Audrey Gruss on making an impact and raising awareness about depression through Hope Fragrances

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Describe your business in a few words?

We are a luxury branded fragrance company that produces three fragrances with extensions and retails through high-end department stores. The unusual fact about our business is that it is a non-profit, charitable situation, since 100% of net profits go directly to depression research at Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF).

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

I am Founder and Chair of the Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF). Research results take a long time and while we are funding and waiting for promising results, I wanted a way to raise awareness about depression and to raise funds for HDRF, so I conceived of the marketing strategy to create an additional way to raise funds via a fragrance line where 100% of its net profits would provide this additional stream of income to the charity foundation. In each package of fragrance, there is an insert that tells the back-story of Hope Fragrances and Hope, my mother, who actually had depression.  For every research study that takes years to complete, my thought was that we could sell thousands of bottles of fragrance that each convey our important charity message.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

I have a degree in biology from Tufts University, and my background is in luxury product marketing, with positions at the Revlon Research Center, JP Stevens Textiles and Elizabeth Arden, where I was Director of Advertising and Creative Services worldwide for 55 countries. I also was the President of my own international consulting company to find distribution for European luxury products.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Not until I started my own consulting company and realized all the positive aspects of being your own boss.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

The marketing strategy to launch Hope Fragrances was a classic luxury advertising and marketing approach, supplemented by public relations. It began with an introduction to long-lead magazines at a tea at Bergdorf Goodman, and a lunch at a high-end department store to which we invited print and social media editors, celebrities and social friends. It went very well and as planned.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

I made a mistake by hiring a fragrance distributor that did not provide the detailed follow-up with the retailer on communications and strategy. What I learned from it is that you have to take more time and be careful about vetting the people with whom you associate. I should have launched later and worked with a distributor that had a better economic situation.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

I am most proud of the launch of Hope Fragrances as a beautiful, successful line of luxury fragrances that stands on its own as a quality product, but also is part of a concept where it gives 100% of its net profits to a charitable cause that is of worldwide importance today.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

If you weren’t in this occupation, what would you really like to do? Always go with your gut reaction as long as it is supported by appropriate work experience.

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Our business has been completely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in every way. Our success at retail depends on consumers going into the retailer or buying through the retailer online. Obviously, the in-store business has been drastically impacted from our original sales projections.

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

Growth, growth and more growth. We are in the midst of product extensions for all three fragrances, and we will be expanding our retail distribution and online presence significantly.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

To be adaptable.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

No one could have predicted an international pandemic. One of the most important things to get through a difficult time is to stay visible in front of your audience, so we adapted our advertising and PR program to stay in front of our consumer.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

Steady work and a combination of work/life balance. Whether our sales were off or not during the pandemic, I functioned as though there was nothing wrong and tried to keep as much of our work schedule and meetings so that we could plan for the future.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

I totally believe in work/life balance. Without it, there can be no real success in either. Here are four guidelines that I use in my daily life, and I have learned these four pillars of good mental health and general health:

1) Proper nutrition

2) Appropriate exercise

3) Enough sleep

4) Meditation or relaxation

I am always planning my schedule and adjusting by getting a balance in my life. I find when I eat properly, sleep enough, exercise daily and try to relax and turn my mind off work for even a few minutes each day, I feel the most balanced and ready to work with great energy.

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

I’m a really good dancer.

I’m a proud grandmother to eight grandchildren. They are the wonderful grandchildren of my husband’s two children (my step-children). I adore being with them and spending as much time as I can sharing in their activities.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

I would have to go back to my work/life balance. Without those 4 pillars, I don’t think I would be as grounded and productive as I am today.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Courage, satisfaction, excitement, challenge, pleasure, energy, vision and success.

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