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Sarah Trombley

Turning a long-time passion into a small business: My experience, my fears, my wins, and lessons learned along the way.

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I started Lunar Infusions one year ago. This first year has been somewhat like riding a rollercoaster, an exhilarating journey of high and low points. The lows have come in the form of obstacles between me and my goals, the highs are the breakthroughs in getting to the next step.

Let me preface by saying I did not go to business school, did not grow up in an entrepreneur family, and I basically had no idea what I was doing when I started Lunar Infusions. I did, however, have over four years of experience brewing kombucha

Let me preface by saying I did not go to business school, did not grow up in an entrepreneur family, and I basically had no idea what I was doing when I started Lunar Infusions. I did, however, have over four years of experience brewing kombucha (a healthy, carbonated probiotic tea beverage). I brewed my first batch in 2013 while I was living in Arcata, CA. It was then that I became obsessed with fermentation. Changing something ordinary into a magical superfood was thrilling, and it was clear I had a knack for it.

It didn’t take long before I began taking my elixirs everywhere I went and sharing them with whoever stopped by my place. I was so happy to share and I did not expect what would happen next; Even though you could buy all kinds of kombucha from all kinds of stores in this little hippy town, people loved my small batch kombucha and wanted to buy it from me. So, I began selling it from my little studio apartment. Soon my walls were lined with jars of kombucha. If you have seen it brewing before, you know the SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) floats around the tea liquid, looking like some kind of science experiment. I have actually always found it beautiful. I was busting at the seams, and it was getting a little challenging to keep up with the demand!

I dreamed of making this a legitimate business but I was so scared. Starting a real business seemed overwhelming and I had no idea where to start. I thought about it constantly though. Every time I saw a new brand of kombucha pop up on the store shelves, I would panic a little, thinking that my window of opportunity to start would not last forever.

Then, my life took a turn when I was visiting family here in Indiana 2.5 years ago. I began feeling like I should be closer to family, and out of nowhere, I met the man of my dreams. I seriously was not expecting that! Okay Universe, I thought, I hear you! So, I found myself moving back to Indiana in January 2017. I got a couple of jobs and started brewing my kombucha. I loathed the jobs but the kombucha brought me so much joy. Again, I started sharing it, hoping people would love it here too. They did, and I started selling, again from my tiny apartment. It took me almost a year to feel confident making it an official business. Thankfully I also had the support of my fiancé. It truly helps to have people close to you who believe in you! I was excited and nervous, but I knew one thing was for sure, I did not want to work for someone else much longer.

It took me almost a year to feel confident making it an official business. Thankfully I also had the support of my fiancé. It truly helps to have people close to you who believe in you!

With no formal business training or experience and only a few thousand dollars and some credit cards, I knew that I wasn’t going to start big. My theory was to start slow and grow organically. I googled how to start a business and did the bare minimum of registering a name and filing with the state. Now I needed a place to sell it. How scary! Was I just supposed to walk in and ask a business owner to carry it? The fear of rejection was always on my mind. But one day during a class at Fusion Yoga, I felt inspired and asked the owner, Celeste Sexton, if I could do a tasting at her studio. To my surprise, she not only agreed but was super excited to maybe even put my kombucha in the studio! I was ecstatic. That one step forward gave me so much confidence. I decided to go for it.

Once the ball started rolling, my creative mind went to all of the other possibilities with my business.

I did, however, need to get it cleared with the health department which meant: It had to be brewed at a commercial facility, I had to get the proper permits, insurance, and inspections before I could sell. I might as well have been asked to climb Mount Everest because it all seemed so foreign and out of my realm of experience. But I was determined. So, thanks to google, I found a local shared commercial kitchen, The Cookspring Kitchen at The Summit. Finding them was like finding a hidden treasure. They have a great program for budding culinary entrepreneurs, and their kitchen manager, Troy Tiernon, was and has always been a great resource for helping navigate those waters. Then I called the health department, asked them what I needed to do, and then I did it, one step at a time. Getting my Indiana wholesale distributor license was surreal! I was a legitimate business.

One of his nuggets of wisdom was, to get out there, and get it into as many people's mouths as possible. I figured the Fort Wayne Farmers Market would be a great place to start.

Soon after this, I asked my uncle, Scott Howard, a marketing guy, what he thought about in terms of marketing my product. One of his nuggets of wisdom was, to get out there, and get it into as many people’s mouths as possible. I figured the Fort Wayne Farmers Market would be a great place to start. Again, I was nervous about asking for fear of being rejected or unprepared. I had zero experience being a vendor for anything, and I was a brand-new business so I wasn’t sure if they would give me a chance. Almost exactly a year ago, on January 13, 2018, I worked my first farmer’s market. My product was well received and I sold out the first few weeks! I was on cloud nine.

Once the ball started rolling, my creative mind went to all of the other possibilities with my business. I knew the next step was to get my product in stores and on draft. With a lot of research, a branding makeover, a trailer outfitted with a draft system (built by my fiancé) and hard work, lunar infusions entered the retail market. The first place to give me a try was the Three Rivers Distillery. They started using my product to make mimosas and kombucha cocktail which are a very trendy thing in big cities, but not yet in Fort Wayne. I am so grateful to the president, Marla Schneider for giving me a shot and starting the trend here in Fort Wayne. I am proud to say that they still carry my kombucha, and you can get a draft glass if you want an alternative to alcohol, or if you spice things up you can get a delicious kombucha cocktail. Soon after, I approached the River Coffee House, Conjure Coffee, The Three Rivers Co-op and Deli, and The Fresh Food Hub. Needless to say, after each new retail location, I was beaming. My business was working!

I might be making this sound too easy. There have been more obstacles and setbacks throughout this journey than I can write about. But let me tell you about one of the most embarrassing and expensive learning lessons so far. Packaging. I had no idea this would be so difficult to figure out. I mean, you just put your product in a bottle and sell it, right? Ha. I will spare you the technical details of finding a suitable bottle at an affordable price and not in increments of 200,000… harder than you think! And Labels. Once I got the design figured out, I had no idea where to get them printed. The minimum order for a professional printer was in the thousands and I thought, what if I go through a few hundred and need to change something on the label? My answer was to buy an at-home label printer capable of printing quality labels on demand. Boy were those expensive! I got the cheapest professional one I could find. At $1225 I got a printer and soon found that the labels and ink for the thing were a small fortune in themselves. But at that point, there was no turning back. I figured I would use it momentarily and find a way to get the cost down later. Meanwhile, I had hundreds of bottles on store shelves when something odd started happening. With the humid summer air hitting the bottles as cooler doors opened, the labels began coming off of the bottles and then sticking to other labels on bottles next to it. It became a nightmare. Oh yeah, and the ink was rubbing off onto people’s hands. I thought my business was done for, and I was mortified. And worse, I had no idea how to fix the problem! Luckily, hundreds of failing labels later, I ended up finding a local company and an online company who could print quality, PERMANENT, and waterproof labels, and soon the problem was solved. The mistake only cost me a couple thousand dollars and a lot of stress and embarrassment. Hey, Hindsight is always 20/20.

Here are some of the key lessons I have learned so far:

1. You can over-think starting a small business.

If you have no idea what you are doing in the first place, thinking about it for years is not the best use of time. I wish I would have just put myself out there sooner so I could be ahead of where I am now.

2. Don’t let the fear of rejection stop you from asking for what you want.

Many of the places I have approached about selling my kombucha have said no. And so what?! So many have said yes! And every time I get my product into a new place I feel like a superstar. If you never ask, you will NEVER get what you want.

3. Starting a new business, or having any big goal for that matter, can seem overwhelming.

The key is focusing on one step at a time. It is the little things you do every day, that adds up over the course of a year, or over many years, that make it happen.

4. We live in a time where there are unlimited resources.

Not knowing what you are doing is not an excuse. Google it, ask people for advice, network and utilize the Fortitude Fund (If you are in Northeast Indiana)! Some other sources of information and inspirations have been entrepreneur and business podcasts, books, and audiobooks.

5. Starting a business with something you’re passionate about might become more about a business than your actual passion.

I love brewing kombucha, but a year later, I only spend a small percentage of my time actually brewing kombucha. All of the sudden, I am also a bookkeeper, production manager, sales rep, distributor, marketing manager, researcher, etc. If you are starting on a small budget, it can be hard to hire people to fill these roles. This works for me personally because I like challenge, change, and tend to get burnt out doing the same thing for too long. I picture this being the same in other industries as well. For example, if you are passionate about baking and open a bakery, you might not end up spending that much time actually baking!

Overall, this rollercoaster of entrepreneurship has been fun and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Of course, it has been scary at times too. But learning to relax through the stress and keep going has been worth it! I am so excited to see what the next year has in store. I hope sharing my experience was at least entertaining, and hopefully inspiring to someone out there with dreams of starting their own business.

Article written by Sarah Trombley Founder/Owner Lunar Infusions, LLC lunarinfusions.com