3 Things Oprah Could Learn from Scentsy Owners Heidi & Orville Thompson

Scentsy is a Meridien, Idaho company that hosts home parties to sell wickless candles. The year 2009 marked Scentsy’s fifth anniversary. Owners Heidi and Orville Thompson planned to spend $25,000 for a company celebration. While planning that well-deserved self-indulgence, the Thompsons developed some self-awareness. The nearby city of Boise had been hit hard by the recession. Orville and Heidi Thompson felt that spending $25,000 on a party for 350 employees would “strike the wrong note” for their struggling neighbors (Entrepreneur Magazine, February 2009).

The Thompsons decided to change the focus of their celebration. Scentsy’s 2009 sales had come close to $200 million. The Thompsons upped their celebration fund to $100,000. They gave $100 to each of 1000 employees and told them to spend the money at small family businesses on the same Saturday. Those employees chose forty businesses and spent $2,500 at each one. A number of the chosen business owners said that Scentsy’s gift of customers and cash meant survival for their businesses.

Scentsy hosted three more shopping days in the fall of 2009 through Contribute 2009. Sixty-seven thousand Scentsy home consultants pledged another $200,000 to spend at small family businesses. The consultants told friends and families about the shopping days. Many of the family and friends went along without pledging first. The total spending to support small business and help families was likely $400,000 to $500,000. Other businesses have followed Scentsy’s example in supporting U.S. families and their small businesses.

The success of those small businesses will create more success in their communities. More success in more communities means more success for the country. Eventually, Scentsy will be able to be self-indulgent again, and I hope they have a blow out party.


What Oprah Could Learn

1.  There is a Time for Self-Indulgence and a Time for Self-Awareness

Heidi and Orville Thompson became self-aware of how a self-indulgent party would affect their neighbors.

Oprah took more than 300 handpicked fans to Australia for a luxury vacation to promote Australia’s tourism industry. Australian taxpayers footed part of the $3 million Oprah received for the trip. Oprah celebrated the 25th anniversary of her talk show in a self-indulgent way while millions of U.S. citizens were going hungry and U.S. small businesses were struggling to stay alive.

2.  Giving Up Control Can Increase Effectiveness

Orville and Heidi Thompson gave their employees control of the money and which businesses to support. They told their employees to spend the money with no strings attached and to keep what they bought for themselves.

Oprah gives her audiences what she feels like giving them. Whether or not everyone in her audiences wants what she gives them seems unimportant. Oprah’s gifts come from corporations, not small businesses.

3.  Putting the Spotlight on Others by Creating Success for Them Brings an Admiring Spotlight Back to You.

Heidi and Orville Thompson put the spotlight on struggling family businesses. To celebrate Scentsy’s sixth anniversary in 2010, the Thompsons organized a “6 Pack Give Back”. They gave $50,000 toward helping twenty small family businesses. The spotlight has admiringly shone back on Scentsy and the Thompsons through numerous articles and this blog post. That kind of spotlight helped other businesses follow the Thompsons’ example. That kind of spotlight probably increased Scentsy’s sales.

Oprah self-indulgently kept the spotlight on herself in Australia. Journalists who went to Australia had to explain what they were going to write and where they would publish the stories. They had to be willing to have examples of their stories reviewed. An article in the December 7th, 2010 Sydney Morning Herald was not exactly admiring in its report about Oprah’s visit. It suggested that as a guest of the Australian government, Oprah needed to interact with the ordinary Australians who paid for her trip, not just with her “hosts, minders, and sponsors”.

How many small family U.S. businesses would be able to survive these hard times if Oprah became self-aware, gave up a little control, and took the spotlight off herself to shine on small family business owners?


Paula M. Kramer
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