We had the good fortune of connecting with Valorie Ziegler and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Valorie, can you tell us about a book that has had a meaningful impact on you?
Oh, there are so many books! Early this year I read Untamed by Glennon Doyle, and for me, it was well timed with messages I needed to hear at that point in my life. Her writing style reminded me (in ways that stayed with me!) that I must unapologetically advocate for myself in order to be my truest self. At the time, I was feeling stuck in a job where my work was important, but where my values felt at odds with the organization. My new business was less than a year in, and I was struggling to find the fortitude and life balance I needed to make it grow and thrive while working and parenting at the same time. The author’s story aligned, in many ways, with my own, and it was the wake-up call I needed to take action, make important changes, and rediscover balance and joy in my work; both my 9-5 career and my creative business.
“I will not stay, not ever again – in a room or conversation or relationship or institution that requires me to abandon myself” This passage really sticks with me because, at so many times in my life, I’ve stuck with certain things because I thought it was the right thing to do, rather than the right thing for me. This is written on the inside cover of my work notebook as reminder to stay true to what I know, what I believe, and the life I want now and for my future self.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Most of my career has been working for large companies in technology and aerospace. With a knack for seeing “the big picture” of a company’s mission, I found my niche early in the field of Operations Management. To me, Operations is seeing that big picture and translating it into managing and refining the inner-workings of a business to make it run as efficiently as possible. In my career, that has been building and leading technical and customer support teams to manage high-traffic global websites, creating software to manage large electrical grids, and leading teams at an aerospace company to successfully execute and deliver on customer programs.
My passion for operations, along with my love of art and science, led me to start a small business in the summer of 2020. I started making my own soap in college when I discovered that my own hand-made products were a good match for my finicky skin and a tight student budget. Now and then through the years, I would pick up the craft to make things for myself or to give as gifts to friends and family. Two winters ago, I taught my teen sons the science and art of making soap, and they loved how giving these handmade gifts made them, and others, feel. When friends started requesting custom batches of soap and my sons wanted to earn money during a pandemic, I knew it was time to start a business as something more than a casual hobby.
Our brand emerged from our love of Colorado and the natural resources around us. The St. Vrain River runs near our home, and we love hiking the St. Vrain Trail and its namesake mountain peak. We work hard to stay true to the concept of “leave no trace” when we backpack or hike through our favorite scenic forests, so we abide by the same principles in business to minimize the impacts our products have on our local and global environment. I chose to formulate all of our soaps without palm oil, partly because I have a lot of food and product sensitivities, and also because harvesting palm oil is so detrimental to forest habitats. We also avoid common allergens like soy, wheat, and peanut, synthetic fragrances or colorants, and are committed to recyclable, compostable, and plastic-free packaging and shipping materials.
Here we are, 16 months in and growing with loyal customers, strong wholesale relationships, and people who can say our products have changed their skin for the better. This fall we moved the business out of our basement and into a commercial production space, and I hired my first employee in September. From the experience, my sons have learned first-hand that being in business for yourself takes so much more than a passion for your craft and making products you love. It takes planning, financial savvy and resources, knowledge of supply chains and regulations, customer obsession, plus a keen understanding of your target market. The boys still help now and then, but my employee, Robin, and I manage most aspects of the business day-to-day. For me, I still fit my business into my life part-time because I am not ready to say goodbye to my 9-5 career in an organization that I love.
Looking back, two key lessons helped me as I started out. First, don’t start a business only because you love making beautiful products. If your passion is making and creating, just remember that the craft itself is only a fraction of the time you’ll spend to make your business successful. If you don’t have the resources to outsource the other important things like marketing, finance, and establishing solid operational procedures and documentation, you should be prepared to learn and do those things yourself. Without them, it’s hard to build, grow, or sustain a profitable business. Second, set and maintain boundaries. Full stop. This is so important and applies to so many areas of your business and life. For example, how much money are you willing to invest (and potentially lose), and how long are you willing to work at something if it’s not growing or profitable? How many hours per week are you willing to spend in your business – creating amazing things or doing the mundane stuff – to maintain balance at home and in your career? How will you make space for your non-business hobbies and self care? These are all things to consider, get really clear on, and stick with as you forge ahead in building a business and your own brand story.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Oh, definitely a road trip! Since we’re heading into the holidays now, that’s what’s on my mind. We would head down to Georgetown and catch one of the night-time holiday trains. Even if you’re an adult and don’t have kids, the snowy views and lighted forest bring back that feeling of wonder that the holiday season inspires. From there, we would head up to Leadville to walk along the shore on the Interlaken Trail. If your timing is right, you’ll see amazing ice formations on the lakes made by wind moving the frozen sheets of ice. Next, a stop in Buena Vista! The historic town along the Arkansas River is friendly and inviting. There’s a great spot to snowshoe or cross-country ski on Evans Rush trail a little south of town. After, enjoy a meal at House Rock Kitchen, where there’s something on the menu for everyone. From there, a day or two skiing at Copper would be perfect before heading home to enjoy a beer and food truck fare at Left Hand Brewing in Longmont.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My parents, Jon and Cindy Ziegler really deserve the biggest shoutout in my life. As amazing parents, they continue to love and support me unconditionally, which feels really good when I have a crazy idea or am in need of a pep talk to keep me going. However, they deserve just as much credit for the values they instilled in me while I was growing up that have helped me thrive as an adult, in my career, and now as a small business owner. Integrity, humility, accountability, respect, charity, and a strong work ethic are the core foundations I learned very young and that still drive the decisions I make in my life as a parent, a leader, and in building a Colorado business. The most helpful lesson they demonstrated to me, though, is that it’s okay to take a non-traditional path in life. It may take longer to get where you’re going, but you’ll still get there, and you’ll have more perspective to guide your decisions and help you lead others when you get there.