In this episode of Mompreneurs, host Nancy Redd sits down with the CEO of natural deodorant brand PlayPits, Chantel Powell. From making products in her kitchen for her kids to selling over 120,000 deodorants per year and being on the shelves of Target, Powell has made an amazing transformation with her business in just five years. Her story is an inspiration to anyone struggling to see that light at the end of the tunnel, and in this episode, she lovingly shares it to encourage other mompreneurs to keep going.
Breaking Free Of The “Apron Strings”
Powell did not envision herself making deodorant or even having a product-based business. Her journey started in fashion. She got her degree in merchandising and had always dreamed of dressing mannequins since she was a little girl. Right out of school, she got an internship at Tyler Perry studios in Atlanta and worked her way up to production assistant and finally wardrobe stylist. She was living the dream until a little positive pregnancy test required a major pivot.
Powell had to move home once her first child came along, and to keep making ends meet, she started a closet organization and stylist business in Maryland. It didn’t stick, but, it would create the entrepreneurial building blocks that would later lay the groundwork for PlayPits – Powell just didn’t know it at the time.
After having her first child, Powell began to suffer from eczema. By the time she had her second child, the eczema went from bad to worse. “People don’t tell you that pregnancy and motherhood can mess you up,” says Redd. For Powell, this was too true. She’d had several doctors try everything from steroids to topical treatments and nothing was helping her skin. Powell could only use the most natural ingredients on her own skin, and that posed a second dilemma: “I couldn’t put anything on my kids that I couldn’t touch,” explains Powell.
That was when she started making all-natural, DIY products for her kids at home, including a simple deodorant for her son that consisted of a little more than corn starch, baking powder, coconut oil and orange essential oil (this would become the first product in the PlayPits line, the Sunshine deodorant).
One day Powell’s son came home from camp and said the other kids loved the way he smelled so much, that they asked if Powell would make some for them. At first, Powell was hesitant (and far too busy), but she started to realize the power in making something that would help young kids feel confident in their skin. From there, she started making her products and selling them online. At this point, Powell was working full-time during the week as an executive assistant on a show for the OWN network. On the weekends, she was working (out of a library no less) on PlayPits, handling orders and responding to customer service emails.
Powell says she could not have handled that time in her life without her incredibly supportive husband. He stepped in and handled household matters so that Powell could put all of her energy into PlayPits. It’s supportive partners like this that free mompreneurs today from what Redd calls the “apron strings” that tied older generations of moms to the household.
Scaling Up And Leveling Up
PlayPits launched in 2018 and by 2020 had sold thousands of deodorants. But, it was still very much a bootstrap business…until Target came knocking. Powell had attended a holiday festival hosted by Essence, where a Target representative snagged some of her samples. Still, when an email arrived in PlayPit’s Contact Us page from Target, Powell thought it must’ve been spam. It was not. Today, PlayPits can proudly say it’s in Target stores throughout the U.S. and sells over 120,000 deodorants per year.
Knowing how to price her product was a specific challenge that became even more complicated as Powell scaled her business. However, that’s where her experience as a stylist came in. She remembered undervaluing herself as a stylist, and that feeling of never wanting to do that again. So she was honest with herself about what price point she needed to sell her products at.
She also used social media marketing to share her story with consumers – including the quality of the ingredients. And, as luck (or rather hard work) would have it, customers did and do happily pay what Powell asks for her all-natural deodorant. It’s good for their bodies and lasts longer than most non-natural deodorants, and that’s something customers recognized. (Powell also gives a shout-out to what she calls her “under army” – her loyal customers who sing PlayPit’s praises every chance they get).
Paying It Forward
For Powell, the most incredible part of this journey has been seeing her parents and even older generations in her family be proud of her and recognize how exciting entrepreneurship can be. Sharing her story so she can inspire and educate others is also a priority for her. Powell says it was shows just like Mompreneurs that gave her the knowledge and confidence she needed to get started. “I have so many mentors that I’ve never met,” says Powell, because of the countless web series, podcasts and shows she’s consumed on entrepreneurialism. She wants to pay it forward and be that mentor to other women.
Redd asks Powell what words she’d like to impart on other mompreneurs, and if she’d recommend a product-based business. “I would suggest [they create] whatever solution to whatever problem is driving them crazy,” she says, just like she did with her natural skin products. And, Powell says not to let any self-doubt or fears keep moms from getting started. “If I would have let the nos and the self-doubt and the lack of knowledge and lack of resources stop me…I would have never been able to see what this other side of life could be.”
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