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When Heidi and Orville Thompson came up with the idea to sell a safer, wickless alternative to scented candles through home parties, they realized they were onto something big. Exactly how big Scentsy has grown in six years has set records in the direct selling industry and sent the Meridian, Idaho-based company on a rocket ride to success.
Since 2004, Scentsy has averaged an annual increase of more than 300 percent in both revenue and number of consultants eager to sell its products. Its continuously expanding catalogue and fragrance collection includes more than 80 scents and an array of decorative warmers, travel tins, scent circles, fragrance foams and room sprays. This is a far cry from 2003, when the couple was $700,000 in net debt and on the verge of bankruptcy after their fairs and shows business was devastated in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
From a 40-foot ocean shipping container on the Thompsons’ small sheep farm, Scentsy has grown to 730 employees, 491,000 square feet of office and warehouse space, and nearly 100,000 consultants selling in all 50 states as well as in Canada, Guam and Puerto Rico – the latter of which was unintentional, the Thompsons say. A software glitch in 2008 allowed residents of Puerto Rico to enroll as consultants, and enroll they did – at a rate six times higher than the U.S. rate.
This came as no surprise to the couple since Puerto Rico’s family oriented, close-knit culture fell perfectly in line with Scentsy’s concept of sharing experiences and memories through scented candles, such as those from the company’s Bakery Collection, which tends to trick people into thinking they are smelling grandma’s homemade cookies. This is why Scentsy’s products are ideal for direct selling at home parties, the couple explains.
Scentsy decided to try its luck with Canadian consultants at the end of 2009, and by the first quarter of 2010, it had more than 1,000 actively enrolled consultants in Canada. The company’s plans for 2011 include continued international expansion, additional distribution facilities across the United States and the groundbreaking of its new corporate headquarters, which will be sited on a 45-acre campus in Meridian.
Instant fame and success do not come without their growing pains, and Scentsy certainly has had its share.
“Overwhelmed is an emotion that I feel frequently,” Heidi Thompson relates. “Overwhelmed, lucky and grateful – those are the emotions that I would say best represent my feelings about our company’s growth.”
One of the key reasons why Scentsy has been able to handle this growth is because the Thompsons are equal partners in the business who rely on each other’s strengths to take the company to the next level. “Entrepreneurship is all-encompassing in your life,” Orville Thompson notes. “If you’re not together on it as a couple and if you don’t have equal say in the decision-making, it creates strains on other parts of your relationship.
“If Scentsy were a ship, I would be the sail and Heidi would be the rudder,” he continues. “It takes both parts of the ship to guide it where it needs to go. Both are equally important, and one is irrelevant without the other. There is an intertwining of our whole relationship; Scentsy is a part of who we are rather than just being a segment of our lives that we compartmentalize and put away when we come home from work.”
Orville is on the front line, while Heidi prefers to work behind the scenes, they say. “Heidi’s greatest strength is her intuition,” Orville Thompson notes. “She’s dead on in so many ways, and the rest of the management team finds itself leaning on her for her wisdom in making very tough decisions. Second is her dedication; the typical picture of Heidi is head down, focused, cranking out stuff, almost oblivious to what else is going on until the job gets done. It intimidates me and makes me work harder.
“I think another one of her strengths is her compassion or empathy – understanding how people feel and making sure they are respected and valued,” he continues. “And then on a practical note, she’s got a very keen eye with regard to trends and quality. Heidi approaches a problem emotionally; I approach a problem rationally. This allows us to come to a heartfelt rational decision. Head and heart come together when Heidi and I are on our game.”
Heidi says her husband is a “visionary man” with excellent communication skills. “Everyone looks to him for advice because he’s a very good leader,” she says. “There is a poster in the office with an Albert Einstein quote, and it’s been his guiding principle since he was 16. It says, ‘Try not to become a man of success. Rather, become a man of value. A successful man takes out of life more than he puts in. A man of value will give more than he receives.’
“That really represents how our company operates, especially in the community – we contribute more than we take.”
To celebrate Scentsy’s fifth anniversary in July 2009, the Thompsons gave their employees, vendors and their family members a total of $100,000 in cash to spend in 40 family owned businesses in the Boise area in one day. The businesses were nominated by Scentsy executives and employees, and chosen by a committee. Employees kept what they purchased, and more than $2,500 was spent in each store, which gave the small, locally owned businesses a boost during hard economic times.
“It was so much fun,” Heidi Thompson recalls. “Our employees really enjoyed being out in the community. We wanted to out-do 2009, so in 2010, we did what we call our ‘Six-Pack Give Back,’ which was six community charitable events.”
In addition to repeating the local shopping spree, Scentsy sponsored a blood drive for the American Red Cross in which company employees donated 140 pints of blood. Another event was a “Dress for Success” clothing drive, which provided interview suits and confidence boosts to low-income women. The third was an initiative called “Paint the Town” where Scentsy employees painted the homes of disabled and elderly members of the community.
Another initiative was an office competition called the “Change Challenge” whereby the employees by department filled water jugs full of bills and silver change, but if other departments dumped pennies into the jugs, it “subtracted” from their collections. All of the change – $16,000 worth – was donated to Wednesday’s Child, an adoption advocacy group in Boise. The last initiative was the local Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. “The organizers didn’t know we were doing it, so we just showed up with a team of 2,000 – the largest ever,” Heidi Thompson recalls. “We were able to donate $171,000 to Race for the Cure.”
Every year, the company hosts a consultant convention – which feels like a Scentsy family reunion, the Thompsons say – that includes company employees, consultants and their families. “There are so many companies that tend to pull wives away from their husbands or mothers away from their children, but the most important thing we provide is an industry-leading, family friendly business opportunity,” Orville Thompson says. “That’s our mission statement.
“Scentsy is a means by which our family makes a living and takes care of our needs and our future, but we didn’t want to have success at the expense of other families,” he explains. “We realized it was family we were working so hard for, and that concept permeates everything about Scentsy. Our organization is set up similar to a well-run family.”
“There is no way we’d be where we are today without each and every person who has helped us along the way,” Heidi Thompson adds. “For the first two years, we had employees that would volunteer to work for free to help get orders out and answer phones because they also believed in Scentsy. It brought us all together as a family, and we are so grateful for every single person in this company.”