Formulary 55

How We Built a Botanical Beauty Store and became Unintentionally Known For Our Wrapping Paper

Cordelia Smith

Famous Wrapping Paper

Cordelia Smith

I had a previous business that manufactured bath & body products, but I wanted to expand our available range and I knew I could not physically make all the items we wanted to feature. The idea of selling other small batch handmade brands alongside mine made sense, so I moved into a new location on 55th street in Seattle and called the boutique Formulary 55.

Cordelia Smith at Formulary 55

When I opened Formulary 55, I already had a pretty hefty mailing list from my previous bath & body company, Sweet Petula, so our first few sales came from past shoppers.

My idea for Formulary 55 didn’t come overnight. After realizing that I was a little burnt out on making 100% of what I sold, I started exploring the idea of selling other small batch beauty brands with similar values. Retailing my line alongside theirs at my store seemed like a natural fit for my customers and a win-win for me—because who wouldn’t want to spend their time surrounded by gorgeous pampering products?!

Who is your target demographic?

Our main shopper is women over the age of 35, although we do have a lot of male customers too. Men that love pampering skin care products are the easiest customers to have. They typically find something they like and stick with it for years—and buy in bulk! We love our Formulary 55 men!

We often get inquiries about where we buy the “paper” that we wrap our products in from other makers and manufacturers, which I think is so odd. We don’t use stock paper or mass-produced labels—everything is designed for us by us. This is a recent one, word for word!

“I know I asked you a few years ago about your wrapping paper but I'd forgotten what you told me. What kind of paper is it you use and you said you print it out. Do you use just a regular printer or a laser printer and do you design it on photoshop? What's your process?”

How did you fund the company initially?

Boot strapping, saving my personal funds, and little by little.

I started the company solo, but two years in, I met my husband. Then, two years after that, he left his job at Microsoft to join the team. I’m totally biased, but he is one of the smartest people I know and his involvement has greatly projected Formulary 55’s growth.

Do you have any tips for hiring employees?

Always hire based on personality and team fit. Our team is super tight knit and made up of very self-reliant workers. We could probably use a few extroverts to even us out, but for now, we are made up of introverts who all thrive in an independent environment. So, when looking to add to our team, we think about how well they would fit in with our existing team and the new hire’s personality. Our best hires have been referred by existing employees!

Ultimately, my end goal is to create a life I love and enjoy the day to day. It hasn’t always been this way (time and experience have helped), but I don’t let things going wrong really upset me all that much at this stage. This year, we were sued by a competitor and it honestly would have devastated me years ago. Now, I just think it’s a normal part of doing business. My partner/husband and I also have a go-to saying when something goes wrong: “This is just a problem to be solved.” It always puts the issue into perspective.

For those just starting out, I would say follow your gut. Design your brand and your vision on your own without getting a bunch of feedback from others. Don’t shop around Pinterest for ideas or see what is trending in your markets too much. Figure out your niche on your own and go for it!

A lot of our sales come from email marketing. We also do a few trade shows here and there—NY NOW being our favorite. Doing trade shows allows us to meet retailers (the main customers of Formulary 55) and really get an idea of what shoppers are looking for.

We have grown so much in the past few years (around 20% each year since the company started) that we are really just “holding on for the ride” at the moment. We currently manufacture in around 1,800 square feet and are in the process of moving into a 6,500 square foot facility at the end of this year. Having more space will really increase our productivity and allow us to grow faster. Right now, we can’t even really fit all the materials we need to fulfill our orders, so a lot of time is spent shuffling goods and supplies.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

We’ve been copied quite a few times, and honestly, there isn’t much you can do about it except to keep innovating and be up to date with current trends. We don’t worry too much about what others are doing though. That’s just a time suck, and ultimately where we don’t want to spend our energy.

What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without?

We love Shopify for how user friendly it is. Web design companies reach out all the time offering to design us an expensive custom site, but Shopify is so simple to use and there are so many themes to fit individual brands. Our conversion rate is also really high, so I don’t see us going custom any time soon.

Instagram and Facebook are also valuable tools for our business. Instagram brings in a lot of new retailers while Facebook draws individual shoppers to our site.

We are really trying to limit our environmental footprint. With that in mind, we want to get rid of all plastic containers and move to glass or aluminum. We’ve purchased some tube filling machines to start using aluminum tubes, but need to get into our new space before we can start using it.

This year we launched quite a few new products, and they are just now hitting our shelves.

Our goal for Formulary 55 within the next 5 years is to be more streamlined, more profitable, and to grow our team.

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