An entrepreneur faces all kinds of challenges. But when you're 15 years old and rely on your mother to keep your business afloat, those challenges can be unique.
"Legally, I'm too young to own a company," explains Lani Lazzari, founder of Simple Sugars, an all-natural body care company she runs out of her parents' basement in Pittsburgh, Pa.
Gina Lazzari, Lani's 43-year-old mother, compiles orders, does the accounting and has everything in her name, but make no mistake: "I'm the one who runs the business," says Lani.
Back in 2005, Gina suggested to Lani and her two younger brothers, ages 12 and 7, that instead of buying gifts for the holidays, the children make them.
Lani, who suffers from eczema and, by extension, has trouble with body products, decided to create an all-natural skin scrub, free of colors and preservatives.
Taking her cue from a recipe she found online for a salt scrub, Lani went to Whole Foods and bought ingredients like sweet almond oil, grape seed oil, vanilla extract and sugar, blended them together in the family kitchen, printed out labels and packaged the formula into 24 plastic jars.
Friends and family loved the product, and soon Lani was prepping to go into business for Valentine's Day.
Parents Gina and Don shelled out $2,000 to turn their basement into a lab for their daughter, adding worktables, shelves, linoleum floors and a sink. Working off an e-mail list of friends and family, Lani began selling her scrub for $11 per 8 oz. jar, netting her a profit of $4.50 per sale (she had 15 sales that Valentine's Day). Lani came up with the brand name, Simple Sugars, and a tagline, "Stay Smooth."
Last year, Lani sold $40,000 worth of scrubs, 75 per cent of that through her Web site, the rest through three local spas and a spa in Colorado.
She now has five facial scrubs, 16 body scrubs and a foot scrub in scents including lilac, coffee, cranberry and pumpkin. They retail for $8.95 for 5 oz.or $13.95 for 8 oz. While Lani makes a profit on each sale, all of the money goes back into the company.
"My goal is to grow my business to a $1 million company by graduation," says Lani, a freshman at the Ellis School, an all-girls private school in Pittsburgh.
While Lani usually does all of the packaging, mom will help if there's a big order. Once, when the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center ordered 2,400 foot scrubs for a charity walk, mom enlisted the help of her own mother and grandmother.
"When things pick up, it's all hands on deck," she says. Gina estimates that she, her husband and her sister, Beth Nigro, have poured $6,000 to $10,000 in Simple Sugars thus far.
"Sometimes I think, 'How big of a loser am I, that I work for my 15-year-old daughter for free?'" jokes Gina. "But I've had worse jobs, and worked for worse bosses."
Gina, a former medical devices marketer and pharmaceutical sales representative who admits she has "four different business plans in a drawer that went nowhere," says that while she offers Lani advice, at the end of the day it's her daughter who calls the shots: "Since [Lani] has been able to talk, I have never been able to say 'Because I say so.' I have to have a good reason, and even then, she'll sometimes have a better case."
While most mothers and their teen daughters might argue over boyfriends or loud music, Lani and Gina tend to get heated about business affairs. Recently, Lani wanted to hold a series of college campus parties to expand her customer base, but Gina put her foot down because of Lani's school exams.
"She still has the impulsive mind of a teenager," says Gina. "She never thinks something won't work. But that's probably why she's been successful."
Lani's business has outgrown the basement and she wants new space. However, she isn't old enough to drive. "I can't have my mom driving me [to a new space] and picking me up," says Lani, since often by the time she's done with school, sports, homework and business activities, it's past midnight.
Lani and her mother are also hashing out the pros and cons of hiring an employee and conducting focus groups at Chatham University. "She wasn't as excited about that idea as I was," says Lani of her mother. "But the final decision will be up to me."