We had the good fortune of connecting with Ashley Duverneau and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Ashley, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?

Honestly, I did not have a very forward thinking thought process about starting my business. I had started making natural skin care and hair care items for myself after growing tired of using store bought products that left my skin / hair dry and damaged. When my homemaker journey began, I had only hopes of making the perfect moisturizer for my lifelong eczema condition. During that time, my mother had begun to brag about her daughter’s creation to her colleagues and friends.

Little did I know that I had a growing demand from her friends and coworkers. The requests kept coming and I thought to myself, maybe I should do this forreal. With the manufacturing “training” that I had acquired through working for pharmaceutical companies, and the regulatory education from my undergraduate and graduate degrees I knew this was a feasible idea. 

I began to research the cost associated with selling a handmade item (licenses, vendors, platforms, shipping etc) , as well as the avenues of which I would sell the items prior to seriously considering the idea. After I had my logo created, name / slogan decided, & my Etsy Shop set up, it was official. I commenced my journey as a small business owner on February 28, 2019. 

Once I had sold out of my first 50 orders of inventory in 2 weeks, I knew that I had something good here. Nothing has stopped me since…not even a Global Pandemic! 

Solving a problem for myself, grew into me solving problems for a community I love. 

Please tell us more about your career. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
Aside from my brand, I work in the pharmaceutical industry. I am currently playing the role of Quality Assurance (QA). Prior to this position, I worked as a manufacturing technician. I would be in charge of both the acceptance of labels, material, upstream, downstream, final packaging, as well as submission of samples and FDA regulated documentation. I use both my career experiences as well as my education in Biology & Public Health to commence this entrepreneur journey. 

As I put that all in a short paragraph it sounds so simple, but in actuality it was a nightmare. I was finishing my graduate education at University of Maryland College Park, while working full time in the evenings as a manufacturing tech, while interning for University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, and while launching a new business for the first time in my life! It was a lot to juggle, but I had the support and love of my family of whom I still live with. Not to mention shortly after graduating with my MPH in May 2019, I lost my job in July 2019 and was unemployed for 4 months of that year. 

Although that was one of the scariest periods of my life, not knowing where I would go next, I kept my faith and put my passion and focus on my company. I created the online store I always wanted, and I held the first “Krem Party” in my home to showcase the website launch. I trademarked the logo and name, I began creating more and more products with all the time I had available. I commenced my vendor show appearances and learned so much; the growth felt unreal once I put more time and effort into my local marketing strategy.

Fortunately, God blessed me with a new job opportunity (the one I currently hold) as a QA associate with another pharmaceutical company in November 2019. I was still able to work evenings and focus on my small business in the mornings. I assume everyone’s story comes to the same tragic sequence of events… COVID-19 hit the US in February 2020, and I was forced to adapt to yet another change on how to market my brand. At the time my work life had become overwhelming with the new set of tasks I was promoted to do. My brand hadn’t received the adequate attention, until my father tested positive for COVID-19 late March 2020. 

My world changed that day in more ways than one. I couldn’t grasp the fact that my dad was ill and I couldn’t even touch him. With all my education in epidemiology and biology I was forced like everyone else to quarantine from my father in the basement of our home. That, I would say was the hardest challenge for me thus far in the two years as a business owner. I was helpless, he was also and that killed me. Aside from my business operating out of the place my father was quarantined was the least of my concern, our priority was his recovery. By the grace of God he did and was finally reunited with us, and is still healthy to this day. At the time, I had assumed that business would slow down due to the pandemic, so much so that I was having liquidation sales….I thought wrong. When I had attempted to close the store due to rising temperatures melting my products, customers were not happy at all. I was forced to reopen the shop, compromise with myself and my limits, and added a local delivery option for the local Krem Krew. 

Every weekend my boyfriend and I would load up my cooler with ice packs and body butters, and drive to every single customer who placed an order that week. Yes, this was exhausting, but completely worth it! My local customer base loved the special attention and time I took to make sure their items were perfect, and I loved meeting them! I think this was an added bonus to the fact that I wanted to get out of the house (pandemic crazed), and I wanted to still sell my most popular item without losing my customer base for over 3+ months. 

With the added time I had on my hands teleworking for 3 ½ weeks (quarantine period) I had begun researching ways to bring revenue through my webpage. Prior to COVID-19 most of my revenue was through in person purchases at events or through people I knew. I started posting more on my Instagram and Facebook accounts in hopes of reaching a larger audience, now that we were all confined to our screens. To my surprise my audience grew from 135 followers at the beginning of the pandemic to 1,300 followers today. I am so thankful for this growth, not just because of the increased revenue, but because it has taught me how to wear more than one hat at a time. Prior to the pandemic I would overthink everything, so much so that I wouldn’t even market online in fear of judgements and imperfections. Fast Forward to 2021 Ashley, I can confidently wear the hats of marketer, content creator, director, actor, manufacturer, scientist, host, etc. at any point in time without feeling out of place, uncomfortable or overthinking!

All I can say is that if you place your faith and fear in the Lord, He will ALWAYS turn your struggles around. You will come out the other side with more wisdom, humility, gratitude, strength, fortitude, peace & joy.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?

I live in a tri-state area that holds Maryland, Washington DC, and Virginia aka (DMV), and depending on where my friend was staying in the DMV I would plan their trip accordingly. Of course, I would take her to the capital to see any of the tourist attractions like the MLK Memorial, African American History Museum, Washington Wall, Lincoln Memorial, etc during the day. Afterwards maybe take the bikes around the Potomac River and go to Georgetown to shop, eat, and catch up.  

The next day I’d take her to a local vineyard in northern Virginia called “Cana” where we could have a picnic, drink some good wine, and enjoy the country side. Then we could 

visit the Great Falls on the border of Virginia and Maryland.  If she was up for a hike that day. If not we could always continue shopping at the amazing Tysons Corner Mall on the way back to Maryland. This mall has everything she could want and more, and if it doesn’t we could always go to Tysons Corner 2 right across the street!

Day three would be a spa day, I would take her to my local nail shop in Elkridge, MD “Bang & Jen” to get our hands and feet done. Then I would take her to get lunch at my favorite sushi place “Sushi Q” to get something quick to pick up to take to my house for a movie night cap. 

The next day, I would probably take her to this little french bakery called “Rustic” in Savage, MD where they make the best almond croissants and the strongest espresso drinks. That would probably be the end of my hosting excursions in a realistic life setting due to me having to make time for manufacturing products for my brand. 

So is there a person, group, organization, book, etc that you want to dedicate your shoutout to? Who else deserves a little credit and recognition in your story?

“Sneakher” @sneakher is an amazing fashion brand created by my friend, RaShaun Douglas. She also is a graphic designer who designed the logo for my brand!

My mother, Michelle Duverneau, without her Krem au Krem would not exist, she believed in my products before I did. She bought me my first set of essential oils, and my first mixer, before I could even afford one myself.

My father, Renald Duverneau, has been a quality control admin for Krem. He has been a voice of reason when ideas are drawn in the Duverneau household. 

My cousins, Norah, Caylee, and Chloe, for helping me crank out labeling and orders during the busy holiday season!

My boyfriend, Robert, has been a great support, and aid during vendor events and shows. 

My aunt, Nicole, has been a great coach and confidant throughout the recent growing pains of Krem. She has aided in organizing my production area. 

My entire support team, family, friends, every single customer, every person who has ever spoken the word “Krem au Krem” out of their mouth…I am forever grateful. You all have been in my corner speaking positivity into my brand. 

Website: www.kremaukrem.com

Instagram: @kremaukrem

Facebook: @kremaukrem

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