Women’s Agenda is profiling leaders with impact across business, as part of a special feature in partnership with YPO to mark International Women’s Day 2023.
Here, Nicole Eckels, founder of Glasshouse Fragrances, shares more on her journey to building such a beloved Australian brand name and her powerful approach to business.
Eckels is also featured in our eMagazine with snapshots of 50 impressive leaders building a more inclusive, sustainable and equal world.
As a true lover of fragrance, Nicole Eckels moved to Australia from the United States, and it didn’t take long before she wrote up a business plan for the quality candles she was struggling to find.
When she arrived in 2004, there was a gap in the Australian market for candles and many people told her the idea ‘wasn’t going to work’ or that they ‘didn’t understand’ what she was doing.
Even with all the naysayers, Eckels says “it was belief that drove me” and she had enough evidence from her home market in the US to know they were wrong.
“I was the girl that was obsessed with trying new products, whether it be in perfume or fragrant candles or whatever formats– I couldn’t live without fragrance,” says Eckels.
“I really believe that your sense of smell is the most powerful one of all.”
Since founding Glasshouse in 2005 with her business partner, it has truly become a household Australian brand.
From the outset, Eckels was on a mission to build a global fragrance brand and wanted people to know the name of the product but admits that she “didn’t think it would be as prolific as it has become”.
For Eckels, who is now based half of the time in New York, she always took the success of her business seriously. In the early days, she didn’t wait for demand, but rather, just sent her products to retailers and told them to put her candles on the shelves.
“I selected stores to send our product to free of charge, in order to quickly get distribution across Sydney”, says Eckels. “The retailers had never heard of us, and I didn’t ask them to pay, our product simply turned up at their doorstep with a note to display the product- if it sells, well then you can pay for it sort of thing.”
“There were a few retailers who were quite annoyed because the product arrived 2 weeks before Christmas which is a very tricky time to manage inventory in their shop, however, the vast majority were thrilled.”
Even now that Glasshouse is a global fragrance brand, Eckels and her team continue to strive to be a leading brand, providing products that people love.
“I’m still at the helm and we don’t accept mediocrity,” says Eckels. “We are pushing all the time because we don’t take [our customers’ excitement] for granted.
Cultivating an engaged team is a huge focus for Eckels as she wants to surround herself with passionate people.
“Basically, I’m an entrepreneur,” she says. “I didn’t go to Harvard Business School. I don’t have a rule book. I didn’t have all these things, but I had worked for several companies, and what matters the most to me is that my people feel motivated, engaged and happy.”
For Eckels, her purpose comes down to ensuring her employees love being at work, and says that when it comes to leading in a large business, she starts with the people and the culture.
“I always think to myself, we are supporting hundreds of people and families. That’s actually what we do here, and if they’re happy and productive, they’re giving back to their communities, to our economy,” Eckels says, adding that every one of Glasshouse’s products are made here in Australia and that’s not going to change.
“There’s plenty of reasons to go elsewhere. Financial reasons, but that’s not what we’re about.”
The tenacity Eckels has put into building the powerhouse company that is Glasshouse Fragrances also translates into the advice she’d give to other women looking to get a start as an entrepreneur, or in business.
“Fake it ‘till you make it,” is what she’d say to anyone sitting in a boardroom, feeling unsure of themselves.
Her no-nonsense approach is that, “Insecurity or lack of confidence is the thing you need to forget you have.”
“It has to be your dirty little secret that you just do not tell anyone and you need to own and act like it doesn’t exist because business is tough.”