then come home yeah, but I decided to stay and you started glasshouse fragrances all that I mean all those years ago it’s nearly 16 years now

Kara Goldin 4:03
we started hint the same year. Yes I’m thinking back on that time but you had not you worked at Chanel. I but like how did you How did you know how to do this? I mean it’s such a big deal.

Nicole Eckles 4:15
I didn’t I didn’t even know how so we started to we own the scented candle category in Australia. We are the biggest we are a household name and everyone who was rallying if you say glasshouse fragrances, not only do they know the brand, they’re probably using the brand. And were a lifestyle fragrance company. So we do candles, which was the first thing product that I created. But we also do personal care and apart from there’s lots of products that we make. We have over 100 SKUs in our core range. So I didn’t know how to do any of this by as a consumer. I knew exactly what I wanted. And I had come from arguably the biggest beauty market in the world. And I moved Have to Australia where it’s one of the tiniest, and it just felt to me like cheese, where’s all the products. And so I didn’t know how to make a candle. And candlemaking is incredibly hard. Yeah, and I didn’t know that either. And here in the States, most companies, if you want to start a candle business, you can go to a contract manufacturer, you can make these products, there were plenty of beautiful contract manufacturers around there. But in Australia, there weren’t any. So I had to create my own factories. And that makes us very, very unique in this industry, because we make everything ourselves by hand, which means I can control the rhythm in terms of newness, because I’m not a slave to MOQ, I can control the quality, it takes us 18 months, for a product just we call it concept of customer, an idea till actually it’s launched into the market because we’re so pedantic about quality. That’s how long it takes to to get the fragrance to work to get the adhere shut down the glass to to get the fragrance to burn evenly and cleanly. All the way to the

Kara Goldin 6:14
bottom. That’s a man.

Nicole Eckles 6:16
It took. I would say it wasn’t till about five years ago, that I was truly satisfied with our product. And now it is world class. Yeah, for the price point. It’s true for the price point, you cannot buy anything as good.

Kara Goldin 6:35
Well, I’m a candle snob. So when I got your candle, I you know, I not only loved the essence that was that I was smelling the fragrance that I was smelling, but also that how much it lasts. Right? And it’s I mean, that is such, you know, you can tell quality, I think from that.

Nicole Eckles 6:58
Well, that’s the thing. When I started this brand, I thought okay, what do I want in a candle, I wanted it to be strong. So they’re triple scented, I wanted the jar to be unobjectionable to go in any decor and look beautiful. I wanted it to smell really expensive. I wanted the fragrances to be complex, lasting, bold, and full, all of these things. And when I when I I used to reference little all these different things. So I’d say I want it to be as big as a Yankee Candle. But I want it to be as luxurious as the high end brands. And I used to sort of think about all these attributes. And what happened was I created this, this candle that was the best of the best. And after that pretty much every brand tried to come into Australia because the category was in fast growth at this point. Yeah. And there were a lot of competitors coming into the market. But because we the price was great, we have a huge range of fragrances. It’s unobjectionable the look at that, it’s not a huge market, also compared to other places, there just really wasn’t anywhere to go. And so we’re very fortunate to, to be as as established and as big as we are. But we don’t take it for granted. We are pushing ourselves every day to stay. I had to break the boundaries in our industry to do things that are innovative and different to keep our customers happy.

Kara Goldin 8:28
Going back to the first couple of years what what were the like the key things that you I mean, maybe lessons learned at while you’re sitting there trying to build out this company, I would imagine to some extent you’re you had a little candle operation going in your home test doing some testing and and you know, tell me that like this first couple of years, like how did you even know how to get this thing off the ground?

Nicole Eckles 8:55
No idea. I just knew what I wanted the end result to be. And I remember I didn’t know how to make a candle. So I was in Australia a lot they have a lot of like weekend markets where people will sell like coffee and home bake bread study that they do here. And there was a candle maker there that used to pour, you know, sometimes candle makers, those market home types will pour candles in anything why he jogs you know, tea cups. So I met this guy there you go, you look like you know how to make a candle. Why don’t you come over to my kitchen and we’ll make it together and show me how to make this candle. And I remember we’re making these candles and I couldn’t smell anything because there was so this I know now, but there was so much fragrance in the room that I had become completely numb to the fragrance and the set the smell of it. My own factory shut down. And I remember saying to him, these candles aren’t strong enough we need to put more fragrance and we need to put more fragrance. And he said Nicole we have so much fragrance in these candles. Someone’s gonna fall over when they spill earnings. They are they’re as loaded as they got. And then I remember, they used to smoke so bad because I didn’t know how to burn. Yeah, and they were terrible, terrible. If I had started this business in the US, I surely would have been, you know, done before I started. But in that market, consumers didn’t really know what a scented candle should or shouldn’t do. So they just used to trim the heck out of them to keep them from smoking. Yeah, I have to fix this. So that’s how we ended up with two wicks in our candle instead of the one because I couldn’t get it. I couldn’t find a wick that worked. So I put two in there. And it’s one of our sort of, you know, our Yeah. And

Kara Goldin 10:47
so did you. Obviously not direct to consumer back in 2005? I would guess, especially not in Australia. So you were going straight to retail? Initially, what was your? Yes, sorry? No, no, what was your first store that you went into?

Nicole Eckles 11:04
So what I did was, were privately owned, and my partner who I met, who was the investor in the brand, I said, Look, we’ll make this these first batches ourselves before we open a factory. And then let’s make sure this works, before we invest in a facility and staff, etc, etc. So I made about 300 candles, and we had 12 boutiques around Sydney. When I say boutiques, independent, beautiful retailers with the lovely beautiful clothes or homewares, gifts, those sorts of places. And I just brought the candles to them. I said, you don’t have to pay me, I just want you to put them out. And let’s see, you know, if you sell them, you can pay me. But let’s see how they go. And each store would have had about 24 pieces or something like that. Every one sold out in like three days. Amazing. And I pick the best shops I could find, which I didn’t know, because I just moved there. Yeah, so I read while I was reading all the magazines. And what would happen is the stylists would take you know, sculpture from this shop or flowers from this shop and, but they were all the trendy it stores. So I went to those stores because I knew that at least they had a reputation for being beautiful. And, and that’s the only way I could do it. Because I didn’t know and I didn’t know any shops or anything. I just I felt my way through it. Care felt my way through. Because I didn’t know when you don’t know, you have to feel your way.

Kara Goldin 12:41
Hey, Kara, here we are thrilled you’re listening with us. And I hope you’re enjoying this episode. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing so many amazing guests over the past few years. And there are so many more to come. I cannot wait. And my focus is on entrepreneurs and CEOs, real innovators and leaders who are making a difference. That’s what I’m looking forward to bringing you. One of the reasons I enjoy interviewing many of my guests is that I get to learn. We all need to hear stories that teach us to be better inspire us and help us get through those challenging moments. I can’t remember the last time I had a guess that didn’t leave me feeling like a major hurdle had been overcome. We just don’t hear these stories enough. And when we do, we learned to be smarter and stronger. Don’t you agree? Episodes are concise, but packed with amazing info that you will surely be inspired by. Do me a favor and send me a DM and tell me what you think about each interview that you get a chance to be inspired by. And if you are so inclined, please leave one of those five star reviews for the Kara Goldin show on one of your favorite podcast platforms as well. Reviews really, really help. Now let’s get back to this episode. What is the toughest business decision that you’ve learned along the way? I mean, maybe there was. I mean, you talked about the Wix a little bit. But what was there something like I’ve had people on before he talked about pricing or doing a factory not doing a factory. I mean, Seth Goldman from honest, just recorded his and you talked about he had factories, and that was like a nightmare for him. Like it wasn’t the business that he wanted to be in. And so there’s so many lessons that I think people don’t see. What do you think is like one of the biggest lessons that you’ve learned so many lessons,

Nicole Eckles 14:43
we could talk all day like you we’ve been doing this a while we could talk all day about this, but I you know, the toughest thing I think in business is when you don’t know and there’s sort of two roads you can take and you actually don’t have a preference for one The other or don’t think one is better than the other. But you have to make a decision and the good news, we just stumbled our factory recently, during COVID, when in our category, home fragrance has been in 30% growth globally, we our business was no different. We experienced great growth during that time. But we didn’t know if that growth would continue. Because people returning back to work going back to the office, we knew that the base would be higher than it was before. And we knew with current production requirements, we had run out of space. The other thing that was happening is simultaneously is we were expanding here into the US, which is why I’ve moved back after all these years to get my family which I’ve missed us so much to be honest. But also I’m here to sort of had this expansion. And I said, Well, what if it doesn’t work? Like what if, you know what if? And I know what it is going to work? Of course it is we’ve had great results so far. But taking on and doubling your factory is a massive expense.

Kara Goldin 16:06
Yeah. And it’s a massive expense. And also, you’re going into a market that as more crowded, right? And

Nicole Eckles 16:14
close your eBay, there goes your ego. And you’re like, Okay, well, what do I do? And so anyway, so we did it. And that’s one example. But there’s so many, I think the toughest thing in business, for me has been understanding people are the most important part of any business. And when you get that wrong, it causes a lot of problems. And, you know, having good leaders in the right roles, and keeping everyone motivated. And on track. That is really my job. Yeah, in addition to creating fragrances and coming up with product ideas. And that’s, you know, that’s the I think the hardest part in in business. But we have a fantastic team, like Yeah, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those guys. But getting that right, I had to learn. I learned that the hard way over time and with experience.

Kara Goldin 17:12
Yeah, I think that that’s one lesson that I’ve learned as well. I remember the first time we had somebody quit. And, you know, in the early days, and I took it very personally, you know, and right. And it was just, it was very much about why didn’t I see it coming? I mean, what, what can I do differently. And what I learned over time, and I share with entrepreneurs and other leaders is that there’s different stages of companies for different people, right, and you have to let them fly, right? You have to let them go and, and go find something else. And I think that it’s definitely, but especially when it’s your first company, you just have a different lens to it than maybe when you were working for somebody else. Right. And and I think it’s just a it’s just a very, very interesting sort of learnings. Again, there’s a lot of things that as a founder and a CEO that, of course, you have had to do that you don’t talk about right, like, you know, figuring out health insurance or figuring you know, all these different things that you’ve got to do that, above and beyond making an incredible product. And

Nicole Eckles 18:23
yes, yes. When you start you have to be very dynamic. And our culture is it’s a family, it feels like a family business. And I try to as we scale, that’s been the most challenging part. That’s so important to me that Yeah, everyone. I used to cry when people left I used to, it felt like I was breaking up with like, yeah, no, it was so hard. And now I if someone leaves the company, because they’ve been promoted to a better role or recruited somewhere else. I’m happy for them. Yeah. And I’m glad I’m part of that journey.

Kara Goldin 18:55
So during COVID You were in Australia, and and so on.

Nicole Eckles 19:00
And part of it here. I sorted I moved here in late 2020.

Kara Goldin 19:05
So what was it like for you? In Australia? You guys. I mean, Australia had an extensive lockdown. And it was, you know, in terms of the factories, and I’m so curious.

Nicole Eckles 19:17
Well, yeah, it was tough when COVID first started, because we had it before the US because it was sort of China. Yeah, Australasia, then it sort of, and I remember calling my brother who lives in Jersey City. And I said, Because I heard there was one case in the US and I called him I said, Jonathan, I’m gonna say something to you right now. And you’re gonna think I’m nuts. But you need to grow the grocery store right now. If you need to buy toilet paper, these are the things you need to buy. And he said, Oh, don’t be ridiculous now. And so when in Australia, you know the culture is very different. They’re culturally more obedient in general, more cooperative and the view of You know, Australia, New Zealand was similar and that is let’s just zero cases. Let’s just not no one should get it. Everyone just stuck in time. You know, those people that move around the world for weather, I feel like I’ve moved around the world for COVID talks like, I get out of here. So I did one month shot in the house. That’s not for me. I could not. Yeah, I feel bad for my fellow Australians that had to go through that. And when I moved back here, that was when the really bad so Melbourne and Victoria had a lot of really bad luck, lock downs, like months and months, they couldn’t leave, they could not leave their neighborhood, their house, and Sydney. I was in Sydney. But last year, Sydney had an extensive lockdown for a few months where everyone was in the house. And I was here and it was such a culture shock to come from Australia, and then come here where everyone’s walking around. We wouldn’t want to ever everyone’s catching COVID passing a vlog, it was so different.

Kara Goldin 20:56
And how about your factories? How How was that?

Nicole Eckles 20:59
Well, the factory we kept running. We were very careful. We had separate shifts that ran we had the office area shot from the the manufacturing area we were we were so afraid that someone one of our candle makers or someone in manufacturing was going to have COVID? Because if we did, then we would have had to shut down. Sure. And one of the most incredible things because a lot of our people in this industry, this when you when your business increases by 30%, you have to be prepared for that. Yeah, you have the raw materials, for example, to make the products. Yeah, we had that because we had just gone through a period where we decided we made a strategic decision to really bulk up because there were advantages to the FX exchange. There were reasons for it. And so we suddenly had all of this stuck, we didn’t miss a single sale during COVID. And that is in our industry. That is amazing. Amazing. And it’s because of my amazing ops director, she did the most incredible job making sure that our employees were safe that the place was we tripled our cleaning regime. So we did we got through it we did what we needed to do

Kara Goldin 22:21
team is everything. So but it’s I love hearing the stories of you know, resilience. No, I don’t think anybody was prepared no matter where you were in the world. And you you know, the real leaders, the real, you know, incredible managers were the ones that just sort of stepped up to the plate in every industry. So I love hearing these stories for sure. So what do you think now that you’re in the US and you’re building this company, I feel like you’ve done something, you’ve sort of inserted yourself into the chaos again, right of building up a new company, because you have to get people to know the brand, all all of these things. You started a new factory, as you talked about, is everything in the US. Are you importing or

Nicole Eckles 23:04
so we make everything and Sydney in the factory. Okay. And then I sent and it sent to the US and we have a three PL at Dallas where we ship the product from awesome. So yeah, that’s what we’re doing for now. And then as we grow, we can revisit that to see if that still

Kara Goldin 23:20
makes it and where are you available in the US right

Nicole Eckles 23:23
now. So Neiman Marcus, we just launched the Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s and we are on We’ll be in von Maur, which is a middle is a Midwest, beautiful department store in the second half, and we have an Amazon store and Of course, glasshouse

Kara Goldin 23:48
What lessons would you share with people who are just thinking about starting a business and and what did you not know going into this? You know, obviously had many lessons but what what kind of things would you share with people be sure you

Nicole Eckles 24:05
be sure that you are you have to be like water when you’re in business, don’t you you have to water is the one thing that always finds a way in over, around and through. And when you start a business, you have to be prepared to be like water. And that requires resilience, and dedication and focus. Because if you have a good idea, and there’s a market for what you are doing, then you can make it work. But it doesn’t happen overnight. And it’s hard work. It’s bloody hard work. And you have to love it. You have to love it. Because if you don’t love it. Now, that’s a Steve Jobs phrase. If you don’t love it, then you’re not going to stick to it because it’s hard.

Kara Goldin 24:54
Now that’s so true. You remind me a lot of Greg Renfrew from beauty counter I had her on At one point, and you know, she, she also said, it takes a lot longer. It always I mean, everything takes longer, right. And when we when I see decks and plans that are like, Oh, we’re gonna flip this in two years and you know, it’s gonna be great. It’s just, it’s so unrealistic. Everything always takes longer and especially if you want to build a brand that is here to stay,

Nicole Eckles 25:23
and they say, you know, an overnight success is 10 years. Yeah,

Kara Goldin 25:27
absolutely. So it’s, I totally agree. But you remind me a lot of her and sort of doing it for all the right reasons and so incredible. So you mentioned the stores you mentioned where people find it on it online. Where’s the best place for people to stay connected to you and your story?

Nicole Eckles 25:47
Oh, so our Instagram sites great. And also my personal Instagram, Nicole Echols at A and also and then glasshouse fragrances. So we have two handles, which makes our business a little complex, but because Australia’s opposite seasons, Summer, for example, is launching in Australia in January to December, January. And here we’re launching in June. So we get the season happens first in Australia, and then it gets shipped over and then it arrives here which is good for us from a logistics book. Yeah, totally. But that’s why we have to Instagram handles.

Kara Goldin 26:25
Oh, that’s so interesting. So is can our candles really seasonal? I mean, I guess you know, for the for the holidays for the Christmas holidays, I would imagine there’s but are there certain things that are year round.

Nicole Eckles 26:35
So we do have year round of course. But we operate what makes us a little different is we operate like a fashion business. So we are trend race we’re always ahead fragrance trends, what’s happening. And we pulse our brand exactly like fashion. So we have summer collections, winter collections we have and then it’s sort of a hybrid with more of a home wares kind of a brand where we have Mother’s Day and we have Christmas and then we have a retail pop moment of harvest where we do like a pumpkin, you know, scented fragrance. So we were sort of a hybrid between fashion meets Homewares. And because I believe that your power of scent smell is your most powerful one of all and our customers are junkies they love fragrance and lots of it so that we need to feed them newness all the time. Right. And that’s why we have so many animations in our and so many launches and campaigns throughout our year. Well, this is so

Kara Goldin 27:34
incredible. You’ve got my head spinning right now around this industry that is I’m a huge consumer, but I don’t know a ton about it. And so I loved not only your entrepreneurial lessons, but also your backstory and finding something that you’re really interested in doing every single day, which I’m such a huge proponent of but also just you’re incredibly inspiring. So thank you so much for and good luck with launching in the US everybody needs to go by glass house. It’s like I said really, really great. And your you will not be sorry. So thank you so much, Nicole, and thanks, everybody for listening. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and now Friday. Please subscribe so you be sure to be able to listen to incredible stories like Nicole and glasshouses, and learn about not only new products, new companies, existing companies that are doing incredible things that have great founders and CEOs. And as I mentioned, we are here every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, interviewing incredible people. So thanks everyone for listening and have a great rest of the week. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening