Specialty shop Penn & Co. carries over 150 fragrances. Co-owners Chuck Penn and Phillip Donnelly keep the line fresh by adding three to four new scents each season.
The first fragrance Penn concocted was inspired by his mother more than 10 years ago. Her favorite refresher oil with the aroma of orange and clove was no longer produced. Although his professional background was in social work and civil service, Penn decided if he could no longer buy it, he’d make it for her himself.
“It took about two years of internet-based research to learn all of the nuances of fragrance combination,” he said. “Lots of practice, learning to master the high, middle and low notes.”
At last he came up with an elixir that evoked the fragrance his mother had missed. Soon, others were coming to him with requests for more and varied scents.
Penn decided to turn his research skills to the topic of how to launch a business. While looking up small business resources, he came across the West Virginia Small Business Development Center (WV SBDC) and WV SBDC Business Coach Sharon Stratton.
A member of the WV SBDC statewide network of business coaches, Stratton’s office is based in Morgantown. She holds a Master of Business Administration degree and ranks asis a Certified Business Advisor. WV SBDC coaches consult at no charge with the full spectrum of entrepreneurs, from those with an idea forready to launch a new business to established companies ready looking to expand.
Penn and Donnelly attended a WV SBDC business fundamentals workshop led by Stratton and followed up with an advisory one-on-one meeting.
“Chuck was certain there was a market for high quality wax tarts and scented products for the home,” Stratton said. “He handcrafts signature scents using natural, fresh ingredients, dried and infused with essential and fragrance oils. He has a nose for scents.”
Stratton worked with Penn and Donnelly to further analyze the feasibility of the business and discuss financial options.
Penn & Co. officially became a business in 2011.
“At that time, the biggest challenge was making the decision to open a business and trusting the process,” Penn said. “Start-up funding for all that it takes to open a business was also a priority. Sharon did an amazing job connecting us to available funding.”
Funding from First Microloan of West Virginia enabled Penn & Co. to invest in a large wax melting pot, purchase supplies in larger quantities to qualify for discounts and set up manufacturing in their garage.
“Soon they needed to develop a website to keep up with customer demand,” said Stratton. “A few years later, they went from selling at fairs and festivals to opening a retail shop filled with unique home décor and exquisite scented products.”
The Penn & Co. shop opened in Westover, near Morgantown, in 2017. Through one room wafts aromas that evoke home baking and spices. Another room is redolent of fruit and floral fragrances. The shop captures these scents in the form of wax tarts, warming pods, refresher oils, room sprays and potpourris.
“Sharon was very instrumental in helping me develop and improve my business plan, accessing funding, and in general, helping me to navigate things such as advertising, image of the business, and so on,” Penn said. “She has been invaluable. What I appreciate most about Sharon is her constant dedication to my business. She was available, and not just at start-up. She has remained a constant source of support and information.”
In March 2020, like most businesses around the world, Penn & Co. was struck an economic blow by the COVID-19 pandemic. Public safety measures mandated that shops close or operate under social distancing restrictions.
Penn and Business Coach Stratton discussed how the business could adapt quickly to the changed business environment. She pointed the company to the WV SBDC website for free online training webinars in topics such as digital marketing. Penn instituted measures such as curbside pickup and Facebook posts to drive customers to the enhanced website.
“The pandemic forced me to put greater energy into online sales, thus growing that part of my business,” Penn said. “Much greater emphasis was placed on digital communication with my customers.”
Stratton also advised Penn & Co. about new funding resources developed to keep companies in business during the pandemic. She kept the owners informed about the relief resources such as the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan, Paycheck Protection Program, and the Governor’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.
“The mandatory shutdown was very difficult for a predominantly site-based retail store like Penn & Co.,” Penn said. “Fortunately for my business, I also have an online store and that carried me during shutdown.”
Even without a pandemic, starting and running a small business is a big undertaking that requires massive investments of time, energy and passion.
“It is tremendously rewarding as well,” Penn said. “It required me to step outside of my professional training and rely on my creativity. This was not an easy step but once I made it, each subsequent step became easier. Owning a business has been the most rewarding thing that I have ever done.”
Small business owners in West Virginia can take advantage of WV SBDC business coach expertise at no cost. Business owners can get connected Connect with a business coach through the Ask Me! Line:
Phone Number: 888-WVA-SBDC
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org