I have been very fortunate to have worked in my parent’s business from quite a young age and to pick up tips from them. BUT nothing, absolutely nothing, prepared me for running every aspect of my own business founded in 2003! It was like hitting the ground running. It sounds quite a wonderful idea to have your own business, but there are so many things you don’t really think about, such as doing VAT returns, being compliant with products, checking the labels are not making claims and have the right information and so many areas involving staff (when you are so exhausted from doing everything yourself that you know you have to employ others to help).
It was also quite difficult with time management because I still had a young family, so my working hours were school hours, then I would pick them up, do tea, homework, bath and bed, and start again from about 9 pm to 1 am -ish. I never think that family life should come second to or be affected by a business. People are more important, especially people I love who depend on me.
My journey into the wonderful world of aromatherapy began when I was about 12 years old. My mother Shirley Price was a trained teacher but had also trained to be a hairdresser and beauty therapist, which she practised first in a small village shop. When we moved to Hinckley, the town where we both still live now, she opened a larger salon and began to look into making her own therapeutic skincare. She was also interested in helping my Grannie, her mother, with her terrible arthritis. Grannie was in constant pain and had trouble moving around. She was, at that time on over 30 different tablets a day just to keep going! Mum began to explore complementary medicines for Grannie and the skincare and found aromatherapy.
At that time there were very few courses in Aromatherapy in the UK. In those days, it was usually a weekend course teaching massage with aromatic, pre-blended massage oil. On one course she attended there were 30 delegates using tables for a massage with one tutor! Undeterred, mum started practising aromatherapy as it was then - in 1974. However, feeling restricted by the use of the oils, she then went to France to try and discover the healing properties of the oils for herself rather than relying on other people’s blends. This was partly so that she could understand the oils better and so that she could help others. I remember mum coming home full of enthusiasm and trying out all her new-found knowledge on her mother – she had also learned how to speak French! She’s like that!
As my grandmother responded to the oils, so my mother’s confidence grew, and she also began to have the confidence to blend her own skincare for her beauty salon. People came from all over our small town to buy face creams and potions for all manner of ailments from sinus congestion to menstrual tension. What a wonderful idea to put oils for complaints in the moisture cream that nourished your skin every day as well as having a therapeutic action.
Soon my brother and I were drafted into the business (we still work together). This started at one night a week when my mother would get out her Kenwood Chef and blend creams and oils together. My job was to put the cream into jars and bottles. My brother had to clean the bottles and put the lids on, and my father hand-drew every single label and stuck them on. After a very short space of time, we were working almost every night of the week and my parents realised they were going to have to employ staff to help them so that my schoolwork did not suffer!
Eventually, we had to move from the small beauty salon to larger premises to accommodate all the stock we needed, and of course, by that time, people were asking if they could learn aromatherapy and especially, how to blend. We were the first people to teach aromatherapists how to blend for an individual client – something that we take for granted now. So aromatherapy in England became slightly better because instead of using ready blended oils, we could now use our own knowledge to create blends for clients. My father, a very intelligent man, had studied organic chemistry and in particular the chemistry of essential oils. We also became the first school to teach the chemical properties of popular oils to our students.
I trained as an aromatherapist in 1983, having been involved with the family business since it had begun, and soon afterwards took a teacher training course so that I would be able to teach the wonderful art of aromatherapy to others. I remember well my son Edward (now 34) sitting in his bouncy chair while I was training – such a good little fellow!
When Mum sold her business in 1998, I worked for the new owners for a while, but it was not the same as working for my parents and I left shortly afterwards to take a research degree with Oxford University. I had, by this time, trained over 600 aromatherapists as mum had stopped training as soon as I was able to take over the role to run her business (which became the largest aromatherapy business in the world). After I had gained my degree, I went to teach at the local YMCA, but I so missed my aromatherapy. I felt lost, and out of place and so my lovely husband Bob encouraged me to open my own business in aromatherapy modelled on everything I had known and enjoyed so much for so many years. And so, Penny Price Aromatherapy and the Penny Price Academy of Aromatherapy were opened in May 2003. My parents were so happy that I had gone back into the ‘family’ business and have been a great support ever since, acting as consultants and moreover the last 10 years. I remember 2 very great examples of their help: one was when I did a mail-out of 7 different items to 4000 people! The great Shirley Price and her husband Len sat on the floor stuffing envelopes for 2 whole days. The other time, we have received a huge order for nearly 10,000 bottles of product. Again, the parents came up trumps, filling bottles, putting on the lids, packing into boxes every day until the last one was done. I can honestly say that they were both 80 at the time, an amazing example of love and support. They are very dear to me as you can tell.
Talking of family, my lovely daughter Ellie has been with me since 2004, a year after PPA was founded, firstly in the production department, then in the training department. She is now the Business Manager of the entire business which has grown enormously over the years – in fact, sometimes I hardly recognise it as the same business I began! My sons have also worked there over the years, in school holidays, and my daughter in law and brother, along with my lovely husband, all work in the business with me. I love to work with friends too, so many of the team I have known for many years as friends and now colleagues.
When I first began, PPA specialised in teaching clinical aromatherapy in our Academy and supplying essential oils and other aromatherapy supplies to clinics, trained therapists, the NHS, Colleges and distributors overseas. Nowadays it is so much more than that! In 2011, I was approached by a natural skincare company (quite well known) who asked me to formulate a natural product for their range. I did this for them, it was accepted and now we make 30 products for that company and have a number of other customers who have similar requirements on our books. This means that I no longer spend much time teaching aromatherapy, but I do spend many happy hours mixing and blending ‘Penny’s Potions’ for our lovely clients! I always wanted to have my products in John Lewis and other prestigious stores, and now I do; they don’t have my name on – but I know!
17 years on, in 2020, we are still going strong. I had it in mind to retire when I was 60, 3 years ago, but we are so busy that this is not possible at the moment. I think I shall probably work until I am physically unable! I have a lovey support team at work, with 17 ladies and 3 gentlemen at present (just about to employ another so they don’t feel too much in the minority), and I can honestly say the work-life balance is probably about right. Where in the early days I had children to care for, now they are all grown up and so I do have more time to fit in quality time with grandchildren, friends and dogs.