On a sunny afternoon in Atlanta I settle in with a cup of coffee and Marco Polo to talk to Haylee about the story of Whimsy + Wellness. She has just finished nursing Goldie and hands her off to her mom so she can sit down and answer my questions about the early days of her business and where it is now. The conversation winds you through all of the elements of a compelling story…loss, hope, grit, love, and success.
No matter where you find yourself reading this interview, I hope you find threads of her story that lift you up and bring you hope. It is inspirational, but more than that, it is relatable. It is proof that we are all capable of more than we think and that with hard work, a network of support, and unshakeable optimism we can overcome tremendous pain and loss.
Where did the idea to start a business come from?
“It definitely started as a means to distract myself…
…it was March of 2016. I had recently had my second miscarriage and was in between jobs at the time. I had asked for this silhouette machine for Christmas, obviously never intending on starting Whimsy + Wellness. But I loved DIY’s and wanted to use the machine to cut designs on things like paper, vinyl, and adhesive.
I’ve always been creative. One of my favorite things to do before Whimsy + Wellness was teach make-and-take classes with essential oils because I could DIY stuff. And I remember walking through shops with my mom and my sister, observing the products, and saying to each other, “We could make this!”
So, I had this new silhouette machine, a set of essential oils, and a lot of time on my hands. I became inspired by the idea of creating a vinyl label to put on roller bottles, so you knew what was in them. All that was out there at the time were ugly bottles and washi tape labels and I knew I could make something better.
In March of 2016 I started my little Etsy shop with a set of 5 labels: owie, tummy, calm, immune…common labels I thought people could use to make their bottles cuter.”
Was it successful?
“We had a few sales here and there, but nothing huge.”
When did things start to really take off?
“I started researching where to get roller bottles sourced and once I started offering the bottles with the labels it started really taking off. After that, I just looked for ways to constantly be different than everybody else.
In August, about 4 months after I launched that Etsy shop, I got contacted by Casey Wiegand to create a large order for her team. At that point I started to think, ‘This is a thing.‘ because her team was so large and I could tell people really liked my stuff – there just wasn’t anything else out there like it. Whimsy + Wellness has always been kind of cutting edge. We’re often the first on the market with an idea because I don’t look around at the competition, I just focus on creating new ideas. (This makes it so hard not to get discouraged when other shops copy us.)
That summer I worked SO much and we couldn’t keep up. We had these orders coming in and and I was wondering how I was supposed to prioritize which ones go out first.
I remember having to create systems, which isn’t my strong suit. Nothing was pre-made. There was no back stock I could pull from. I was making everything for every order and the business was taking over our house. You should have seen our kitchen table! Just imagine Russ, my mom, my sister, and I, just all working around the kitchen table with orders everywhere, laughing at how absurd the whole thing was. We were working so so so much and the amount of orders we were getting wasn’t nearly the amount of orders we’re getting now, but I was working more because I didn’t have a system and everything was all so new.”
At what point did you decide you needed to hire help?
“In October of 2016 I hired my first employees – my sister and a good friend that helped me pack orders and make labels. At that point, Russ was sometimes pulling all-nighters and then heading back into work for his day job the next day and I just knew we needed structure. I knew it was time.”
What products did you launch after you discovered people wanted roller bottles?
“A few months into the Etsy shop I created the gemstone roller. Again, no one was doing this at the time. I had seen a gemstone top on some perfume bottle blends and thought to myself, ‘I bet there’s a way to make that into a roller top!‘ I searched for months, trying to find a supplier that could make me a gemstone, like a glass bead, but without holes on the side. I finally found someone, but I still had to hand make the roller top by inserting the round gemstone into every single plastic top.
In February of 2017 I attended the world’s largest gem and mineral show with my grandma. I was looking for a supplier who could make me the gemstone roller tops so I didn’t have to put them together anymore. While I didn’t find anyone, I did see these tiny crystals that I thought could fit inside roller bottles. I had no idea if anyone would like that, but I figured I would try it. That’s when the crystal collection was created.”
At what point did you bring Russ home from his corporate job?
“Well, in December 2017, we welcomed our rainbow girl Posey into our family. Our family was growing, the business was growing, and we were having lots of conversations about what we wanted for our family. I remember painting the picture to Russ of summers with his son, my stepson, Mason. And how we could have more flexibility to be there and witness all of his milestones, and how our summers could be full of memories because he would no longer have his 9-5 job.
In June of 2018 Russ quit his job and came to work with me at Whimsy + Wellness full time. It was so scary. I remember thinking, ‘We’ve lived on one income before, we can do it again.’ That year, we went to the Young Living convention together and when we tallied up all of our sales at the end we had doubled what we had sold the year before.
We looked over at each other and cried.
It was that moment that we realized we CAN do this. We can continue growing this.”
What is it like to run a business with your husband?
“We’re very supportive of each other. We encourage each other to take some time to go out away from the kids.
We also know our strengths, which are different from each other. Russ is very logical, numbers-oriented, and enjoys creating systems. I’m much better at product development, social media, and coming up with new ideas.
We’re mindful of the other person’s responsibilities. Before launches, I have a heavier work load, so Russ tries to give me that time and space to get things ready. After a launch, his work load is heavier and I try to take the kids so he can focus on that. I think it’s helpful to have clearly defined roles, so we know what we’re supposed to be doing and not stepping on each other’s toes.”
Do you have help with the kids?
“In November, 2019 we hired my mom for 25 hours a week of childcare. We work 9am-3pm every day and because I’m nursing she watches the kids here. Outside of those hours, Russ and I take turns.
When the kids are older we would love to have quality work time where the kids go to my mom’s house on a schedule. But, I try to think of it as seasons. Sometimes there’s seasons where we need to focus on our family and not work as much. And then there are seasons where we pretty much work from the moment we wake up to the moment we put the kids to bed. Honestly, sometimes we work on our phones in front of our kids while they watch a movie because we just need to. I try to think of it as seasons so that I don’t feel too guilty if I’m not working enough or working too much.”
What do you think gave you the courage to do all of this?
“How did I have the courage? I guess I didn’t really think of it as ‘I’m starting a business.‘ I just thought of it as I needed something to do, so why not see if I can do something to help my family. If I had thought about it like I’m creating a business, I probably would’ve been too scared. It’s too overwhelming. But because I was creating it as a side business, I learned things one step at a time, organically, instead of all at once.
Russ was also so supportive of me. He would leave sweet calendar alerts on my phone that would go off all day while he was at work. I built this business without debt and in order to do that I would ask him if it was okay to put some of our money towards each idea I had. He always said yes. He always trusted that I knew what I was doing and that I could do it!”
Have you had to overcome any internal hurdles becoming the CEO of a growing business?
“I don’t think I’ve had time to think about it! Once we got busy, we pretty much stayed busy. Customers were buying from us and I had to fill the orders, so I never had time to think about ‘I can’t do this.’ I was already doing it. It was too late.
Now that I have systems in place and I’m not the one physically making the products or putting the orders together anymore, I have more time for that self-doubt to creep in. Sometimes I feel unqualified to be a business owner because I got my degree in Parks and Rec, not business. I don’t really know how to run a business or what I need to do to continue to grow this business.
When I’m tempted with those thoughts of self-doubt I overcome it by looking back at our growth.
Obviously, I can do this because I’ve done it. I just repeat to myself, ‘I did this.‘ Yes, I did it with the help of other people around me, but I did this. I made it this far and I can continue forward.”
Have you ever had a pinch me moment in your business that really stands out?
“Talking to Lindsey Elmore. I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m talking to you!'”
What have you learned in the crazy pace at which your business has grown?
“I learned I don’t have to be the one that knows how to do everything. In fact, it’s much better and smarter to hire people who are smarter than you in certain areas.
You can’t always do this when you’re first starting out. But, once we started making profits I was able to invest in other areas of the business that I thought were important.
We hired someone to do bookkeeping for us. It’s something I didn’t feel confident in doing. It was expensive to hire someone and I was really nervous to add that expense, but I knew that it was something our business needed.
We hired a graphic designer. I knew I could kind of do it, but I knew it could take someone else way less time to accomplish it.
I hired you for sales and marketing. I’ve gotten this far and I’m smart enough to know to hire smart people.”
What are you most proud of when you look at what you’ve built with Whimsy + Wellness?
“I am most proud of bringing Russ home. Seeing how hard he worked and how stressed he was at the end of every day (which was never really the end because his phone rang as soon as he stepped in the door) made me want more for our family. And it feels surreal that it happened.
I’m proud that we get to create memories (even if they are of us working late into the night) together and we don’t have to answer to anyone (except our customers!). We get to take vacations and go to special events on weekdays and create whatever life we want.
I’m also proud that we have been able to give back to organizations that help families experiencing pregnancy and infant loss. We’ve donated over $5,000 since we started. Whimsy + Wellness was started out of loss and being able to share my story to make even one person feel less alone is an amazing honor that I never knew I would have.
I’m proud that I’ve grown a successful business with no experience in business before this, that I’ve built something that people love without going into debt.
It’s a dream come true…”
The interview ends with Haylee hopping on and off the Marco Polo app to check emails, nurse Goldie again, and chat with Russ about customer service requests. It’s getting late and we both need to get back to our families. We’ve done this back and forth juggle thousands of times, but today feels different. I have tears in my eyes as Haylee hides in her closet for a few more minutes of quiet to answer my last question…
What have you learned about yourself? I ask.
Growing up, I always got straight A’s in everything. I graduated with honors. But I also felt like I always took the easy way. I started out wanting to get a degree in graphic design in college. The program was highly impacted, so I talked myself into doing something different because I was afraid I wouldn’t make it into the program, it would be too hard, and I would have to decide about switching majors or wasting potentially another year.
Looking back, I kind of wish I had pushed myself. Obviously, I wouldn’t be here, but I feel like I took the easy way to get around doing that hard thing.
When you own a business, you don’t get to do that. You don’t get to go around hard things, you just have to go through it. I’ve had manufacturing delays, sourcing issues, an early baby arrival in the middle of a huge launch, and you can’t wait for an easier path.
You just do what’s required of you.”