Listen to the podcast here, or read the transcript below for Deodorant Entrepreneur’s No Sweat Approach to Business with guest Stacia Guzzo.
Kelly Scanlon: Welcome to Talking Business Now. I’m your host Kelly Scanlon. Thank you for joining us. We’re Talking Business Now with Stasia Guzzo, the creator of SmartyPits, a product that she literally started on her kitchen stove, and now has in major retailers across the country. In this episode of Talking Business Now, Stasia talks with us about the circumstances that led to her entrepreneurial leap, and how she developed a brand that still may be young but is growing a large following. Welcome, Stasia.
Stacia Guzzo: Hi, thanks so much for having me.
Kelly Scanlon: OK, SmartyPits. Love the name. Tell us about what it is.
Stacia Guzzo: Sure. So we’re an aluminum-free deodorant. We’re also free of parabens, phthalates, propylene glycol. It’s basically a safe and effective alternative to aluminum-based antiperspirant on the market.
Kelly Scanlon: And you started this product on your stove, right? Why did you decide to start making it?
Stacia Guzzo: The deodorant is inspired by my mom. I started making it after she had breast cancer. She’s a survivor. And when she discovered the lump that was directly underneath her armpit, we had no family history of breast cancer; there was no genetic predisposition to it. And the doctors at the time actually told her they thought it was most likely influenced by something in her environment. But they couldn’t say what.
So, I started to do some research to learn a little bit more about some of the factors that might influence the tumor. And that was the first time I learned that aluminum and antiperspirant had been cited as a possible risk factor in some studies for both breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. So that was the sort of tipping point for me, and trying to figure out a way to eliminate one of the risk factors in my life.
So I tried to go aluminum-free. I was a clinical strength antiperspirant user, and I was a high school teacher at the time. I needed something that worked well with my body, and nothing on the market did. So that ultimately led me to getting into cosmetic formulation and creating a formula that worked for my body. And now that has worked for hundreds of thousands of other people.
Kelly Scanlon: So you literally self-taught. You didn’t work with any chemists or any industry scientists, or anything like that. This was really a trial-and-error type of activity that was taking place, was playing out, in your kitchen for several weeks or months.
Stacia Guzzo: Yeah.
Kelly Scanlon: And how long did it take you?
Stacia Guzzo: Well, it was actually, the journey itself, was over the course of a few years. The longer version of that story is when I tried to find a product that worked with me, and nothing did, I actually gave up for a little bit because I didn’t have any background. And like I said, I was a teacher. I didn’t know there was an alternative for me to find something that would be aluminum-free and work for my skin chemistry.
But a few years later, my husband and I moved out to a more rural area. There weren’t any teaching jobs, and I got pregnant shortly after. And I was home, and I’ve always been somebody that has been, you know, I just like my hands busy. I’m a creative person. And I started formulating skincare as a hobby. And so that was the beginning of the journey. Started with me making lip balms and soaps and lotions. Lip balms and soaps are relatively easy to learn how to make, and I was just having fun doing it. You know, making it for my friends for gifts and ultimately then ended up selling them at, you know, local craft fairs and farmers markets, things like that.
And I began to get more and more interested, did my own courses online and skin chemistry and skincare, traveled to a few different places to learn some in-person skincare. But all of that was, like I said, soap and lotion making, and things like that. After a couple of years, I was adept enough at creating my own formulations that I returned to the problem that I originally had, which was finding a deodorant that worked for me. So from that point, I said, “You know, I’ve done this long enough. I’ve learned enough about skin chemistry and what all of these different ingredients can do. And I’m going to give it a shot.”
And even though that first formulation, it worked well and it sold well, but there were still things that could be improved. It was a little bit stiff. I wanted it to glide a little bit better. And so then over the next couple years after that, I continued to refine it based on customer feedback until ultimately we got the formula that that I have today.
Kelly Scanlon: As you said you were taking it to farmers markets, and I assume it was those first customers that gave you that feedback, then, the ones that you were able to actually talk to while you’re at the farmers market there that you could actually communicate with directly.
Stacia Guzzo: Right. Yeah, so I was I was selling at farmer’s markets, and I had an Etsy shop. So it was, you know, just very humble beginnings in terms of just getting the word out there. And I would have customers return and give me feedback that they liked the way the deodorant worked. They continued to come back and purchase. And soon enough, they were coming back and calling me the Deodorant Lady.
So, deodorant quickly outside sold all of my other products to the point where eventually that ended up becoming the only thing I sold, because I was so busy making deodorant that I didn’t have as much time to make the soaps and lotions and the lip balms anymore. And I really enjoyed being able to have such positive feedback from customers saying, “You know, this product is actually changing my life. It’s making me feel safer. It’s making me feel more comfortable.” They have stories like mine, where nothing had ever worked for them. So that became very fulfilling for me.
Kelly Scanlon: Let’s talk about that inflection point where you start out very grassroots going to local markets and fairs and really have that opportunity to talk directly with your customers face-to-face, get their feedback. And then it starts to take off to the point that first you can’t devote any time to the other products that you were making, because the deodorant was outselling them so fast. And you had to ramp up production. And it sounds like at that point that you were a production line of one, it was just you making it. Is that right?
Stacia Guzzo: When I was selling it at farmer’s markets, we were making it basically out of my house on my stovetop, and it was very small. I did have somebody that would come and help me part time. And my husband would help on the weekends. And we were doing, you know, labeling at night before we went to bed. And it was sort of all-consuming. But soon enough, once things really began to take off, and it made sense, I ended up moving into the warehouse that I have now. And I hired more people and since then, it’s really been, the biggest challenge has been to keep up with the demand.
Kelly Scanlon: So you’re still doing all your own production, but you have moved it into a more professional setting. You now have a production team. But you’re still, in spite of the fact that you are no longer making it in your kitchen, from what I understand, you’re still hand pouring and hand labeling everything that goes out.
Stacia Guzzo: Correct. Yeah, so I have a team of 16 currently, and we manufacture the majority of the product in-house here in California. I have worked with a co-manufacturer when we’ve had very large orders that have come in, you know, that we’ve had to turn around 40,000 or 50,000 units in a month. I have worked with a co-manufacturer to help us on some of those quick turnarounds for some of the larger retailers, but the majority of our products are still manufactured here. Everything hand poured and hand labeled. Like you said, we touch each product with a lot of care and attentiveness and love. And everybody on my team is incredibly committed to the product in general, which I feel very fortunate.
Kelly Scanlon: How did you get it finally into major retailers? That’s something that I hear a lot from entrepreneurs who are trying to take a consumer-facing product to market. You know, competition is so fierce for shelf space and just convincing some of these larger outlets that you do have the wherewithal and capacity to fulfill their orders and, you know, take a chance on you. How did you manage that transition?
Stacia Guzzo: Well,a lot of persistence. For many of the major retailers, one of the things that they want to see is that there is a market demand. And they want to see that you can be able to meet a larger demand if they have big orders that they’re sending your way.
So, I actually started much smaller. I started working in the gift space and working with sales reps around the country, in different sales groups and showing up at the gift shows, trade shows like Atlanta Gift Mart, America’s Mart, Dallas Gift Mart and just working with these single, you know, independent retailers, lots of them just owning anywhere between one and three stores. And I grew my wholesale side of my business that way.
Starting in 2017 was when I really started that angle of the business with 30 doors that I was in independent retailers and grew that up to about 1,500. And so, you know, that was just chipping away, bit by bit and scaling gradually. It was still quick, but it was gradual enough that, you know, we didn’t have to turn around and suddenly have a PO of 20,000 units for one retailer. We were, you know, we would have 300 retailers, and then we had 500 and then 800. And so we were able to scale that way.
And then once we had done that, I began showing up at some of the bigger trade shows that major retailers show up at. Natural Products Expo West was one of them. There are others too where you were you come face-to-face with buyers from these major retailers. And you begin to get on the map. That it’s definitely not an immediate they show up and they fall in love with you typically. You begin to get known as having a force in the field, a presence in the field. And so your name gets on their radar. And then, oftentimes, you have a meeting and then you have another meeting, and you’re continually sending them products and getting your name in in front of their faces because they’re seeing so many brands at one time.
We also hired last year, a strategic hire for us was hiring our first director of sales and business development. And that was one of those things. And I think every major move that I’ve had in my business, I’ve had to time it so that I’ve done it just slightly before we needed it. And the act of doing that, of getting a warehouse, of you know, hiring my first full-time employee, and then bigger things like signing on with a major retailer or signing this employee that I have, this team member that I have, the director of sales, all of that doing it just slightly before you need to creates the space for the thing to actually happen.
Kelly Scanlon: Yeah, so that you can feel that.
Stacia Guzzo: Exactly, exactly. So that move even though when we hired him, it wasn’t the thing that I wasn’t behind the eight ball in terms of like, “Oh, man. We’re having all of this business, I have to hire someone.” It was, I feel this growing. I’m feeling the momentum built behind us. I know we are going to need this sooner rather than later. And I know that if I hire this person, it’s going to create what I’m looking for, to hire that person for. And that’s exactly what happened. A lot of the big major retailers that we’re in talks with right now came as a result of that hire and wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t taken that chance.
Kelly Scanlon: As you talk, it strikes me, from what I can tell, you didn’t have any business experience before starting SmartyPits. And yet, you have on the one hand, very strategically and, by some accounts, you know, conservatively grown the business so that you didn’t go from, as you said, a handful of orders to 20,000 overnight, which can kill a business, too much growth. So you did that in measured steps. You managed the production growth in measured steps.
On the other hand, you were more proactive on some of the other things, like you said, getting a warehouse, hiring a sales and business development person, and in other areas. So where did that come from? Is that something that you just seem to have good intuition on? Have you worked with a mentor? Where did those kinds of strategic decisions have their roots?
Stacia Guzzo: I think it’s a little bit of both. I’ve had some great mentors, especially in the early days of my business, where I was learning about the ins and outs of what a lot of the lingo meant and how to how to talk to people, how to pitch, things like that. So early on, having those types of mentors was a very important element of my growth as an entrepreneur.
But I also, you know, one of the things that my husband has told me, that he’s seen in me as this business has grown, is that my gut has been something that has served us well. And I have to agree with that. It took me a while before I learned to trust it, because I didn’t have the experience. And then, time after time, it seemed like whenever I would listen to my gut, and really, really follow through on what I felt was the right direction or the right decision, even if there wasn’t, if it didn’t quite make sense to me at the time. More often than not, that would turn out to be the best path for us. So I’ve learned now in these later years in my entrepreneurial journey, that that is one of my most powerful assets is listening to that little voice inside me that tells me to go in this direction or to hire this person or to pay attention to the market swing.
Kelly Scanlon: It may not feel like it is in the moment, but it sounds like you are able, unlike some new business owners, some new entrepreneurs, you’re able to find moments of clarity where you can get up above your business and take that 30,000-foot-high view of it rather than constantly being in the weeds and putting out fires, and every day rolls into the next day. And I’m sure there is some of that. But it sounds like you have found a way, or at least committed to making time, to take a step back and look at the big picture.
Stacia Guzzo: Yes. Well, I would say that sometimes it’s more of a tendency for me to stay in that 30,000-foot view. On a daily basis, I am in the weeds putting out fires and all of that too, but I’ve always been somewhat of a dreamer and a visionary. And that is where I thrive in my business. And I found the times when I get too pulled into the detail, the little pieces, and how they all fit together, that’s when things slow down a little bit for us because that creativity doesn’t have room to expand for me.
So, the key for me for that has been finding people that have helped me in those day-to-day fires and helping to get all of the pieces fitting together, so that I really can stay up above and see all how all of the pieces fit. And then work with each of my individual, you know, section leads, or whatever it might be, to help take care of the minutia.
Kelly Scanlon: That’s good advice. It’s advice it takes some entrepreneurs, years and years, and sometimes they never master that to get out of their own way and let others take the lead and you do what you do best. Let’s talk about cause marketing for a moment. That’s something that more and more young companies, especially, are embracing. You do too at SmartyPits. Tell us about it.
Stacia Guzzo: So, once we were able to financially sustain it, I knew that I wanted some sort of giveback program to be incorporated into our business model. And so, in 2018, I connected with City of Hope. They are a world leader in cancer research. They’re also the place that saved my mom’s life when she had breast cancer. And we work directly with their breast cancer research program. We donate a portion of our sales back to their breast cancer research program. And we’ve been able to raise over $65,000 for them so far, through those sales, which has been really exciting. When we started that partnership, I never could have imagined that we would have gotten it to this point. And it’s just been thrilling to have that be a part of the business model.
And then we’ve also partnered with a Breast Cancer Charities of America to donate free deodorant to women that are undergoing chemotherapy and radiation all over the country. So we’ve been able to donate both product and money.
In terms of cause marketing in particular, the interesting thing that happened for me that it was a bit of a learning experience, because there’s a lot that goes into it, you know, large contracts to be able to utilize, it’s a little bit of a benefit for both. When you look at it from a business standpoint, obviously, it’s a cause very close to my heart, but they also have to make sure that they’re protecting the way that their business is represented, the way that their name is used and all of that, so you have to really have a great relationship with the organizations that you’re working with in order to be able to honor the way that they want to be presented. And also to have them present you in a way that does your business justice and respect as well.
Kelly Scanlon: That’s a great point—that you’re starting a relationship with these. And just as you would with any other strategic business partnership, you have to do your due diligence and make sure that it’s beneficial for both and that it’s very clear what the goals are of each partner too.
Stacia Guzzo: Right.
Kelly Scanlon: You mentioned a little while ago when you’re talking about your startup phase that you got so busy with the deodorant orders that you couldn’t keep up with the lotion and some of the other products that you offer. Do you have any intention of bringing them back? Have you brought them back?
Stacia Guzzo: At point I don’t intend on bringing them back, mostly because once I became a little bit more adept at the business side of things, I found that the thing that worked for my business was to really have a much more refined message and a targeted audience.
And you know, each business owner-entrepreneur has to make their decision about how they want to present their business. And for many, many people that means a lifestyle business is the best choice. And there are large companies that are making that decision as well, so, you know, that’s having a little bit of everything.
For me and my business, the best decision thus far has been instead to go very focused and very deep in our particular area. So, for me, that means different types of deodorants that speak to different customers. We have ones for people that need a little bit of a stronger deodorant. That’s our super strength. We have deodorant for people with sensitive skin. Deodorant for teens. We do a foot deodorant. I do a cream deodorant. We have travel size. So, I’ve decided to be the brand that’s known for deodorant rather than the brand that’s known for lots of things.
Kelly Scanlon: Very focused strategy there. How did you come up with the name SmartyPits. Love that name.
Stacia Guzzo: Thank you. Well, so it’s just one of those things that I’ve always been a little bit of a punny person. So, I love a good pun. I was trying to just think one day, when I was still selling deodorant at the farmers market, just trying to think of some fun hashtags that I could put on my Instagram page. And, so I had a bunch of different times that I was that I was playing with.
And then SmartyPits just popped into my head. And originally, I was just thinking of it for a hashtag campaign, just something that was really funny. But it occurred to me as I was driving home, this would actually be a really great brand name. And I had struggled with when I was selling at farmer’s markets, having a really generic, frankly forgettable, name for the business. And so people would always say, “Oh, I couldn’t remember the name of your deodorant. It was that one I bought at, you know, so-and-so farmers market.” And when it occurred to me that this would be a great name for deodorant, I thought if this could make somebody chuckle, they’re not going to forget the name when they go to buy it again.
And so I went home and almost immediately called my trademark lawyer, and said, “I need you to investigate if this name can be used. And if it can, I want you to register an intent to file, like today.” And so that’s what we did.
Kelly Scanlon: So once again, though, I love the balance with you. You say you’re a visionary and a dreamer and so forth. But you take the right steps to make those dreams concrete and to protect them, especially. So nice, nice balance there. Where can we find SmartyPits products?
Stacia Guzzo: You can find us on our website at SmartyPits.com and on Amazon. On SmartyPits.com, we also have a store locator where you can put in your ZIP code, and you can find a local store near you that carries us. As I mentioned, we’re in about 1,500 independent retailers, so we love supporting our mom-and-pop independent retailers around the country. We’re also available at H-E-B in the Texas area, as well as in TJ Maxx and Marshall’s around the country.
Kelly Scanlon: OK, so both in brick-and-mortar stores and online, SmartyPits.com. Stasia, it’s been wonderful having you as a guest today.
Stacia Guzzo: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. This was fun.
Kelly Scanlon: And I’m your host, Kelly Scanlon. Thanks for joining us today.