For this year's Small Business Month in May, we decided to feature Cristina Reding, who is the founder of Aroma Retail and recently named to Inc. Magazine’s Female Founders 200.
Cristina Reding is the owner and CFO of Aroma Retail, which provides environmental scenting solutions for homes and businesses, including pure grade fragrance oils used by world-class resorts. Recently named to Inc. Magazine’s Female Founders 200, Reding founded Aroma Retail in her kitchen in 2017 and has grown the business to more than $5 million in annual revenue and 25 employees.
From growing up in Romania and touring the world as a professional ballet dancer to climbing the ranks as vice president and corporate trainer at a bank to holding a PhD in special education where she also teaches educational methodology courses at UNLV, Cristina has continued to reinvent and thrive in a variety of industries.
1) What inspired you to start Aroma Retail?
It started with what I thought was just going to be a little side gig, completely separate from my career as a banking executive and professor at UNLV. My husband was developing custom scents used at many resorts here in Las Vegas and hotel chains across the country. He was getting frequent requests to make scented products to put in the resort gift shops. From there, we figured out how to make candles, room sprays, and reed diffusers on our kitchen counter in the evenings and started filling orders for the resorts in 2017.
I soon realized that there was a growing public demand for better scenting solutions for every home and business using pure grade fragrance oils that the resorts use. These fragrance oils are unique because they do not contain synthetic toxins or volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) like pollen that cause allergic reactions – this is why the resorts could diffuse scent in public spaces without the public’s consent. In 2018, I launched the first website where anyone could purchase pure grade fragrance oils with scent machines like the ones used at their favorite hotel, along with other scented products using that same fragrance oil. It wasn’t long after that when I realized this was a much bigger opportunity that required my full attention. Today we have 27 employees and a 13,000 square foot factory with a Smelly Bar open to the public.
2) What were the biggest challenges you faced when starting your business, and how did you overcome them?
Transitioning from my career to being able to focus on my business fulltime was scary. I am not one to do something half-heartedly, and both required a lot of time and energy. At the same time, the business was presenting opportunities that required a lot of financial investment that required personal sacrifice and daunting risk. It took a lot of strategic planning to prioritize the opportunities that yielded the quickest return with every bit of the profits going back into growing the business. Once it got to the point where I could start hiring employees, I devoted myself to making sure that those employees would always have a job. There was no turning back at that point, and soon both I and my husband were dedicated fulltime to Aroma Retail.
3) How do you stay ahead of the competition and remain relevant in the market?
Innovation with a focus on the customer is the only sustainable competitive advantage any company could have. Competitors will always be able to mimic your product if you are not constantly improving it and offering more variety.
Being responsive to customers is key. While I have a dedicated team of Customer Care Agents, they are not the only ones that answer the phone during peak time. We have a rule that “the third ring is for you.” We also hold ourselves to a standard of shipping all orders within 24 hours. This requires constant cross training for every employee so we can have “all hands on deck” whenever and wherever needed, whether that means getting caught up on production, getting hundreds of orders out the door in a few hours, or answering customer inquiries.
4) Can you share a pivotal moment or decision that significantly impacted the success of your business?
That pivotal moment was when I was told I had to close my business for the pandemic. That is when I realized that you have to fight to defend your employees’ jobs and take care of your customers, no matter what. We leased more space so that we could spread out the work stations, and set up a drive-by sniffing system in the parking lot since customers could not come in to The Smelly Bar. It paid off better than I expected, because now I have a very loyal team of tenured employees and was able to grow my customer base exponentially by keeping our commitments.
5) What advice would you give to other aspiring female entrepreneurs who are looking to start their own businesses?
Go for it! The resources and support for women entrepreneurs are exceptional and plentiful. Join boards and organizations that can offer value and save you time. Get certified with WBENC (Women's Business Enterprise National Council) – they are the real deal; they make sure that you are not just a name on an LLC and that you are actually running the business, but once you are a member you are able to connect with big buyers that are prioritizing diversity.
Most importantly, do not get ahead of yourself. Do not go into more debt than you could handle with your current resources, and do not give away equity in your company until you have a clearly defined strategy that can only come after doing the heavy lifting yourself. Owning a successful business that you built with your own blood, sweat and tears requires grit, but the rewards include a sense of pride that cannot be described. Be prepared to sacrifice and fight for it.