Design is so important to Virtuvi that the company is literally named after a set of design principles. It’s fitting for a company selling air diffusers and humidifiers that are beautiful enough to be mistaken for sculptures.
Sara Panton and her brother Sean founded Vitruvi because they saw the need for clean scent products—that is, air fresheners and oils that weren’t full of harsh, unpronounceable chemicals that sometimes make your head hurt.
Ironically though, the aesthetic was what set Virtuvi’s home scent products apart. They look as good as they smell, which is why Virtuvi products have been recommended in Vogue magazine and Goop. Fast Company even named it one of the most innovative companies.
Sara joined the Shopify Masters podcast to share how design can be the differentiator.
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1. Humility in designing for the home
Sara says there’s a special care that needs to be taken in designing home products.
“Self-expression is important, and everything in a home should represent something,” she says.
When Sara first started Vitruvi, she noticed that essential oil products were often thought of as mostly functional or even medicinal. People would hide their diffusers in a cabinet when entertaining friends or family at their house.
“It wasn’t something that they were proud to show,” Sara explains. “And so I was like, ‘Well, if you’re purchasing something, why not be proud of it?’”
2. Developing scents and flows around the customer
One big part of the scent development process is designing around the customer and the moment they want to evoke. Sara and her team often create mood boards and consider what the world around the scent might look like.
“We tell that story much like you would a luxury perfume or fragrance,” Sara says. “And I think it helps make their space smell as dynamic as they are, as people.”
She has also optimized her website and marketing for different customer journeys. A customer that buys a diffuser might get follow-up emails and SMS marketing about new essential oils. The flow would be different for a customer who first buys an air freshener spray or the brand’s Cloud Humidifier.
3. Simplifying the sourcing
Vitruvi’s name comes from the Vitruvian triad of design, which was initially created to be applied to architecture: Every building should be sustainable, functional and beautiful.
Those three qualities are what Sara looks for in ingredient materials for Vitruvi products.
“As an entrepreneur, sometimes it’s nice to give yourself constraints,” Sara says. “And so when we look at each material that we source or create, that framework allows us to vet things really quickly.”
That quick decision-making was crucial to her success. Sara started Vitruvi when she was a medical student. She gave herself one year of leave from school to prove the concept and initially funded the business with her student loans and credit cards.
4. Gaining legitimacy
Much of the initial investment in Vitruvi was spent on design and packaging, which was well worth it in the end.
“It actually made retailers think we were a lot bigger than we were,” Sara explains. “And so when we went out to pitch the brand, we were getting purchase orders from large retailers … and Sean and I were still filling the bottles for the purchase orders.”
Through it all, Sara says her relentlessness in every aspect of the business was ultimately what helped her fill large orders and build relationships with big retailers and editors.
Take a listen to Sara’s full interview on Shopify Masters to find out more about her design philosophy, marketing initiatives, and cash flow management.
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