Scents from the Banyan tree
EXPERIENCING a country is not restricted to time spent on the ground, but will linger long after one returns home, in photographs, memories, and if companies like Banyan Creations Ltd is lucky, in scents and fragrances.
The company, owned by Charis Lee, makes candles and soaps that feature Jamaican scents like coffee and lemon grass. The coffee bean fragrance, Lee said, is one of the best-selling of her range of candles.
"We use Jamaican coffee beans at the edge... so the beans are embedded in the candle and as it burns down... you'll still see the beans," she told the Jamaica Observer.
Another best-selling product is the coffee mint bar soap which is part of Banyan's body care line. The line also features goat's milk, locally made glycerine and natural vegetable soaps, as well as body washes and lotions.
"We try to use as much local products as we can, but getting a consistent supply and maintaining the quality is an issue sometimes with the local supplies," Lee said, using the example of the lemon grass, which she said is thought to be plentiful and easily available, but actually isn't.
As a result, the majority of the raw materials Banyan Creations uses are imported. Packaging materials, however, are bought locally, as amber or brown-coloured bottles can be had easily, given the high demand for such bottles.
Banyan started out in 2004 as a co-owned venture between Lee and Charlotte Johnson, a friend of her husband. She took full possession after her partner married and emigrated.
Running a business was not new ground for Lee, who was already operating a stationery business. In fact, Lee and Johnson used to share a booth at wedding shows as, according to Lee, the products were complementary since candles make nice wedding gifts.
"We kinda took over Banyan at a time when the worldwide recession started, so it's been a difficult road, but we've been holding our own in the market. I would say 95 per cent of our market is in the tourist sector," she said.
When asked what was the inspiration behind the name Banyan Creations, Lee replied that it came from the banyan tree, which has a very large and deep root system signifying stability, family and strength.
Since she has taken over, Lee said she has had to make certain changes to keep the company going. For example, she has taken on in-house sales rather than the contract agreement of previous years, and the website that was developed for e-commerce has been disabled as a result of low sales.
"Times are hard, you have to do what you have to do," Lee stated.
However, one thing that Lee won't be changing any at all is the method used to make Banyan Creations candles.
"We continue to hand-pour; we don't plan to change how we do things in terms of the pouring," she assured.
Explaining the process, Lee said the wax is melted, additives like scented oil is put in, after which a UV light stabiliser is used to prevent the candle's colour from changing when exposed to natural light.
"Basically, everything is mixed at the right temperature and depending on the temperature at which you pour, you get different effects with the wax," she further explained.
The wax is then poured into a mould and the wick added. When the candle completely cools it is taken out of the mould and levelled to ensure that it burns properly.
When asked how long a candle takes to be made, Lee said it depended on the size of the candle and the temperature at which it is poured. For smaller candles, they do what is termed a "cold pour", where the wax is poured at a cooler temperature which means that the candles don't take as long to cool and can be removed quicker from the moulds.
In the case of the larger candles, the temperature is hotter and the wax has to be poured multiple times, which if done in the morning won't be taken out of the moulds till evening.
But this is not the longest production time at Banyan as other products such as incense sticks take as long as two weeks to dry in order to ensure that the scented oil is fully infused into the sticks.
Addressing challenges that the company faces, Lee pointed to a range of things, including the high cost of importation and the inability to capitalise on high volume purchases given Banyan's small size.
"Our exchange rate is probably our biggest challenge," Lee said, as she pointed out that as the Jamaican dollar devalues, it affects the market price of the imported materials needed for the products.
As a result, the selling cost of the products tend to be on the more expensive side, which Lee gave as a reason for the absence of Banyan Creations products in Kingston hotels. The most expensive raw material is wax, with oils taking second place.
While the products are very popular in the island's north coast hotels, Lee explained that in Kingston, because of the availability of other, cheaper imported products on the shelves, Banyan does not do well.
Despite the challenges, however, Lee said that she gets a good response from the hotels and people who buy her products.
"There are other companies that do the same sort of thing, but we get good support from them (hotels), the chain hotels like Sandals have been very good to us," Lee told the Observer.
Other than hotels and spas, Banyan Creations products can be found at the Things Jamaican shops at Norman Manley International Airport and Devon House.
"You can actually come and buy, but we don't advertise ourselves as a retail outlet, but you do have some customers who do come directly to us," Lee added.
Even though the tourist industry is seasonal, Lee said she visits the various spas and hotels that carry her products to see if they have anything new to offer or just to follow up to see how things are going. It is good to get to know customers and have a good relationship so they'll always remember you, because they have so many other people to deal with, Lee said.
When asked what advice she would give to an upcoming business owner, Lee said, "Don't give up, it's not easy, you have to put a lot in and know that you're not going to see returns right away, but you have to make up your mind and stick with it."
"It's also important to keep things above board... Whatever you're doing, do it the proper way, it will save you the headache," she said.
In summing up the business experience at Banyan Creations, Lee mentioned that there were times when after she took over, she didn't see any growth but "you roll with the punches and as things change, you try to change with what's going on and make the best of every situation".