The Collegian
Saturday, February 24, 2024

Alumni invent essential oils product, market to bookstore

Two recent University of Richmond alumni fostered an idea to develop and market an on-the-go aromatherapy product called AromaGo. A year after launching their business, the university bookstore staff decided to sell it to the Richmond community.

Chris Genualdi and Dan Brunt, RC '09, were inspired to create the product after studying abroad together in Southeast Asia.

"I studied abroad in India and Thailand," Genualdi said. "These places smell. Sometimes pleasant and sometimes not."

He said that people in these countries used products to both mask smells and to calm the senses.

AromaGo is a product quite unlike any other seen in the American market, Genualdi said. Put simply, it is a Chapstick-sized plastic tube containing a wick that has been soaked in essential oils.

The bottom of the tube holds a well with two milliliters of those oils. Customers may dab the oils under the nose or on the temples for an instant stimulant.

The two flavors, Revive and Relax, are combinations of essential oils that live up to their names for many users.

Genualdi said that there were products similar to AromaGo prevalent in both Thailand and India.

"In Thailand folks use essential oil inhalers as frequently and casually as Americans chew gum," he said.

Brunt agreed with Genualdi. "After discovering how refreshing the product was," he said, "my business-centric mind couldn't help but wonder why nothing as simple, casual and refreshing existed in the U.S."

The two men returned from Asia and continued life at Richmond.

Then, the men said, the job market crashed during their senior year. "If we couldn't find jobs, we needed something to feel productive and talk about in interviews while we searched," Brunt said.

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That motivation, he said, led to a business plan and entry in the 2009 Robins School of Business Pitch competition.

The men won the competition and were awarded a cash prize of $2,000 to be used toward developing the product.

Genualdi and Brunt used their first year to plan, connect with manufacturers and communicate with experts in the industry.

This past year AromaGo was launched and the co-founders said they were excited about its progression and popularity.

After setting up an office in New York, Genualdi and Brunt reconnected with some old college friends and current Richmond juniors, Matt Sobel and Robbie Williams.

"I e-mailed Genualdi about helping with AromaGo when I was abroad in Rome," Sobel said. Then, he connected with Williams and started planning a strategy to sell the product in Virginia. They are now co-directors of sales and marketing.

"We've been making cold calls the past two weeks, just trying to reach out to retail managers in local stores," Williams said. Their first client was the UR bookstore.

"It was something different," said Charnell Grace, assistant general merchandise buyer at the bookstore.

Grace said the bookstore has sold out of its first batch of AromaGo but she was expecting the next order within the week.

"Aromatherapy isn't something we usually carry in the health and beauty aid section," Grace said, "but we decided to try it and it's done really well."

Sobel and Williams not only sell the product, but they also use it daily, they said. "We use Revive more because we are always on the go," Sobel said.

"The biggest effect it has on me is when I put it on my temples," Williams said. "It just clears everything out."

The Richmond student body seems to agree so far. "It's small, portable and easy to use," junior Jenna Rogers said. "And I love it most because it clears up my winter sniffles."

Senior Brock Tomlinson agreed with Rogers. "I used it because I was falling asleep in class and I wanted to wake up so I used Revive and it was amazing," he said.

Both Brunt and Genualdi attribute their love for entrepreneurship to their alma mater.

"I'll always remember sitting in Dr. Candace Deans' IT class learning that by 2015 the majority of us will be working in jobs that don't exist yet," Brunt said.

Though they said they are excited about launching a new product and seeing it grow in popularity, both Genualdi and Brunt said they were constantly thinking of the next step.

"I'm incredibly excited to see where it takes us." Brunt said. Genualdi added, "The future smells awesome."

Contact staff writer Julia Pepe at julia.pepe@richmond.edu

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