In 2018, sisters Astrid and Katherine Lentino launched Inspiration Design Lab after searching for a business idea that would be an outlet for their creativity. They wanted to sell all-natural products that would bring happiness to people and were good for their health, without doing harm to the environment.
“In learning about soy candles, we found a very big opportunity and we developed a product line. Now we have is a company in Colombia and a company in Miami,” Astrid said. Astrid’s husband, Gustavo Grosso, joined the business to oversee finance, while Astrid oversees operations as well as sales and marketing and Katherine oversees the Colombian business (all three business owners are Colombian) as well as product research.
Now the company offers a whole line of aromatherapy products, the bigger part of their retail business, but soy candles sell well and make “very special gifts,” Astrid said. In addition to selling to consumers, the company creates candles for other businesses with their company branding, if they desire.
Before the pandemic, Inspiration Design Lab’s Etsy site was just a “nice to have” and the founders didn’t really put much time into it. After all, Inspiration Design Lab was selling its products briskly in the Aventura Mall’s market and to spas. But the pandemic changed everything in an instant.
As sales initially plunged, the business owners knew they had to rev up their online sales to consumers, and Astrid turned to two organizations for help. Prospera helped Inspiration Design Lab with marketing and a new brochure. But the small business also needed a new strategy for “the new normal” it faced.
Design Lab was referred by Prospera to FSBDC at FIU for further assistance under a joint project supported by the Miami Foundation’s Building Prosperity Initiative. FSBDC at FIU, the small business development center within the College of Business, offers no-cost consulting to small businesses in Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties, as well as trainings and webinars.
That’s where Florida SBDC at Florida International University, the small business development center within the university’s College of Business, comes in. FSBDC at FIU offers no-cost business consulting to small businesses in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, as well as training sessions and webinars.
FSBDC at FIU’s team helped Astrid secure a U.S. Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), which helped the business recover from some of its losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The team also helped Astrid with website improvements and revamping her Etsy site, and for moving forward, FSBDC at FIU’s business consultant Adriana Madrinan assisted Astrid with developing a new strategy.
With Madrinan’s assistance, Astrid first focused on the company’s important fundamentals — the company’s vision, mission, purpose and goals — making sure they were real clear throughout the company. With the vision and mission for Inspiration Design Lab top of mind, Madrinan also advised her to set goals for the company each quarter, with specific action steps to achieve those goals within the quarter. “It helps me to have my next steps clear all the time,” Astrid said.
With all of that very clear, whenever Astrid is considering a new potential product or market, she asks herself “will it help us get to our goals?” She adds, “That changed everything. We can make decisions faster, we can make better decisions, we can plan better because we know what we do and where we want to be — that changes the game a lot.”
Pivoting to a full focus on the consumer market and developing a strategy for the new normal worked. For example, that Etsy store that wasn’t getting much attention before the pandemic was now a top priority as the company shifted its focus to online consumer sales to survive. In June of 2020, sales at the company’s Etsy store were close to zero but by January the small business had logged 1,250 sales while maintaining a 5-star rating with customers, Astrid said. Inspiration Design Lab’s candles and melts typically sell for $15 to $25 and gift sets cost $30 to $75.
The company also identified another market opportunity. “We identified that more businesses like ours were looking for a lot of these additional products to help them with revenue and we have found a very good market,” Astrid said. And with company branding, they can make good corporate gifts as well. “In the end, 2020 was a good year for us — we didn’t end up the year with a loss, we ended with a good number.”
This year, the company is continuing to freshen up its website and will be making some upgrades to its packaging so its products can better explain the benefits. Inspiration Design Lab also plans to expand into stores, starting in the Miami area.
For Astrid, one of the biggest changes to come out of the company’s new strategy is “the way we interact with the customers. We really needed to add more value to our products and what we do… and that changed the approach we have to have with the customer.”