Business at 21: Daniela Perez Talks of University, Her Cosmetics Company and Her Soaps

Business at 21: Daniela Perez Talks of University, Her Cosmetics Company and Her Soaps

Transforming two tables in a shopping mall into a chic, vintage-style selling spot in the heart of Finland’s busiest retail centre is no children’s game, let alone launching your own private label with your bare hands - 21 year old Daniela Perez started her business from scratch, collaborating with chemists in Israel to bring a scent of her home country to a growing cosmetics shop in Helsinki.

 

She erected her first stand during Christmas of 2009 in the small town of Pori, close to the Gulf of Bothnia , where she sold Dead Sea products from Israel to passersby in the mall.

After a year at university, she found it was not challenging enough for her and decided to take a year off to explore her options – little did she know her small stand would soon become a successful cosmetics business, better known as Daniela’s ‘Soap and More’.

She said: “It is very common in Israel for young people to travel abroad to sell Dead Sea products in different shopping malls around the world; at that time I thought I would do the same for a few months just to make some money, the obvious choice being travelling to the States as I speak English and would love to spend some time in Miami. Unfortunately I didn’t get my Visa to work there and so decided to make my own selling point in my second home country of Finland.”

Perez described her first spot as two tables in the middle of the shopping mall where she displayed her products while reaching out to all those who passed her in the hope of selling something. Although she admitted to often selling her goods half forcefully, the purchases were so successful she eventually built up a group of loyal followers who returned regularly to test new products. Due to her sales success, Perez decided to move to Helsinki in the spring of 2010 and open a proper selling spot in Kamppi Shopping Centre, the busiest retail mall in the country.

She explained: “When I first started renting out the selling point it was about 16m2 with proper furniture and a white floor – I wanted to rent out an actual shop but seeing as there were huge waiting lists for shops in good locations, the mall gave me the option to set up a selling point instead. The advantage of this type of store is that you are in the middle of the main hall and directly in people’s faces when they pass by, so it is easier to make eye contact rather than having to wait until someone steps into your shop.”

The spot has recently gone through a thorough makeover and now has three walls, a floor, a full set of furniture and a storage space. Perez added she was very lucky to get permission to expand the point as it is very unusual for selling spots to go through any detailed restructuring. A soothing hub of delicately enticing smells and shabby chic mint-coloured wallpaper and accessories, the look and feel of the spot are given top priority when it comes to making business.

“It is highly important that we generate a calm, relaxing atmosphere where people can just take in all the beautiful products and smells surrounding them; in fact, customers who come to the shop usually start out with comments similar to “is that wonderful smell coming from here?!”, she said. “I also found it very useful to have a sink in the shop so that people can really test our soaps, body scrubs and salts – when a customer feels the quality of Soap and More they become immediate fans.”

Launching her own private product label last year was the real turning point of her career

“I collaborated with chemists in a factory in Israel and we came up with the scents and textures of the products, always keeping in mind the Scandinavian weather and thus the skin problems people usually face there; the soaps were a bit of an experiment, we just kept trying out different things while always listening to customers and their feedback."

“As far as setting up a cosmetics company in Finland, all the products had to go through rigorous laboratory testing and I had to get a certificate which allowed me to sell cosmetics in Finland. This is basically a whole load of paperwork and health checks with the Finnish Health Department.”

Perez added that once all the bureaucratic requirements are settled, developing a private product label is not as complicated as one would imagine.

Running the actual business, however, is a whole different story

“When I hear other young people saying they want to become business owners or bosses of major multinationals it freaks me out, because running a business is a 24 hour job and a skill I am still learning to master; I have woken up plenty of times in the middle of the night because I suddenly remembered I had to send out an email and forgot. It is very hard, especially as I am the one who is now receiving phone calls from workers saying they have food poisoning conveniently on a Monday morning – nevertheless, although my job is tough, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Despite this being her first job, Perez has always been determined to build something for herself and become a real businesswoman, without being scared of asking advice to professionals of the trade. Not only is she loving every minute she spends at work while she learns more about her industry, but she also feels she has not missed out on much in terms of university life.

“University education is important, but I feel like I am living a university life in a more business kind of way, learning on the job", she said. “However I do sometimes wish I had studied or at least taken some kind of course before starting out as I am sure I would have saved myself a lot of trouble!”

Soap and More now sells a range of body lotions, scrubs, massage oils, body mists, perfumes, soaps (sold by the kg), bath bombs, foot salts and Reed diffusers. One of its most unique products is the Loofah Soap, a colorful and fragranced soap with a soft sponge centre in the middle.

Perez explained the idea of selling body cosmetics came about from its huge popularity in Israel: “Creams, soaps and generally anything that smells great is hugely popular and shopping malls around the country are packed with stores selling these types of products. In Finland, however, I have never seen anything like it, which is why I decided I wanted mine to be the first one; I have had a lot of people actually stop by the spot to tell me they had thought of a similar idea for a store, which only shows the difference between those who just have an idea and those who work hard and make it happen.”

Determined and driven, Perez has refined the style and the products of her shop according to customer needs, focusing greatly on scent and service as her unique selling points.

“I really believe that a person may not remember your name, who you are or what the shop actually looks like, but they will remember the feeling they had when they were in the shop. This is why it is very important for me that all the sales girls are extremely friendly and polite, making the customers feel relaxed and at ease.”

To help boost her sales, Perez attends as many fairs as possible, giving people the opportunity to try out the soaps and other products for themselves. She also organises for the distribution of fliers and free soap samples, as well as collecting customer phone numbers so she can text them with updates on new products and prices. Students also have a 10 per cent discount on all goods.

She added: “I am very lucky with the location of my spot as Kamppi Shopping Centre houses the metro station, long distance bus station and other transportation links, so many people pass by every day which in itself is advertising.”

The official opening ceremony for her new shop is due to take place next month, in perfect timing with her countdown to Christmas.

“Christmas is a great time for sales, as it is for all shops in general; I think the hardest time to sell is in February and March, when everyone has spent a lot of money on the Christmas sales. Nevertheless, business has been going well all year round and, fingers crossed, I haven’t really felt the recession.”

With a full on business still at its early stages, juggling her work and her social life is not always as easy as she had hoped. The biggest challenge yet is finding enough time during the day to do everything she plans.

“I really wish there were about 30 hours in a day as I feel like I’m always running around from one place to another; having this type of business makes it hard to be 21 and just chill out.”

Having recently begun selling wholesales, Perez plans to expand greatly in this area, with the aim of opening more shops around Scandinavia and the rest of Europe as well. It will take plenty of effort and hard work to reach her objectives, and a plenty of strong will to face up to those lazy workers on a Monday morning. Without doubts, she may need the help of a few bubble baths with her foot salts and body scrubs to relax in the evenings. After all, as she proudly puts it, at 21 she is her own boss - no one will yell at her if she is late for work the next day.

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