One of the best parts about Claudine Campbell-Bryan’s job used to be watching the expression on her clients’ faces when they opened her meticulously put-together packages. That was before COVID-19 became a household name.
Now she still lovingly wraps her products, but her clients’ gushing praise is often sent by text or e-mail. In-person deliveries, opportunities for leisurely chats, have been replaced by courier service; and even in her brief interaction with the deliveryman she dons latex gloves and a face mask. This is what safety looks like when doing business during a pandemic.
Campbell-Bryan launched Scentre Yourself in 2018, her scented candles immediately becoming a hit. She’s rapidly built out her product line and her customer base has grown along with her offerings. In addition to soy wax candles she now makes 12 different lines of soaps, a beard-care line for men, lip balm, body butter, body scrub, deodorant and more.
In the early days clients who live overseas would stock up during visits to Jamaica and it was not uncommon for Campbell-Bryan to “meet them on the toll road on their way to the airport”. By the time COVID-19 struck in 2019, she had a solid following of customers who depended on her products to look and feel good. Some took drastic steps to ensure the pandemic did not disrupt access to their favourite items.
“One customer I had from England, she was stuck here for a while and she bought 24 [soaps]. Then when she was about to leave, on one of the first flights out of the country after the borders reopened, she bought 24 more. She said she didn’t know when she’s gonna come back, based on COVID,” Campbell-Bryan tells LetsTravelCaribbean.com.
Recognising that she would need to adapt in order for her young business to survive, she quickly got the Scentre Yourself website up and running and made her company an almost 100 per cent online operation.
“Face-to-face interaction with clients is minimal; if I’m doing a delivery I just hand them the box and leave. We observe the protocols, we’re in our masks, and we don’t interact [as much as before] by talking,” she says.
This means finding other ways to add a personal touch to each transaction and ensuring that orders are fulfilled with minimal error. Once placed, orders are again confirmed before packaging. Nestled within each package are clear instructions on how to reach out if there is any issue with the order that needs to be addressed.
“To stop and allow them to open the box and look into it and check if all is well, we don’t do that [anymore],” says Campbell-Bryan.
Luckily Scentre Yourself has a knack for getting orders right. About 70 per cent of its clients take the time to send messages saying how pleased they are with their orders or videos of the moment they excitedly open their packages.
“The truth is business has become a little bit more efficient with COVID. Because when you’re delivering now you don’t have time to chat anymore. So I have time now to engage clients after hours and it has helped,” says Campbell-Bryan.
Being able to carve out a few extra hours in each day is important for the mother of two young boys — four-year-old Liam John and eight-year-old Ethan Luke. With support from her husband Dwight Kenneth she runs her business from her St Catherine home, balancing her sons’ online classes with her work meetings. The safety protocols that have become so vital to her enterprise are also seamlessly woven into their personal lives. Family walks are carefully planned to minimise the chances of being in a crowd, and the boys have also learned to “keep their hands at their sides” when they’re in public.
“They know that if we even go to an establishment, they don’t touch things. It’s been very difficult for them but over time they have learned, and the first thing when they get back into our car [they say] mommy can we sanitise our hands,” says Campbell-Bryan.
It’s obvious that her boys have been paying close attention to how carefully she applies the safety protocols to every aspect of their lives as she keeps her business afloat. For now she’s making the most of her online operation. Visitors to the island make up about 10 per cent of her clients while roughly 30 per cent of her overall sales are to foreigners. Among her most popular items is the turmeric lemon package of soap, body butter and scrub. “[It] sells like hot bread,” says Campbell-Bryan.
But while Scentre Yourself has successfully pivoted to an online operation, she longs for the day when she will realise her dream of having a physical store and once again share the same space with customers who crave one-on-one interaction. She already knows which of the lessons learned from the pandemic she will weave into in-store operations. Sanitising of hands will continue, she says, as clients naturally touch the products when deciding on purchases. Then there’s the issue of physical distancing.
“In the past, you couldn’t have a conversation without somebody right up behind you. So it’s very good to have that little breathing space to have your one-on-one with your customer,” Campbell-Bryan says. “And so, even after COVID, if customers want to come in based on a schedule, I don’t have a problem with doing things like that to minimise traffic into that area that I would be opening.”
She can already see what a future ‘Scentred on safety’ looks like… and she’s planning ahead.