Jonathan Plotzker-Kelly began 2010 with a personal quest to find a shower gel that contained no artificial fragrances. He ended up discovering his mission: to create a line of organic, scent-free skin care products sold online and in boutique shops across the country.
Jonathan founded Heliotrope—a brand featuring all-natural ingredients—as an antidote to the many commercial skin products using artificial scents and chemicals. “I thought, why don’t I just do it myself,” and he reached out to colleagues he had met while working as assistant buyer for Bare Escentuals, a national chain of cosmetics stores.
“I was able to pick up the phone and contact chemists I knew from the old days who were still local and still small,” Jonathan said. “It reinforces the idea that the relationships in everything you do are really what sustain you.” The next thing he knew, he had 20 products and was at the forefront of a movement toward all-natural skin-care ingredients that is now much more common (and competitive) than it was a decade ago.
Made in Northern California in small batches using organic ingredients, Heliotrope products feature no added perfumes, parabens, phthalates, or animal testing. The product line includes moisturizers, cleansers, shaving products, lotions, shower gels, and hair care products, as well as aromatherapy candles, essential oils, and lotions. Heliotrope products can be found at Acacia—their flagship store in San Francisco’s Mission District—and in boutique shops across the Bay Area and in several other states, including New York, Nevada, Washington, Minnesota, and Colorado.
Named for the purple-blue flower of the same name, Heliotrope has a mission to make people feel great in their skin, offering natural skin care for men and women without added fragrance, but also giving them the ability to create custom aromatherapy blends using all-natural essential oils.
Heliotrope started out as a tiny store in Noe Valley, and four years later became part of the Acacia collective on Valencia Street, sharing space with a seller of modern home furnishings. Having a brick-and-mortar location as well as a wholesale business gives Heliotrope “the best of both worlds.”
Jonathan got his $25,000 Working Solutions loan in the early stages of his business after he was turned down for a bank loan. “I was able to start the wholesale business, and to expand inventory,” he said. “I wanted to develop a lot of new products and rebrand everything. That all took money. The support they gave me at Working Solutions was crucial.”
While a bank relationship is often purely financial, Working Solutions felt more personal. “They said, ‘What can we do to help you succeed?’ It was meaningful to me to have that support,” he said, including training in accounting and profit-loss analysis. Though his retail experience was broad, he had never owned a business before, so he still had much to learn.
Heliotrope currently has four employees in San Francisco and Oakland. Over the years there have been part-time employees in various positions, including sales, labeling and packing. Jonathan plans to grow online sales, which he considers “the next frontier” for Heliotrope, plus continuing to expand the wholesale business. Since getting a loan from Working Solutions in 2011, Heliotrope continues to grow. “We go up every year. Every year we’re probably doing about three times what we did that first year.”
“I’m really proud of our success locally,” he said. “I love that I’m selling something that’s good for people.” Doing business in San Francisco, with its expensive rents and high cost of living, presents challenges to small businesses like Heliotrope. As an officer on the board of the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association, he is able to help other businesses like his to thrive in this challenging environment.
“I feel like being an active member of the community is positive and has a local effect. Most of what we’re doing is building a community, not just the work of the merchant association. It’s a great thing to make a community of like-minded people that support independent local makers and merchants.” That sense of community extends to Working Solutions, where “once you’re a part of the community, you’re part of a family. I respect that and want to support that. I definitely refer people to them.”
Visit Jonathan online at www.heliotropesf.com or at his boutique location at Acacia, 415 Valencia Street in San Francisco, to sample and purchase some of his fabulous products!
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