An Interview with Joan Barlow
Editors' Note: This piece is the first in a series of interviews with people who love something—a hobby, a place, an idea. Look for more of them in the summer issues of The New Yinzer.
Joan Barlow moved to Pittsburgh in 2002, and opened Scentral Station, an aromatherapy and Avon store on Forward Ave. Before Pittsburgh, Joan lived in Queens for sixteen years, where she had a similar store in a mini mall. She likes aromatherapy because it’s a way of pampering herself in a way that no one else can. I talked to Joan in her store one rainy afternoon.
Margaret Emery: Why did you come here?
Joan Barlow: Because I have a cousin who lived here for many years, and I needed a change of life. The mini mall was not working out, and there was no way I could afford anything else business wise.
ME: Tell me about your products.
JB: I have a manufacturer make them for me. I have candles, bath and body, massage oils, lotions, shower gels, body and hair mists. I also have all types of perfumes, roll on perfumes, oils.
ME: What’s your favorite?
JB: Probably the lotions and candles.
ME: I was looking through your brochure, looking at the different products, and I thought it was cool how you listed the ingredients.
JB: Well, in the brochure I only give the highlights of the ingredients. On my Web site [www.scentralstn.com] there is a portion called product information where every ingredient is listed.
ME: Is that [ingredients] something you think about when you pick the manufacturers?
JB: Absolutely. For instance mineral oil, lanolin, formaldehyde, and ST alcohol are all extremely bad for your skin. They block pores, some of them are allergens, and I will not do business with anyone who uses those ingredients. I did a lot of book reading to know what ingredients to look for. I thought it was very interesting when I found there are so many manufacturers out there, and many of them won’t disclose their ingredients. Once you tell me you’re not going to tell me your ingredients, we’re not doing business.
Also, all of my manufactures are women-owned home base businesses. It’s amazing. It opened my eyes to how many women are home, and some of them make extremely amazing products in their homes doing all manufacturing including their own labeling, bottling, etc. I talk to about five women, and we all exchange ideas. There are a lot of chat rooms for people in this industry.
For instance, if we’re looking for a certain bottle, we could go online and put out, “Hey, does anybody know where to get this specific bottle?” And we’ll get replies to it. It’s really a network, and a lot of people helping each other, which is a new thing for me.
ME: I also saw in your brochure that you offer hostess parties. Is that something you do often?
JB: I do store parties and online parties where the store people can invite people, and they get refreshments. And I work that online too, so that someone can put the hosts’ or hostess’ name in the comments section [on the Web site] so that they can get a percentage. I’ve had some in store parties and I hope to have a lot more.
ME: I liked the purple train on your Web site.
JB: The train on the Web site was designed by East End Media. They did all the graphics on my site, the logo, the train.
ME: Did you also sell Avon in Queens?
JB: Yeah, but I was carrying a little bit different stock than what I have in this store. It was a very Spanish, ethnic neighborhood. I had to kind of limit what perfume I carried to gear it [to a limited audience] which was not something I wanted to do. Strangely enough, they say New York is the melting pot, but here I can carry all different fragrances, all different products.
It’s just hard to get people to come in. I don’t know how to get people to actually come in. A lot of people actually stand there and stare in the window, and even inviting them in doesn’t work.
ME: Sometimes it’s just hard. They’ve got to know you for a long time.
JB: Well that’s a valid point because I was told that by a lot of people. Pittsburghers are very loyal to where they shop and it just takes time.
But people are friendlier here than they are in New York. They have more time here. I know I’ve changed since I’ve moved here. When I lived in New York I did not walk by and wave to storeowners, which I do here. I have so many friends here. I’ve made more friends here in one year than the last twenty years in New York.