Editor’s Note: This is one of seven women entrepreneurs named to our Fearless #Over50 list.
Leslie Bradford-Scott is a Canadian high-school dropout who suspects, at age 54, that her brain cells are speeding up.
In 2014, she started home-based business Walton Wood Farm in her kitchen, making bath and body products in small batches with all-natural ingredients. Consumers gobbled them up. Her bath salts, lotions and creams are now in all 50 states and every province in Canada. The 6-employee company, based in Bailieboro, Ontario, makes over $2 million in annual revenue.
No one is more surprised than Bradford-Scott. “Originally, I thought I was too old to start my business,” she says. But it turns out that the challenges and “massive learning curve” of building a startup were somehow energizing.
“I now feel my brain has become smarter, faster, and retains more information than ever,” Bradford-Scott says. “I can almost feel my neural pathways growing.”
[Related: Watch our motivational videos on women entrepreneurs]
A Long Way From Selling Cars
Before age 48, she had spent the bulk of her career working at car dealerships. At a young age, “I was a single mom,” she says, emphasizing the word single, “not the kind where you share custody — it was just me.” When she got a divorce, she needed a way to make ends meet. She took a job selling cars, and was eventually promoted to finance manager.
By 2008, Bradford-Scott was making about $130,000 a year at the car dealership — but was so bored that she started writing screenplays on the the side to counter the tedium. And then the financial crisis hit. Her boss told her: “You are getting a 40% paycut because people will be lining up for this job.” That didn’t sit well. She thought: “I hate my boss. My kids are nearly grown. Is this how I am going to spend my life, doing something I hate?”
Bradford-Scott quit, took a 9-month retreat to write screenplays from a remote cabin, and then switched to a different dealership (this one sold RVs) to pay the bills. But she was still hungry for a career change. “There was a provincial park that I loved to go to,” she says. “I always went to the wilderness to figure out my next move.”
Deciding a hike in the distant middle of the park would do her some good, she hired a pilot with a float plane to drop her off for the weekend. The same pilot picked her back up on a Sunday — and proceeded to really pick her up. “He says ‘Are you single?’” Bradford-Scott recalls. “And I said, ‘I beg your pardon, that’s a very forward question.’” Her pilot had a quick comeback: “He said, ‘It’s a very short flight.’”
Life on the Farm
Within a few years, she had married Peter Scott, the pilot, and the two had purchased “this farm in a state of disrepair.” The property, which has several barns, sits on a hill above Lake Rice, an hour or so drive from Toronto. Scott, who has a farming background, went to work fixing the crops — and persuaded his wife to leave the dealership. “He said, ‘I’ll support your effort if you can think of a way to make income,’” Bradford-Scott says.
Aside from walks in nature, Bradford-Scott always loved to take long baths to soothe nerves. She decided to “make bath salts and name them funny things.” Using her KitchenAid, she developed salts and labeled them “Week From Hell,” “Dear Mom” and “Winter’s a B*tch.” Next she set out to sell them. As a single mom, she had learned how to hustle — and used that skill as she drove around small towns all over Ontario.
“I carried at least 55 pounds of salt, up and down Main Streets,” she says. “I’d find the gift shop and they’d laugh, because they were funny, and then I’d come home with an empty truck.”
[Related: See the complete Fearless #Over50 list]
A $50 Million Future
Walton Wood Farm now sells over 80 personal care products, still developed in Bradford-Scott’s kitchen but manufactured in Canadian and U.S. factories. The company has plowed profits back into its rustic headquarters — when we spoke in May, Bradford-Scott says she was weeks away from finishing a major restoration of the property’s barns. Customers who order online receive a postcard that says “Thank you for helping our little farm.”
The company has recently expanded into pet products, and Bradford-Scott has ambitious plans for the future. “I’d like to grow our business to $50 million per year in sales, add new gift categories such as babies and kids, and create a brand that is highly recognizable,” she says.
And she believes she can do it, thanks to her ever-expanding brain. A few years back, “I thought ‘my memory is slipping and physically I’m not as good,’” she says. Now, “I listen to every podcast and I read every business book.” Running a business is not nearly as “tiring and mentally exhausting” as raising children, in her estimation.
“Once your kids are raised you get some sort of weird after-burn,” she says. “And then you take all that extra energy that you used to spend on your kids and you spend it on things you couldn’t do.”
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