By Ryan Ragaini, SMARTACUS Creative Group
Jillian Ehrenberg's story proves you can do anything if you put your mind to it. How you can go from the bottom to the top. How sometimes the worst of accidents can turn into the greatest of blessings.
Ehrenberg knew ten years ago that she had the raw materials to create something great with the herbs she grew in the backyard of her home in Galway, which she share with her husband Jeff and two children. Imagining the healthful products -- especially lotions -- that she could make with the crops of calendula, rosemary, yarrow, and many more herbs that she was growing, she started mixing them for her own use and giving them names like “Mend” and “Bandage.”
She knew others would love them, too, and so she started imagining the business she could launch, coining the name Petal and Hive. The challenge, she knew, would be to scale up her process and establish a distinct niche in an already-crowded market for natural skincare products.
Starting off as the seed of an idea, Petal + Hive has grown from the ground up just like the plants and flowers Ehrenberg grows in her yard. As her business expanded, she started buying in substantial quantities from other sources. The flower of her enterprise is now blooming, with the opening last fall of a store in Schenectady and a booming online business on the Petal and Hive web site. Her persistence has paid off.
She's making larger batches because the products are selling so well and working with more retail stores. "This makes it easier for customers to find Petal + Hive products," she says. "They don’t have to wait for me to set up a booth at a market or festival in order to try my newest formulas."
A Move to Upstate New York
Born in Maine, Ehrenberg moved with her family to Maryland around her second birthday.
Before finishing elementary school, she was on the move again, this time to the east coast of Connecticut, where she would spend most of her childhood. Finding Connecticut to be a state of “haves and have nots,” she says her family was among the latter, and that instilled in her a determination to work hard at everything she did.
After earning a degree in history and women's studies at the University of Connecticut,
Ehrenberg went into college fundraising and event planning, first in New England then New York City. Upon the birth of their first child, she and her husband, Jeff, moved to Upstate New York in 2006 and settled in the village of Galway in 2012.
Ehrenberg focused on being a mom while simultaneously exploring her passion for making lotions and other skincare products, which she would use herself and share with family and friends. Having spent his early career as a cosmetic chemist with Fortune 500 companies, Jeff would help in developing promising formulas.
Everything started to snowball in 2015 when she first sold her products at farmers markets and craft fairs. "The response was very positive, and I haven’t looked back since," she says.
But everything took a nearly disastrous turn in January 2017 when, in the process of moving crates, Ehrenberg was hit in the face by a heavy, steel hand truck and suffered a serious concussion. While her full recuperation would take two months, she was soon back at work.
"The skills I'd learned and the mentality I'd acquired working in New York City helped me manage the business and figure out how to move it forward. If you have enough smarts and enough ability to manage your time and your energy, you really can do anything.”
A Test of Arnica Cream
Ehrenberg found in her recuperation an opportunity to test a new product she was developing -- Arnica Cream, an herbal creation used by athletes as a natural healing agent. Treating herself as a test subject, Ehrenberg saw remarkable results.
However, the accident left unexpected and lasting results as well. “When my brain got to a point where it was noticeably improving and my thoughts started coming back, the wiring was different,” Ehrenberg continues. "I now have a greater sense of self-control and I find myself approaching tasks differently."
Along the way, she lost 40 pounds, reduced her intake of sugar and wine, started exercising regularly, and became more confident in every aspect of running her business."
"Overall, I think I'm a better version of myself now," she says.
Her business also has become a better version of itself, expanding from online sales to increased exposure through markets and festivals and to a Petal and Hive store at the Clinton Street Mercantile in Schenectady, a new space that invites small businesses to operate their own shops in a single common area.
“It's really important in the beauty industry for customers to be able to touch and smell a product before purchasing it,” she explains.
Trust is 'Cement'
Ehrenberg has made her way to a thriving business with determination, hard work, and persistence -- and she's convinced that anyone can achieve similar results by just setting their minds to it. Trust is the key ingredient.
"When your boss, your coworkers, and your customers trust you, you’re able to go farther. Doors open. Mistakes are forgiven. When you’re going through a hard time, people step up to support and help you.”
Ehrenberg appreciates the relationships she has fostered while building Petal + Hive, and she is committed to building on the foundation of trust.
"If people know they can trust you, your relationship with them will be on solid ground. Trust is the cement in the foundation of all of the relationships one needs to succeed."
Jillian Ehrenberg will continue to design innovative products with natural ingredients. Petal + Hive customers can rely on it.
Ryan Ragaini says he is taking Jill Cowburn's journalism class at Saratoga Springs High School, because "writing could be a career focus." He also enjoys music and ultimate Frisbee, and says, “I’m driven by a desire to work toward a better future."