In the 1970s, a television commercial featuring an overwhelmed woman became pop-culture legend. “The traffic, the boss, the baby, the dog,” the stressed-out mom recited, while images of all flashed over her shoulder. “Calgon, take me away!”
The commercial ended with her sinking into a bubble bath, as Calgon (naturally) made bath products. It was a classic sales strategy: Calgon wasn’t just selling bath products. It was selling escape. Frazzled women everywhere took notice. While the slogan eventually faded in popularity, it was referenced in TV shows, sampled in songs — and even today, all these years later, it’s a hashtag on Instagram.
Entrepreneurs are still using the tactic. In Canada, Leslie Bradford-Scott, 54, now runs $2 million bath-and-beauty company Walton Wood Farm. But for many years, Scott was an exhausted single mom who supported her family by selling used cars on 100% commission. In 2014, when she wanted a fresh start and began looking for startup ideas, she didn’t have far to look.
[Related: Read our profile on how Leslie Bradford-Scott started Walton Wood Farm]
“I thought about all those years that I was really suffering to raise my kids. The one thing that saved me …was half an hour in a hot tub with some bath salts, some music, some candles,” she says. “And so I thought, there’s got to be a lot of people like me who really just need to be rescued every now and then, but can’t afford a vacation.”
She formulated bath salts in her kitchen, but ever the sales woman, knew she needed a way to stand out in a highly competitive market. “I decided that there’s no way that I’m going to sell ‘Lavender Vanilla,’ because there’s tons of ‘Lavender Vanilla,’” she says. Instead, “I would sell the emotion, the ‘Week From Hell,’ because every week for me was the week from hell.”
Driven by that inspiration, she poured the bath salts into glass bottles and stuck on “Week from Hell” labels with even more description on the side: “Bad boss? Bratty kids? Step out of Hell’s Fire and into this lemon-drop bath-tini soak for maximum relief of soul destroying, mind sucking, crappy days.”
To make her first sales, Bradford-Scott packed her pickup truck with cases of the bath salts, and stopped into gift shops all over Ontario. She would say to herself, “I am not coming home until this truck is empty.” As she walked into each boutique, she’d introduce herself as a local who made “these amazing bath salts” and plunk a bottle down on the counter. “It would say the ‘Week From Hell,’ and they’d just start laughing,” she says. “And they’d say, “Yeah, give me a case.” Within a few months, Bradford-Scott had turned her house — located on a small farm next to a lake — into a factory to keep up with demand.
[Related: 5 Tips and Tricks on How to Start an Ecommerce Business, From Those Who Did It]
An Ageless Tactic
Countless big brands (not related to bath products) sell on emotion, too. One example is Starbucks, which sells not just coffee but the experience of being in a familiar café with friendly baristas, the smell of fresh grinds and a lounge-like atmosphere. Budweiser famously makes people cry with its nostalgia-filled Clydesdales television commercials. The publication Psychology Today notes that consumers constantly make buying decisions based on emotions rather than rational analysis. “A brand is nothing more than a mental representation of a product in the consumer’s mind,” according to Psychology Today. “The richer the emotional content of a brand’s mental representation, the more likely the consumer will be a loyal user.
Bradford-Scott believes it’s the emotional connection with customers that has led to her success. People often buy her products — she now sells more than 80 personal care products, including lotions, lip balms and body whips— as gifts. Best sellers include “Dear Mom,” “Winter’s a B*tch” and “Fix Almost Anything,” which comes with the description: “Sometimes life doesn’t just throw you a curve-ball, it whacks you full-on with a wrecking ball.
“You have to start with a great product, but it’s that connection that you make with someone [that seals the deal],” Bradford-Scott says. “You want to make your friend laugh, or you want to help them out in a bad time, and it’s that sharing, that emotional connection. And then by the way, you get this great product as a byproduct.”
Leslie: Why would we care about employing people out here in the country? Why would we start this company saving a barn? Why would we do that?
TEXT: Leslie Bradford Scott – CEO + Co-Founder, Walton Wood Farm – Ontario, Canada
Leslie: Bringing awareness to small farms is really important, but more important is diversifying incomes on small farms, because small farms can't make it without another income these days.
Leslie: At Walton Wood Farm, we manufacture body care products targeted as gifts that you would give to him or her. We also make products for dogs right now too.
Leslie: Our team here, most of them are rural and were underemployed with no opportunities to learn new skills, and learn modern skills.
SOT: This could be the digital in-between catalog.
Leslie: They're learning everything, from marketing to sales to operations.
TEXT: Leslie has lived most of her life in southern Ontario.
TEXT: She was a stay-at-home mom until 2001 when a brutal divorce left her in poverty.
Leslie: We had to go to the food bank for food for Christmas, and I had to get the presents from children's services for my kids. I couldn't afford them, because he had cleaned out the bank accounts and taken everything.
TEXT: With limited work experience, the only job Leslie could get was selling cars.
Leslie: The very nice man who hired me said, “We need a woman around here because, strangely enough, women buy cars.” And he said, “You will never have a weekend off. If there's customers waiting, you stay.”
TEXT: Leslie’s pay was 100% commission based.
Leslie: If I didn't sell a car, we were not eating. And so I studied the art and the craft of sales like I was getting an MBA.
TEXT: The first year Leslie made $24,000. The second year she earned $54,000. Eventually she was making $130,000 a year.
TEXT: In 2010 she met a retired farmer, Peter Scott. They married in 2012.
Leslie: We found this farm, this neglected farm, and it was just kind of perfect for us. It was on a beautiful lake and it was 140 acres, but it had been in a state of disrepair for quite some time.
TEXT: Peter committed to restoring the land to farming.
TEXT: Leslie promised to find the money to fix the barns.
Leslie: I thought about all those years that I was really suffering to raise my kids, and the one thing that saved me was half an hour in a hot tub with some bath salts, some music, some candles. And so I thought, “There's got to be a lot of people like me who really just need to be rescued every now and then.”
TEXT: Leslie taught herself how to make bath salts and lotions.
Leslie: And then I decided that there's no way that I'm going to sell lavender vanilla, because there's tons of lavender vanilla. I would sell the emotion, the Week from Hell, because every week for me was the week from hell.
TEXT: With her years of selling cars, Leslie knew she could sell her own products.
TEXT: She set up Walton Wood Farm in 2014.
Leslie: I would fill up the bottles, and I'd pack them in the pickup truck and I'd say, “I am not coming home until this truck is empty.” And I would take them up and down main streets to these boutiques, and I'd say, “I come from a farm around here, and I made these amazing bath salts.” And I'd hold it out, and it would say “The Week from Hell,” and they'd just start laughing. And they'd say, “Yeah, give me a case.”
TEXT: Within 5 months, Leslie’s products were selling across Canada.
TEXT: By 2018 Walton Wood Farm was a $2 million company with complex fulfillment needs.
Leslie: We had two separately owned warehouses doing our shipping. And we thought we'd be really clever and get one company, one set of billing, one set of procedures. I thought we had thoroughly vetted that company. They had been around for 75 years, shipping in pallets, engines and giant pallets of protein powder. But it turned out they had no experience in what we call eaches—so, picking a hand cream, a cologne, putting it in a box with nice paper. I started getting emails of photos of $1,500, $2,000 orders destroyed. I could see where all the packaging was just destroyed. The creams were spilled all over the salts. The entire system collapsed.
TEXT: It took nearly 18 months for Leslie and her team to repair the damage.
Leslie: We survived, and that's all that matters. And now we have excellent third party logistic partners. And we have this incredible team here. I don't know how they survived it, you know? But we all survived together, and we're stronger and we're better for it. I want to be a big company that is financially sound, but it's always going to be here at this farm. This is the heart of it, and if we can bring that story out, I think people would really connect with that. And who knows what that will inspire?