Originally, she and I met because she styled my hair and makeup for an event. At the time she didn’t mention Arbonne. It was only after we sat down for coffee at Rise Coffee in The Grove that I learned about her lofty ambition to quickly work her way up the ranks of the company.
From Skeptic to Convert
I took a wary test sip of my Jasmine tea to confirm the temperature wasn’t scalding. Ellen, comfortable with the temperature of her Almond chai, was perched on her seat as we got started with our meeting.
“I was really, really skeptical of network marketing. It was kind of like one of those things, where I’m like, ‘ugh, I’m going to be one of those ladies who does all those parties and asks people to buy stuff’. But the more I learned about the business and the more I learned about the products and how much I could really stand behind them, the more I got intrigued.”
One of her regular clients introduced her to Arbonne and she initially dismissed the idea of selling their products. But, apparently persistence pays off, because when her client told her that the products are natural and safe she finally thought it was worth looking into. Now she’s a proud convert and she has set some stretch goals for herself, like earning a Mercedes in 18 months.
St. Louis - The Craziest Thing She’s Done
Ellen is engaged. She met her fiancee in 2009 in Syracuse, New York where she grew up. Her fiance’s family, however, is from St. Louis and some of his family continue to live in the area. Having traveled all over the United States touring with his band, he was familiar with hundreds of cities, but when Ellen asked where he wanted to eventually settle down, his answer was always St. Louis.
One day, Ellen realized she was tired of New York. “I was tired of snow and I was tired of winter.” She was ready to try something new. After scanning rent prices online she looked at her fiance and asked, “Why don’t we just move there?” So, within 6 months they packed up, left their jobs, said goodbye to their friends, and moved.
If you had asked her 5 years ago where she was going to end up, she would never have guessed St. Louis. But, she’s excited and happy that they “took that chance, that leap”. In fact, she’s the only person in her family to move so far away. While she’s happy about how things worked out, being away from family isn’t easy, particularly when you’re very close knit.
Ships and Elephants
L’acqua arrugginisce le navi in mare, e il vino fa cantare. Water rusts the ships at sea, and wine makes you sing. This is something Ellen’s grandfather would say to her. To keep that memory close she had a ship incorporated into the tattoo on her arm. Her grandmother collected elephants, so she tied that into her tattoo, as well. Finally, Ellen’s middle name is Rose, her grandmother’s name, so this important symbol is also included.
Although both of her grandparents were born in the US (they met in Syracuse), their families came from a small island off of Sicily. In 6th grade her grandfather dropped out to help take care of his family by working at the Hotel Syracuse and then married Ellen’s grandmother at the age of 28, she was 18.
At least one stereotype of Italian families is true. Ellen’s family gathered weekly for a midday meal. These events were boisterous and hectic, but always fun and they mirrored the experiences she had when she traveled to Sicily one year in high school. “There, work isn’t the #1 priority, it’s family and experience. You see how much happier people are.”
Slow Down and Be Happy
Ellen supports local businesses and she thinks you should too. “I’m that person that doesn’t go to Wal-Mart because they’re not for equality. You want it to be something you believe in. The more I learn about different companies like that, I’m like, ‘well I can’t go there anymore’. If I’m giving money for something it has to be something I believe in and I think that’s something we’ve lost a lot as a culture.”
In the past Ellen has even left a job because she was unhappy with the company. But working at Lyndsay L Salon as a hairstylist (her full-time job, Arbonne is a side project), makes her very happy.
“I love what I do. I don’t want to stop doing hair ever. I think I’ll always at least do it part time even if I ‘m able to build a successful business on the side. I do love going to work everyday and I love what I do. A lot of people do these things to get out of their current job, but I just kind of saw it as a vehicle to build my current job and make it better.”
For the Love of St. Louis
Many of us directly involved in the startup community here, know the sense of anticipation and that feeling of being on the cusp of a revitalization. It seems like the rest of St. Louis is waking up to this reality. Ellen confirmed that she felt this way too, “You kind of feel like you’re on the brink of something huge.”
As the world began to wake up and our cups were almost empty, Ellen told me what she loved about STL. “Kind of, just like, the different… the uniqueness of the different areas of the city and how small town it can feel. Yet it is so big and there’s so much to do and all these different things. How you can go from The Grove to the Central West End to Soulard, Tower Grove… all the different vibes. There’s still so much green.”