Spokane Journal of Business

Lotions, potions, earthy notions

Lotions & Potions

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Lotions & Potions, it might be argued, is part of the lasting progeny of Spokanes environmentally themed Expo 74 worlds fair.

Owner Lara Hollingshead started the skin-care-and-bath-products business in a tiny space in the rejuvenated Flour Mill the same year the fair was held in adjacent Riverfront Park. The timing was coincidental but fortuitious, given the businesss focus on selling biodegradable, ecologically friendly, and cruelty-free products.

We had lots of Expo visitors think we were part of the fair, Hollingshead says.

The fair and its lofty focus have faded largely into memory in the years since then, but Lotions & Potions has carried on, expanding to three stores and 13 employees, not including the owner, while maintaining the same standards for the products it offers.

Were still very interested in being environmentally friendly. Its still a main focus for us, Hollingshead says, adding that she refuses to sell any products that she knows have been tested on animals.

The Spokane-based enterprise sells a wide array of lotions, soaps, gels, shampoos, conditioners, body sprays, and massage and bath oils made by popular suppliers such as Crabtree & Evelyn, Caswell-Massey, and Camille Beckman.

Its best known, however, for its custom blending, which involves adding one or more essential oils or perfume oils to unscented lotions, shampoos, and so on to create a desired fragrance. Customers can buy anything from knockoffs of such popular designer fragrances as Poison, Obsession, Opium, White Shoulders, and Chanel No. 5, which Hollingshead says are designed to complement the actual perfume, to one-of-a-kind scents created from their own recipes.

We have probably 100 scents, but the potential is much greater than that because you can blend scents together to come up with your own scent, she says. Customers have fun making up names for them, some of which we cant repeat.

Lotions & Potions keeps its customers personal recipes on file and regards them as secret. If someone asks to buy a custom-blended fragrance that he or she smelled on another Lotions & Potions customer, We will scent it (create it using the same oils), but we wont tell them whats in it, Hollingshead says.

The perfume oils that the Lotions & Potions stores carry include everything from basic fruit and flower scents such as apricot, strawberry, hibiscus, and honeysuckle to special scents and custom blends that go by such names as Aphrodite, Purple Rain, Quiet, South China Sea, and Summer Love.

Prices range from $4.95 for a 4-ounce bottle of scented lotion to $30 to $40 for some upper-end brand name products, such as perfumes made by Crabtree & Evelyn.

To promote its custom blends, Lotions & Potions offers a 20 percent discount every Tuesday on all products bearing its own label. Regular customers typically bring their empty containers in on that day for refills and receive an additional discount because the store is not having to provide them with new containers, Hollingshead says.

In addition to its individually priced items, Lotions & Potions sells custom gift baskets, which can range in price from $5 to $250 and include any mix of products from its inventory that a customer desires.

Lotions & Potions downtown store, located in a 550-square-foot space on the skywalk level of Old City Hall, at 221 N. Wall, above the Olive Garden restaurant, is organized neatly into sections to make it convenient for customers of both sexes and all ages. For example, it includes infants, childrens, and mens product displays, as well as areas devoted to each of the major brands that the store carries, which also include Thymes Limited, Kama Sutra, and Yankee Candles.

All of the stores have a similar inventory mix, but, Each store has a different clientele, so inventory quantities in some areas vary, Hollingshead says.

Lotions & Potions 850-square-foot store in the Plaza Shops at the Coeur dAlene Resort, for example, has a strong family clientele, so the infants and childrens areas do particularly well there, she says. Its 1,000-square-foot store in the Spokane Valley Mall tends to draw more young adults, and the downtown store attracts generally older customers, she says.

Hollingshead and her husband, David, who is general manager of the Coeur dAlene Summer Theatre, moved to Spokane from Oakland, Calif., in 1972, two years before she launched Lotions & Potions.

She says she developed an interest in skin care and bath products while living in the San Francisco Bay Area after her husband began bringing home locally made bath products to her as gifts. She says he would buy the products from a chemist who owned a small retail shop in Berkeley, near where her husband worked, and who later encouraged her to open her own shop.

He knew we were moving to an area that didnt have anything like that, Hollingshead recalls. She says the chemist offered advice on products she should carry, such as glycerine soaps, bubble baths, lotions, and protein shampoo.

With the opening of her tiny 125-square-foot store in the Flour Mill here, she says, I think we were a little ahead of our time because we had a lot of herbal things, which later became a big market segment. The market demand for herbal shampoos and formulas eventually waned, but has begun to pick back up again, she says.

Hollingshead moved her store to larger quarters in the Flour Mill as its customer base grew, then moved it to River Park Square in 1986, where it flourished for many years, and opened the Coeur dAlene store in 1991.

Her business enterprise went through perhaps its most hectic period, though, from the fall of 1997 to the fall of 1999. During that two-year stretch, she opened the Valley store, moved the Coeur dAlene store to a larger, more prominent space in the resort plaza, and moved the downtown Spokane store to its current location after being unable to agree on a new lease in the renovated River Park Square.

That flurry of change hasnt come without some pain, she says.

I feel like were rebuilding from all these moves. When you moveeven a comparative short distanceits like starting all over again, Hollingshead contends. Ive had to batten down the hatches and keep things really monitored.

Increased competition in the skin-care-and-bath-products business here also has added to her management challenges, she says. Nevertheless, pondering where her business is headed, she speaks with the bubbly outlook befitting an entrepreneur whose business has survived nearly three decades of change.

Its building and growing, she says determinedly. All three stores are starting to really get their foot in the door again.

Kim Crompton
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