When 12-year-old Elisa Bentz, of Cullom, Ill. (pop. 563), mixed up her first batch of lip gloss, she only planned to make a few Christmas gifts for her friends. Little did the seventh-grader know her craft project would lead to a successful small business and national recognition by the time she entered college.
In October, Bentz won two national FFA awards for creating her business, EZ’s Butterfly Boutique, and a line of beauty products made from agricultural products such as soybean oil, beeswax, aloe vera and witch hazel. And in between college studies, she’s making a profit selling her homemade creations at stores and craft fairs.
"I am still really shocked about my success," says Bentz, now 18 and a student at Black Hawk College-East, a community college in Kewanee, Ill. "I would have never guessed that I would be where I am today."
Bentz made her first cosmetics by modifying an herbal lip gloss recipe she found in a craft book. "I decided to leave the herbs out and instead I put in flavors and candy coloring to make it more appealing," she recalls.
Her friends enjoyed the gifts so much that she continued the hobby. In the fall of 2000, she paid a $10 fee and sold her homemade creations at a Christmas craft show in nearby Godley, Ill.
Although she doubted her initial success, Bentz was encouraged by fellow vendors and continued selling her products at craft shows, expanding her line to include 42 flavors of lip gloss, room air freshening sprays, bath salts and soaps, all handmade in her parents’ kitchen. She credits her parents, especially her mother, with helping keep the business going. But she took full financial responsibility for the business, even reimbursing her parents for the cost of gas when they ferried her to shows.
While a sophomore in high school, she convinced a storekeeper in Pontiac, Ill., to sell her cosmetics and beauty products. It was the first of several stores to carry them. "I decided to look around in little craft stores and see if my products would fit in," she says. "A lot of them have been surprised at how young I am and are happy to help me."
Bentz, a member of FFA since 2001, combined her fledgling business with her membership in the student agricultural organization and continued learning about both the use of agricultural products and running her own business.
"FFA really helped me as I had to give so many interviews with different people and I had to learn how to speak in public," says Bentz, who was president of her local chapter. "I had to attend etiquette luncheons and conferences to help me become better at that."
Her FFA involvement ultimately led her to win two national FFA awards for her farm-based enterprise, one for agricultural processing and one for agricultural entrepreneurship, at the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky., last October. In return, Bentz has given back to the organization by providing her beauty products to the FFA at discount prices for fund-raising sales.
"She’s very driven and hard-working," says Diana Loschen, a Tri-Point High School teacher and FFA adviser. "She’s a self-motivated individual."
"It’s just been phenomenal," says Bentz’ mother, Sandi, who along with Bentz’ father, Keith, is getting settled in their new home on a farm in Weatherby, Mo. "She’s really done a wonderful job at this and I hope she continues."
As she builds her business, Bentz is pursuing a two-year degree in equestrian science and horse science technology. She eventually wants to operate her own boarding stables to rescue stray horses and other large animals.
Bentz has some advice for other young entrepreneurs. "Never give up, even if you have a bad day," she says. "It takes hard work and dedication, but it is well worth it in the end."
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