A High School Senior Sells Into Wal-Mart
The Entrepreneur: Jasmine Lawrence, 17
Background: After chemical hair-care products caused much of her hair to fall out when she was 11, Lawrence began to research natural alternatives. Two years later, she started the hair care line Eden Body Works with $2,000 in seed money from her parents, after being selected to attend a business camp sponsored by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (BusinessWeek.com, 10/5/07). Since then, the teen has been featured on the Today show and Oprah. Her business has also been nominated by businessweek readers to our annual Best Entrepreneurs 25 and Under Roundup (BusinessWeek, 9/8/08) for the past two years.
The Company: Based in her family's basement in Williamstown, N.J., Eden Body Works has grown to 17 products that are sold online and via brick-and-mortar retailers including Whole Foods (WFMI). In 2007, Lawrence, then a junior at Williamstown High School, negotiated a deal to sell her products at Wal-Mart Store (WMT) nationwide.
Revenues: Over $1 million
Her Story: As if being a teenager weren't hectic enough—try being a teen and a CEO. That is the challenge that I am faced with every day. It all started four years ago, when I decided to start a company to make all-natural hair and body care products. Now I am managing national distribution chains and international online sales. At the same time, I am also trying to have a life. My day starts at 5 a.m. After school, I head straight to my room for an hour power nap, then pry myself awake for homework. On a normal day, after finishing my schoolwork, I answer e-mails, do interviews, and have a meeting or two with my four employees (one of whom is my mom—she is the head of business development).
On a not-so-normal day, I may be packing to take a trip somewhere across the country to speak at a school, a church, or a business event. At some of these events, I am surrounded by business people wearing suits and ties who are twice my age, if not more.
Look the Look, Talk the Talk
At first, it was a challenge to fit in—in the jungle of Corporate America. I noticed, however, that all that I needed were a few adjustments and a little maturity. I needed a professional attitude that would gain me respect among adults. I also needed professional attire. It wasn't easy, because I had never been exposed to the world of business beyond what I had learned from my mom and dad. I started my businesswoman transformation with my wardrobe. I knew that I had to look the part if I planned to run a multimillion-dollar empire one day. So, I went out and bought suits for all occasions. I also went into my closet and pulled out the shoes that I usually wore only on special occasions. I stood up straight, looked in the mirror, and saw the businesswoman I was destined to be. Once I was satisfied with my outside appearance, it was time to look within. I dropped the slang I used with my friends, and I adopted new business terms like "revenue" and "return on investment." I practiced my elevator pitch and readied myself for networking and sharing my ideas with others.
The first test of my business skills came in the form of an investor presentation competition in 2005, where I had to discuss my business plan before a group of real financial advisers. I was nervous when I first stepped into the room filled with so many people. But I was confident in my business. I knew it was really a good idea. I was able to deliver a smooth presentation. Many there were shocked and amazed at not only my age but also the poise with which I spoke and carried myself.
Hitting the Mass Market
A year later (in 2006), I had another challenge.
I was nominated for Black Enterprise's Teenpreneur of the Year award. Following the awards ceremony, a representative from Wal-Mart approached me. He wanted to know more about my business and start a relationship, so that one day my products could be sold at its stores. My dream of hitting the mass market seemed to be coming true right there. Little did I know there were many steps I had to take to make them come true.
After learning even more about business and the retail world, I went down to Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., for a meeting. It had taken almost a year to get UPC codes, minority- and women-owned business certifications, and also to learn how to ship and bill Wal-Mart. It was a success that I was given the chance to do a test run in 10 stores to see how my products would sell. The trial went phenomenally. Not long after, Wal-Mart offered to sell my products in 200 stores across the country.
Many people could never picture a teenager running such a successful business. I don't think they should be so surprised anymore. There are plenty of teen-run businesses today. Teens are venturing past the conventional money-making jobs like babysitting, or working at fast food restaurants and lemonade stands. We teens today have bigger dreams and higher expectations for ourselves than anyone could imagine. Sometimes all we need is a little encouragement or some inspiration on what we can really do.
Live Your Dream
When I first started my business, a lot of people told me that I was too young and that I needed to focus on school. Many thought that I was just a puppet and that my parents were really the ones calling the shots and running the business. I saw past all of the negativity and did what I was called to do. I never lost the support of my friends and family. They were the encouragement that I needed.
Now that my business has started to truly make a mark in the hair care industry, I feel that it is my duty to give back. My message is: Find your passion, and live your dream. It is never too early or too late to take a chance and live your dream. I am living proof. However, in the midst of the speaking engagements and business meetings, I still manage to remain an honor student with a 4.0 GPA. I do sports, community service, and after-school clubs. I study engineering and have an amazing group of friends that I couldn't do without. I make time for myself, my family, and all the other things I love to do besides run my business. I have a very full life, but I wouldn't have it any other way!
—as told to Stacy Perman
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