Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series and our ongoing COVID-19 coverage. If you have a story of how the community is responding to the pandemic please let us know here.
Experts in the business sector likely would have discouraged Tasia Richardson from launching a new business in the midst of a global pandemic.
But, the 20-year-old Battle Creek resident says she knew in heart that it was the right time and on April 27 she opened up Eunique Kisses, a line of lip glosses that are adding some much-needed shine in these unusual times and giving people a lot to smile about.
“I have always loved lip gloss, but I didn’t think any of the ones being sold had any benefits to them so I did some research into it and once I knew I could make it and sell it on my own, I got started,” Richardson says. “I thought, ‘I’m just going to go for it.’ I didn’t want to just sit on the idea and I didn’t want someone else to do it first.”
Phil Waller, an independent consultant in Battle Creek who helps people start businesses, says starting a business is always going to be a risky endeavor because of what it takes to sustain it.
Tasia Richardson has started her own lip gloss business while she is a fulltime student at Western Michigan University.
“Anytime you’re spending time and resources you’re taking a risk. The amount of risk you’re willing to take is the amount of risk aversion you’re willing to take based on your economic situation,” Waller says. “I think people who are not in a strong economic situation may think about starting a business as a way to create an extra income generating stream.
“You always want to have five pots boiling at once. She (Richardson) isn’t putting everything into this one basket.”
A student at Western Michigan University, Richardson works a full-time summer job with the Kellogg Co. as a production worker. She is there from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays and works second shift on weekends. During the school year she gives tours at WMU where she is majoring in Criminal Justice with a minor in Sign Language. Although she still has an apartment in Kalamazoo, she is currently living with her parents because she doesn’t want to be late for work Kellogg.
“I’ve always known about the importance of having multiple income sources and how helpful that is during college and during a time like this I’ve realized how helpful that can be,” Richardson says.
“I always wanted to have my own business, but I wasn’t sure what that would be and I had no idea where I would start or what I wanted to sell.”
Richardson could be considered part of a larger trend. According to a report from Guidant Financial
that looks at 2020 trends for black entrepreneurs, more African Americans are going into business for themselves because they’re ready to be their own boss.
The pre-pandemic report was the result of a survey that found that with 34 percent of responses, “ready to be my own boss” is the top motivation for black small business owners, a 25 percent increase in that response year-over-year.
“Wanted to pursue my passion” remains the second most popular reason to start a business from the previous year. Twenty-one percent more small business or franchise owners were motivated by dissatisfaction with corporate America than they were last year, making it the third most common response.
Black businesses vary widely by industry. The top industry is business services, with 20 percent of survey respondents owning a business in this industry. The second, third, and fourth most popular industries are all tied at nine percent each: retail; health, beauty, and fitness services; and food and restaurant. The fifth most popular industry for black business owners is construction and contracting, at eight percent.
Becoming an Entrepreneur
Richardson says she started thinking seriously about lip gloss because she’s always been passionate about it and was never able to find anything that would keep her lips moist and healthy. Her research convinced her to give it a try. She launched a business that is named for her great-grandmother whose first name was Eunice. Richardson’s middle name is Eunique, a play on Eunice.
When the pandemic spread to the United States Richardson says it was a tough time for everybody. A lot of people felt stuck. She says she wanted to flip her own narrative, though she was a little nervous about embarking on a new business.
“I had all of the time to actually sit and have it organized and done right. School was online at that point and I didn’t want to rush into the business,” Richardson says.
She located a vendor who would sell her the base ingredients for her lip gloss brand. She adds in a blend of ingredients that include Vitamin E and Argan Oil. Hers is a proprietary recipe designed to seal moisture into the lips. She also adds rose petals and hemp oil which is infused into some of the lip glosses she sells online through her website
“It’s my secret formula, but the vitamin E and argan oil are the two main oils that I use,” she says. “I wanted to use oils that are good for the lips. I did a lot of research on the benefits of oils and vitamins and how they affect your lips. There was a lot of information about the benefits of vitamin E and argan oil.”
Her research also included tracking down instructions for getting the lip gloss into tubes with wand applicators. She wanted to create something that looked a bit more upscale than the lip gloss sold in squeeze tubes.
She relied on friends to give her feedback on the tube designs she developed pre-product launch. Their overwhelming favorite was a gold tube with an intricate raised dot pattern and a wand handle resembling a crown.
“It was a lot of trial and error and my mom and dad helped out when they could,” Richardson says.
From 4 p.m. to midnight on weekdays and for several hours on weekends, Richardson can be found at her parent’s home mixing the ingredients for her lip gloss and filling tubes. Her father, who owns a barbershop in Battle Creek, helps her with marketing and customer service, and both he and her mother help with packaging and labeling.
It took her five hours to fill the inaugural batch of 40 lip glosses. Within one hour of posting photos of the lip glosses on her website, she had more than 100 “shares” and sold out of that initial inventory.
“It surprised me and it was overwhelming because I really didn’t know what was going to happen,” she says. “It gave me a lot of confidence.”
The success of that first launch has resulted in the production of more than 170 lip glosses. All of them have sold out almost immediately each time she has posted that she is offering new inventory. She's also added different packaging designs, including one that looks like a popsicle stick for a line of children’s lip glosses she has since launched.
Richardson is growing the children’s lip glosses line, which also includes a blend of her proprietary ingredients and containers resembling pencils and lollipops. Adult customers are buying these for themselves because of the whimsical designs, she says.
“Once I saw how well it went I came up with other ideas,” Richardson says.
The Journey to Success
Waller says he advises people to take an incremental approach when starting a business.
“Every entrepreneur thinks that their next idea is the best idea anyone’s ever had and that it will work,” he says. “A lot of people put their life savings into that one. Not relying on this thing to be your full source of income allows you some creativity and flexibility about how to start a business.
“The pain point is about trying to solve a problem and developing a better product or service versus putting food on the table.”
While COVID-19 has created major changes in a number of business sectors and forced many business owners and service providers to take stock of how their lives have been changed, it also has encouraged them to recognize business opportunities in what they identify as problems to be solved. Waller cites examples such as a key chain made of an ionized metal that kills viruses and also has a hook designed to open a door without touching the door itself. On a more local level, EatsBC, Battle Creek’s version of Grubhub, has launched.
But, there are also people who are involved in unregistered and informal businesses such as meal preparation for someone who has to work from home and has children to take care of.
“It’s more of a look around and you see what’s different now and you try to be the first person to take advantage of it,” Waller says.
Lately, he’s seeing more people in Battle Creek who have existing businesses and want to know what they can do to save that business or adapt. “These are the more common questions I’m seeing in Battle Creek.”
He says he knows of personal trainers who are trying to create digital workout series and restaurant owners who are trying to figure out a workable delivery service.
Richardson says she is simply focusing on making enough of her lip glosses to keep up with the demand. She has no plans to scale up her production and plans to continue the business post-college “as long as it stays consistent.”
Although she currently has no plans to expand beyond lip gloss or make any other wholesale changes to her business operations, she is thinking about hiring an assistant to help her keep up with orders that are coming in at a faster rate than she anticipated when she launched her business. She has shipped her product to customers in locales including Atlanta, Houston, and cities in Ohio and she says many people order multiples.
“That’s the best part. The most challenging part has been staying on top and having so many different orders to fill,” Richardson says. “I am also doing custom orders because a lot of adults are asking about the kid’s tubes.
“I use the maximum amount of glitter and clear gloss for my kids' gloss. I call it a Glossicle and that one is selling the most.”
The lip glosses sell for between $5 and $7 each depending on the infusions they contain.
“I always try to tell my customers that I’m so appreciative that people spend their money with me at times like this,” Richardson says. “Every day I’m grateful because I know they really could spend their money anywhere.”
She says she also is grateful for the support she gets from family and friends.
“I definitely know I have what it takes and the rest kind of just comes with it,” Richardson says. “But, I really want people to know how grateful I am for their support.”