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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Guilted Into Blogging

Hello out there . . .  (ECHO--Echo--echo)

picture of the Grand Canyon

  It's me, I'm back.  It's been about a year since I last posted a blog entry.  I've started a few and never finished them.  Ever since opening the brick and mortar store I've been frantically juggling time.  There never seems to be enough time to get everything done.  The first year of running a store is a challenging one.  Lots to learn.  The first thing to fall by the wayside as I struggled to fit everything into a neat tidy 24 hours, was blogging.

  With all my new tasks and responsibilities running the store I don't get the chance to whittle away my hours doing all the fun things I used to blog about.  Gone are the hours devoted to writing my impressions on the nuances between Moroccan and Indian orange blossom complete with photos.  These days I spend my time training new employees, packing orders,  filling perfume bottles, entering wholesale orders into Quickbooks, unpacking supplies, explaining why our fragrances don't smell like Calvin Klein, booking events, mopping the floor, figuring out the monthly sales tax bill, decorating the store window, sourcing new packaging, dodging sales reps determined to sell me everything from office supplies to payroll services, teaching perfume classes, attending neighborhood small business association meetings, and occasionally working on a new perfume and/or product.  Sigh.  See what I mean?  How dreadfully boring, right?  Nobody wants to read about the drudgery involved in my everyday life.  And this combined with my lack of time is exactly why I haven't been blogging.

Last month I taught a weekend long natural perfumery course.  The attendees were some of the brightest, nicest and most passionate I've encountered.  I really love meeting these kindred spirits who have such a yen for perfumery.  At some point during the weekend, as we sat around the table the topic of blogging came up.  One student exclaimed, "I love reading your blog!"

"Yeah, me too.  How come you never write anymore?" another questioned.  I was surprised and unprepared for the question.

"I, ahh--I just never seem to have the time anymore," I blurted out.

"I really wish you would start writing again.  I really liked to hear about what you were doing."  To say I was touched and surprised would be putting it mildly.

So here I am.  One lapsed year of blogging.  Trying to write again.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Buy Baby Buy - Spend Baby Spend: Stage 2 of Launching a Retail Business

Dear Reader,

Here Lies Charna Ethier.  We find her lying on the floor of her soon to be open commercial space, with blistered fingers, muttering something that sounds like garbled Swedish: "Klingsbo! #@% What the?  Tjusig! Allen wrench . . . aargh!"

The past two weeks have been spent building IKEA display units, hanging blinds, installing lighting fixtures, and reading instruction manuals.

The cash register has been delivered.  The phone and internet have been installed and turned on.  You promptly realize the internet has been installed in the wrong location as the new cash register from square must plug directly into the modem.  Sigh.

The new stool that should have been so easy to put together . . . well not so easy.  It comes in four pieces--should be easy breezy right?--has taken two hours to put together.  You promptly realize it's too short.  When you sit on your stool behind the cash wrap your neck is waist high to the customer on the other side.  Creepy.  You are so tired you decide to keep the stool.

An enormous amount of tools are needed.  Wire strippers, hammers, levels, drills, industrial strength velcro (more on this later.)  I have realized one important concept, it IS possible to build a retail space on a budget but it involves lots and lots of time and sweat equity.

Howdy Home Depot

Lighting is one of the most important aspects of retail.  Instead of boring you with the details of my complicated track lighting purchase (suffice to say I decided on LED track lighting which costs more initially but is eco-friendly and energy efficient) I shall regale you with a more glamourous lighting purchase: the chandeliers.  I found an incredible deal online for a stunning chandelier.  I had looked at the very same chandelier in a local lighting shop and found it for hundreds of dollars less online at  Now, I knew there would be some assembly involved with the online chandelier as a local lighting shop explained that they only sold the chandeliers assembled and that they charged a few hundred additional dollars to do so.  Being the frugal shopper that I am, I decided I would order the chandelier online and assemble it myself.

LED track lights installed
Purple crystal chandelier over cash wrap

The good news: the chandeliers arrived in perfect condition!  The bad news: perfect, unbroken 985 piece condition!  The chandeliers also had to be wired and the instruction were not printed in English.  This required stripping the wires as carefully as possible to avoid breaking the fragile glass arms and connecting all the left wires together and all the right wires together.  Luckily my husband Dan did this for me.  Side note: I did initially start to try and strip the chandelier wires, hitch them together, cap them etc. but my husband stared at me, snorted and commented, "Wow Charna.  You look like you're playing the game OPERATION.  Your hands are shaking.  You know there's no electricity actually connected to the chandelier, right?  Just pass me the wire strippers."  Score!

Next the chandeliers had to be hung (again I happily opted out of this process.)  Finally all 900 little crystals had to be hung on the chandelier, along with strings of crystals.  I was on my own for the final step.  The clasp on each crystal had to be individually pried open with needle nose pliers, hung and squeezed closed.  This took seven hours.  Seven hours of sitting on top of a ladder, connecting strands of crystals, counting each bead to make sure all the strands were even, adding little metal jump rings, prying the metal rings apart with pliers and attaching them equally along the arms of the chandelier.

The final result is pictured below and no matter what anyone says, I will swear it's the best looking "snow white" chandelier I've ever seen as I devoted an entire day of my life to assembling it.

Snow White Chandelier

I contacted a few local sign makers for quotes for an outdoor hanging sign.  In the process I learned more about carved signs than I ever imagined.  I discovered that Mahogany is the only type of wood that should be used for a sturdy outdoor hanging sign as it is most impervious to the elements.  I learned of smaltzing, a process of using ground glass paint that resists sun fading.  I learned red, blue and consequently purple colors fade the most quickly on outdoor signs.  I learned that while gold leafing is very popular on carved wooden signs, silver leafing is not recommended as it will tarnish outdoors quickly.  I learned that carved wooden signs are very expensive.  I learned that I could not afford a carved wooden sign.

I ended up ordering a sign that is not made from wood but looks like a carved wooden sign.  This type of hanging sign costs almost half of what a mahogany wood sign retails for.  The sign I've ordered is a 3 foot circular purple sign with my logo printed in silver (but not silver leaf.)  I found it interesting when looking for signage that there are few options in the middle price range.  It seems you spring for an expensive sign or your other options are few and far between, such as a plastic banner.

Outdoor hanging sign ordered and due to be delivered in a few weeks, I proceeded to have window laminates made as the shop is on a busy street and the sign may not be visible while driving as it hangs perpendicular to the street.  The window stickers were hung as soon as they were printed as I worried about having deliveries made to the new shop with no signage.  Once the window stickers were in place I felt a huge sense of euphoria.  The shop felt tangible.  I'm embarrassed to admit I teared up for a moment and hugged the sweet grandfatherly Italian sign maker causing him to blush.  My logo in the window!  I felt such a sense of accomplishment.  I am here!

sweet sign maker posting hours on the front door

silver window laminates pre-installation

applying the front picture window

Here are the shop windows from outside:

After the window stickers were applied I promptly covered the windows with paper, so the mess inside wouldn't be visible from the street.  Once or twice I forgot to lock the front door after receiving a delivery, and people would walk into the shop which was alarming.  I realized quickly I needed to make it clear we weren't open yet and hide the construction inside.

My next step was to finish buying, moving and assembling the furniture.  I decided on a white somewhat modern style.  Having a single color palette made things easier for me.  The bulk of the displays were purchased at Ikea and we visited often enough that the kids developed a fondness for elderflower juice and cinnamon buns the size of their heads.  I knew I was in trouble when I stopped getting lost in Ikea.  After providing particularly helpful directions to a couple seeking discounted Expedit bookshelves, I realized I needed to leave Ikea and not return for some time.

Next installment: "Finishing Up, Why Having A Flexible Launch Date is Important" otherwise entitled "You Didn't Actually Think You Would Open On Time Did You?"

Click here to visit our website.

Monday, March 18, 2013

From E-Commerce to Brick and Mortar: A Perfumer's Journey

You are ecstatic!  You are thrilled!  You are excited!

You are nervous.  You are stressed.  You are on a budget.

You are opening a retail store.

Yes, that's right.  After years of dreaming of owning my own retail store, I've taken the leap and signed a lease.  I thought I might document the process of getting the perfumery up and running here on my blog.  (While I have a blog built into my website at , I choose to keep this blogger account for a more personal narrative.  Here, I might describe my initial disastrous attempts at candle making whereas I may not want to post such -ahem- forthright information on my website.)

Perhaps my process it would be helpful to others contemplating opening a retail store.  Maybe it would be funny to look back on years from now and see how many mistakes I made or how naive I was.  One thing is certain, it will be an honest account of a small business owner opening a brick and mortar store on a budget.  Incidentally the words budget and launching a retail shop are oxymoron's--more on this later.

What facilitated this leap of faith foray into retailing?  To start, I was outgrowing the small studio where I created my fragrances.  My studio space was feeling tight.  With each new account opened, the space I needed to create, produce, package and ship my wares seemed to get larger, while the square footage available seemed to diminish.  Scrambling to find space to teach perfumery classes was a challenge.  Each time the phone rang asking where my "store" was located, every email asking for directions to my physical shop caused me pain as I would direct customers to local wholesale accounts and wish I could direct them to my own brick and mortar shop.

While I built my business on an e-commerce platform, I desired a little shop of my own filled with amazing things to sniff.  A studio space.  A classroom space.  A shipping and receiving area.  I began perusing commercial real estate listings, checking craigslist every week, driving slowly up and down streets I thought might be ideal for my perfumery looking for vacancies.  When I saw an established high end perfume boutique on the east side of Providence was closing it's doors, I pounced.  The shop was located in one of my ideal "targeted" neighborhoods, was walking distance from Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design, and was located on a street known for it's artsy Mom and Pop type shops.  The landlord hadn't even posted the commercial listing when I called to inquire about renting the space.

Coming Soon: Providence Perfume Co.!


When speaking with the realty company that owned the space I wanted to rent, I discovered that they wanted me to sign a five year lease.  Uncomfortable realization #1.  Despite having looked at numerous properties over the years and discussing leasing terms, I was unprepared for such a long term lease.  I back peddled quickly, and after an awkward moment or two on the phone they seemed open to making the lease slightly shorter.  There is something incredibly heavy about committing to a five year lease.  I felt as though I were signing away five years of my life.  It made me realize that I was undertaking a very serious long term commitment.  While I had always envisioned running the shop for many years--maybe even until I retired--I was worried about failure.  What if I worked as hard as I could and I failed?  What if I didn't turn a profit?  What would happen if I couldn't pay the rent?  I had been working towards obtaining this shop for years.  Having my own store had been my dream since I was a child.  I suddenly realized I was really and truly committing myself to my dream, it was actually coming TRUE . . . and I was a tiny bit TERRIFIED.

Over subsequent meetings with the owner of the property, I was able to negotiate the rent down a couple of hundred dollars to a slightly more comfortable monthly rent.  The lease was drawn up for three year commitment.  I then requested that they add the option of me continuing the lease for two additional years at a $50 per month rent increase for years four and five.  That way, if all was going well I wouldn't suddenly be hit with a large monthly rent increase when a new lease was drawn up if I wanted to keep the shop at it's current location after the third year.

There was one clause in the lease that was confusing and it involved a percentage of property tax that I was required to pay beyond my monthly rent.  Uncomfortable realization #2.  The portion of the property tax I was required to pay was 20% and it was steep.  After speaking at length with the real estate manager I discovered that the tax was currently built into my rent, and I would only pay an increase if the property taxes on the building went up after my base year.  Even if the property tax increased $5,000 on the entire building (which was excessively high and had never happened historically according to my agent) my portion would be 20% of the $5,000 split over 12 months and equaled approximately $83 more per month.  Sigh.

After going over every bit of the lease, I signed.  I knew who was responsible for the trash (them) and who was responsible for the landscaping outside the building (me.)  I had one off street parking spot (imperative in the city) and a start date: April 1st, 2013.  I tried to ignore the ominous whispers in my head about a start date that landed on April Fools Day.


The commercial space is about 800 square feet, and a little choppy.  See floor plan:

Shop Floor Plan

As you can see, there are five rooms.  One main showroom as you walk into the shop, One secondary room, a third room labelled "changing area" and a small kitchenette and bathroom.  I was thrilled there is a very small patio on the back with a cherry tree.  I've decided to use the room labelled "changing area" as an office and shipping station.  The other two rooms will serve as retail and classroom space for teaching perfumery classes.  The building is over 100 years old and part of the original foundation runs the length of the shop.  It resembles a stone wall about knee height running the length of the showroom.  While unique and original to the property, it represents some challenges with setting up displays and/or fixtures against the stone wall.

I requested the inside be painted white and outside purple to match my company colors.  Here's a few pictures of the carpentry chaos going on inside of the shop:

The office

yes, that's a toilet in the middle of the floor

front showroom, see the original foundation wall

In my next installment, I'll describe my foray into display shopping, having signage created and why my answer to all questions regarding the style of shop furnishings is "Swedish Modern."  (That's an IKEA joke people!)

Click here to visit the Providence Perfume Company website.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Adventures in Natural Candle Making

By Charna Ethier from Providence Perfume Co, we make 100% natural perfumes.

When I decided I wanted to create a few naturally scented candles for the holidays I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  I expected my foray into candle making to be fun and somewhat challenging.  A little bit or trial and error I thought.  I thought wrong.

Being a natural perfumer I knew I wanted to create naturally scented candles.  I wanted to use essential oils and floral waxes to scent the candles.  I knew I would have an uphill battle in getting the candles to "throw" scent using no fragrance oils.  In addition I wanted to use soy or beeswax to create the candles as eco-friendly as possible. I also wanted the candles to smell amazing.  I have yet to piece all three aspects into a wildly successful BURNING candle.  

I'm going to break my candle making process into four main components: Wax, Wick, Scent, Burn.

WAX: ah, the controversy!  

  • Soy wax is considered eco-friendly, burns cleanly but is apparently made from genetically modified soybeans. Thanks Monsanto!  Soy wax is considered one of the most difficult waxes to pour with and apparently many "newbies" to candle making become frustrated with soy wax as using it can require multiple pours and little aroma.  In my experience soy wax also produces the least scent throw of all waxes.  It literally swallows up essential oils.  And, if you add too much fragrance--watch out!  (More on this later.)
  • Paraffin wax is created from petroleum distillation.  Bad for the environment and does not burn cleanly.  It holds lots of fragrance and throws scent very well.  Damn you paraffin!
  • Cream wax is a version of paraffin wax that possesses a creamy texture, is very easy to use, typically requires one pour and holds the most amount of fragrance.  I believe cream wax is often used in many high priced designer candles that I seem to be attracted to.  Candles that cost more than a good bottle of wine.  These candles have a very soft consistency and can permeate an entire room quickly with fragrance.  Too bad this wax is paraffin based.
  • Beeswax is the most expensive wax, priced at about $10.00 per pound.  FYI, 1 pound of wax will typically fill one-two large size candleholders.  Beeswax can be bought yellow/golden and unfiltered possessing an amazing honeyed beeswax aroma or processed and bleached white.  Beeswax candles burn forever!  Beeswax seems to be able to hold a good amount of fragrance but seems to have trouble "throwing" the scent.  Beeswax candles possess a very hard wax consistency and burn the longest in my experience.
I ordered bags of four different types of soy wax.  From Cargill's Nature Wax to Golden Foods 444.  Two additional soy waxes that were recommended to me were Soy-125 and Soy-135.  After working with them I noticed . . . nothing.  Umm, seriously I couldn't tell the difference between them.  I tried to note if one type of wax burned longer than another or if one wax seemed to hold or throw fragrance better and, I really could not detect differences between them--but don't forget I'm a novice.  To my eye, no wax seemed to leap out as being better than the rest.  (It didn't help that I was constantly changing the fragrances of the candles from batch to batch.)

After my experiments with soy and beeswax, I decided to work with mixing the two.  The difficulty came in what proportion to mix the beeswax and soy wax.  After some experimentation, I think I like 3/4 soy and 1/4 beeswax or even 2/3 soy to 1/3 beeswax.  The small amount of beeswax allows the candle to burn longer, imparts a slight honeyed aroma and increases the amount of fragrance load one can add to the wax.

WICK: the most important part of creating a successful candle.  Who knew?  Alas, not me :) I'd like to thank Nikki Sherritt of Gabriel's Aunt for all her assistance.  Nikki is the owner of a successful natural candle line called Gabriel's Aunt. I've sampled her candles and found them to be top of the line.  I booked a consultation with Nikki last year to discuss candle making and quickly realized I might be over my head.  While making candles may not seem difficult, it is difficult to create naturally scented candles that burn well and smell good and Nikki is an expert.  She stressed the importance of finding the correct wick, experimentation, and sticking with the same size container.  

Side note - I consider Nikki a friend.  She is such a doll that she recently fielded a phone call from me that went something like this: 

"Hi Charna.  Yes, I got the text with the pictures you sent of your candles.  Um, well I wouldn't call them Frankenstein candles, but ah maybe they cooled too quickly? 
Me (sullen) 
"They're MONSTER candles!  Admit it.  Hey, what's that noise?"

"That's a tow truck.  I'm on the side of the road.  My truck just broke down."

Me (embarassed) 
"Oh, sorry Nikki. I'll let you go.  Ah, good luck with your wedding next week?"

Scene ends with Charna realizing that Nikki is indeed a saint and Charna is indeed neurotic.

Back to wicks.  Wick size is chosen based on the diameter of the candle, along with the type of wax used.  Thus far, my favorite wick for soy and wax candles in glass jars measuring about 3 inches across is RRD-47 or RRD-55 from  Did I mention that candle making was more difficult than I anticipated?

One tip I discovered along the way is to use a slightly larger than average wick when creating candles made with soy and or beeswax.  The larger thicker wick seems to burn better in bee/soy and create a larger pool of wax increasing scent throw.  Is it just me or is this candle making endeavor becoming more complex by the minute?

SCENT: sigh.  A general rule of thumb is to add one ounce fragrance per pound of wax.  These guidelines are for fragrance oils which is where it gets complicated.  Weighing your ingredients, just as with making perfume is advisable.  Some waxes are able to hold more scent, some less.  I like to add as much aroma as possible but am still not thrilled with the amount of fragrance my candles possess.  If you add too much fragrance the candle will not burn.  Take it from me and don't try to add anything thick like benzoin or labdanum.  The candle smelled INCREDIBLE.  The candle did not burn.  Not one bit.

Beware the dreaded citronella complex.  The citronella complex occurs when you add a variety of lemony or spicy essential oils to the wax.  The aim is sophisticated freshness.  The result is Walmart tikki torch.  As your spiced citrus scented candle cools, it smells wonderful.  Enjoy these fifteen minutes or so of pleasant aroma as they will be your last.  Beware the lighting of the candle the next day as you will smell the repellant aroma of citronella somehow wafting from your candle made with any of the following oils: coriander, black pepper, juniper, litsea cubeba, ginger, bitter orange.  You have just created a very expensive citronella-like bug repellant candle.  Sad times.

I'm still experimenting with adding floral waxes to the candles.  It seems to be the only economical way to add faint floral aromas to the candle.  It would be cost prohibitive to add rose or jasmine as they are so incredibly expensive, but high quality floral waxes add a soft roundness to candle aroma.  More on this another time.

BURN: As I've mentioned earlier the type of wax and wick one chooses for their candle has a great deal to do with how long the candle burns.  The container or candle holder also determines candle burn time and success rate.  I am only experimenting with container candles, so I can only speak on my experiences with this type of candle.  I've noted that candle containers that are tall and skinny (like the candles with saints and religious vows printed on them) are harder to master.  Candle holders that are short cylinders or have a wide mouth seem a bit easier to burn.  I've wondered how accurately one can record burn times of candles?  Will I have to burn the candle in four hour intervals to accurately gauge how long the candle will burn for?

I can recommend sticking with one type of container for experiments with candle making.  Each time you change the candle holder, you must change the wick and some waxes and wicks work better in different styles of containers.  To cut down on the confusion, I've found sticking with one container is best.  I'm currently working on mastering one scent, with one wick in one container.

Wish me luck.  Oh, and if anyone's interested in purchasing some overpriced citronella scented candles, let me know.

p.s. the talented Marla Bosworth also provided assistance in my candle making.  I think I may be a lost cause.

Charna also makes natural perfumes, her company is Providence Perfume Co.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Unsolicited Advice is . . . unsolicited

 By Charna, Providence Perfume Co - 100% all natural perfume

"You should try and make your perfume's lighter.  They smell too old-ladyish."

"You know what your next fragrance should be called?  Xylophone!"

"I wish that you would make something that smelled more like perfume X."

"I wish you would make something that smelled less like perfume X."

"Are you that lady that makes all natural perfumes?  What do you have that smells like Tommy Hilfiger?"

"Are you wearing one of these perfumes that you made?  I'd like to smell it on you.  Maybe on your neck?  Are you single?"

"Why don't you try selling your perfumes at farmers markets or craft shows?"

"You should make your perfumes cheaper."

"I don't like natural perfumes.  Why can't you make something that smells like perfume X?"

"I wish you would make your perfumes lighter.  They're too strong for me.  Why don't you make a light pretty perfume?"

"I wish your perfumes lasted longer.  They fade too fast.  Have you considered making them stronger?  When I wear Curious, by Britney Spears it lasts all day!"

I've heard (or overheard) all the following comments in the past month.  Being a micro business owner requires a thick skin.  If someone doesn't like your logo or your labels or your product or your website the blame falls squarely on your shoulders.  There's no blaming Ted in accounting for a clerical error.  All business decisions are made by you.  When people offer you their sincere unsolicited advice on your business it's hard not to be offended, especially when they're criticizing something you've created.  Something that speaks to you.  Something you've toiled over and offered up on a silver platter.

And therein lies the dilemma!  It can be hard to separate ourselves from our product.  I remind myself that there is no pleasing everyone.  I do appreciate feedback, but in the end I make my own choices.  I put my head down and stick to my guns.  I try and trust my intuition and remind myself that it's gotten me this far.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Win a free bottle of Providence Perfume's DIVINE NOIR perfume!

Our newest perfume Divine Noir has launched to critical acclaim!  Check out the review of Divine Noir on Ca Fleure Bon and enter to win a FREE 1 ounce bottle of the vintage inspired Divine Noir perfume (retail value $115.00)

Enter a comment at: for a chance to win.

Hurry--the contest ends tomorrow night: Tuesday evening August 14th.  A winner will be chosen on Wednesday August 15th.

Divine Noir natural eau de parfum

Monday, August 6, 2012

Providence Perfume Co. Launches New Scent: Divine Noir

Providence Perfume Co. Debuts Divine Noir Eau de Parfum

Vintage Inspired 100% Natural Perfume

PROVIDENCE, RI, August 04, 2012 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Providence Perfume Co. will debut their new all natural perfume DIVINE NOIR on August 7th.

The fragrance Divine Noir is a darker foil to the natural perfumery's popular orange blossom scent Divine. Divine eau de parfum, composed by perfumer Charna Ethier is an ode to a glamorous friend who is never without her red lipstick. Divine Noir is a deeper, richer interpretation of the original Divine fragrance. Divine Noir is the little black dress worn after dark.

"My Grandmother's dressing table, with its ever present bottle of Youth Dew perfume captivated me as a child. What mystery that dark perfume held! The deep brown liquid evoked glamour and drama. Without even smelling the perfume, there was an anticipation of enigmatic elegance. In composing Divine Noir, I wanted to capture the sensuality and style of a bygone era using luxurious natural ingredients," Charna Ethier explains.

Ms. Ethier created a dark Madagascar vanilla bean tincture, and built an interesting rootbeer like accord with the addition of sarsaparilla, aged patchouli and liberal amounts of oakmoss into the composition.

Top Notes: bitter orange, coriander, bergamot
Heart Notes: orange blossom, neroli, jasmine grandiflorum, rose absolue
Base Notes: oakmoss, angelica, vanilla bean, elemi, aged patchouli

Divine Noir eau de parfum will be available online at and at select stockists beginning August 7, 2012.

Providence Perfume Co. is an independent 100% natural perfumery devoted to creating artisan perfumes utilizing the finest essences available. Perfumes are hand blended by perfumer Charna Ethier who has garnered global recognition for her innovative natural fragrances.

To learn more, visit or call 401-256-8272. Please contact Charna at Providence Perfume Co.: