In 2003, Orville invested in a car wax infomercial that failed, leaving Orville and Heidi $700,000 in net debt and on the verge of bankruptcy. Orville says about that time in his life: “I was feeling just beaten down as an entrepreneur, a failure. And I remember thinking, ‘Why didn’t I just become a dentist?’”
Orville went to Heidi and said, “We are really in debt; we should probably file for bankruptcy.” To which Heidi replied, “No. We are going to swing for the fence and we’re going to swing really hard.”
Trading Video Games for Scents
In March 2004, without enough money in the Event Sales checking account to pay the rent on booth space, Orville attended a Salt Lake City, Utah, home show. He wrote a check to the show promoter, saying, “This check is bad. Don’t cash it, but please let me set up. I will buy this check back from you with cash by the end of the show.” The promoter agreed. Orville set up his booth selling 64-in-1 video game controllers across the aisle from two stay-at-home moms who were selling decorative warmers designed to melt scented wax with the heat of a light bulb instead of a traditional wick and flame.
Over the next few days, the wickless candle concept fascinated Orville. He struck up a conversation with the women during a lunch break, and they swapped products. Orville traded a video game controller for a warmer, several wickless candle bars, and a set of scent testers. He took the products home to Heidi, who now admits she planned to toss them into the pile of other products Orville was fond of bringing home for her to evaluate for Event Sales.
The products never made it to the pile of discards. Instead, Heidi fell in love with them.
Trust & Collaboration
A few days after returning from the home show, Heidi was visiting and sharing the scents testers with her mom and sister. Orville left to run an errand and came home to find the women still smelling the testers, laughing and sharing memories. They were having a great time and something smelled delicious. He asked Heidi what she was baking and the women laughed. She told him it was a Scentsy candle bar called Banana Nut Bread.
Orville was touched by the cozy scene and intrigued to see how different scents could evoke emotions and memories. He was energized by how natural it was to share those feelings and memories with others in the “party” environment. Orville and Heidi purchased the tiny company and moved Scentsy to Meridian, Idaho.
Heidi Discovers the DSA
Heidi quickly immersed herself in the new venture. She was in love with Scentsy products and determined to see the company succeed.
Heidi’s participation in the business would prove invaluable. While Orville traveled for Event Sales as he did each summer, Heidi took over the financial books and began researching different business models, including direct selling. She learned about the Direct Selling Association (DSA) and was impressed by the DSA’s high level of support for its members. But what really drew her to DSA was the organization’s Code of Ethics.
Heidi convinced Orville to attend the DSA’s national meeting in New Orleans even though the expense was considerable. In fact, Orville and Heidi now laugh that they had to “rub their remaining credit cards together” to come up with the funds for just Orville to attend that meeting.
And that’s where the idea to launch Scentsy as a party plan company was formed. Orville and Heidi learned everything they could about how the direct selling business model worked. They realized how well that model suited the wonderful experience the women in Heidi’s family had shared in her kitchen with the Scentsy testers.
On July 1, 2004, Orville and Heidi launched Scentsy as a party plan company. Driving to Salt Lake City to meet with potential Scentsy Consultants that day, they created the company’s mission statement:
“To bring value to the world by providing an industry-leading, family-friendly business opportunity selling creative, artistic, high-quality products that Warm the Heart, Enliven the Senses, and Inspire the Soul.”
Scentsy’s first home was a 40-foot metal box. For several months, the Thompsons and their five kids ran Scentsy’s manufacturing and shipping operations from an old ocean shipping container that had been sitting on the family sheep farm in Meridian, Idaho. Orville had secured the farm and started raising sheep when he felt discouraged with his failing Event Sales business. It was his way to reconnect to a time when he felt inspired as a successful entrepreneur. Now it was time to sell the sheep and get to work.
Because they were deeply in debt, with no credit line or means to take on investors, Orville and Heidi had no choice but to “bootstrap.” They used what they had — including converting a mouse-infested ocean container into the “home office” — and worked tirelessly, nearly around the clock, to launch the fledgling company.