The husband-and-wife founders and owners of Urban Essence, Theresa P. Minor and Timothy L. Minor, know firsthand how spa and body care treatments can rejuvenate the skin and the soul. In 2003 Theresa was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. An IT professional, Theresa didn’t know if she was going to be able to continue working in that field — or if the crippling disease would rob her of her ability to enjoy everyday pleasures. At that time, there was one place where she could seek refuge.
“I always enjoyed going to get my hair done and those other types of services,” Theresa explains.
Newly focused on her health, Theresa realized that the products used in spa and salon treatments often contain petroleum-based chemicals. Leaning on her analytical background, she began researching the biology, chemistry and even technology used to create these products and realized that there was a more holistic and natural approach. Many of the products she wanted didn’t exist, however, so she convinced her husband, Timothy, to do the next best thing — start their own salon and spa business.
Urban Essence Salon & Spa was founded that same year of Theresa’s diagnosis to bring quality body care products to men and women in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. At first they started working with a manufacturer to create the soaps and lotions and had plans to open a physical spa location. But staying true to Theresa’s vision of ensuring that they had full control over what went into their products, the couple decided against opening a physical location and to focus instead on manufacturing the products themselves.
“I basically taught myself,” explains Theresa. “I took classes, did research and did anything I could to make the product better.”
Timothy found that focusing on the product and scaling the business deliberately offered great advantages.
“Being a husband-and-wife team allows us to contribute 100% of ourselves to the business,” says Timothy. “And being small allows us to reach people and have more interaction.”
Some of Timothy’s favorite moments are when a person will come up to them at one of the various farmers markets where they sell their products, pick up a bar of soap, ask about the ingredients and then take a deep sniff of the bar and say, “Wow, this smells just like what my grandmother used to use.” Timothy describes an almost transcendental experience when he can actually feel the emotional connection that someone is making to an Urban Essence product.
In 2014, after over a decade of selling their products directly at farmers markets and in the community, the Minors decided to launch a wholesale program to, as Theresa puts it, “catapult their product into the Philadelphia region.” Despite being a self-described “shy person,” Theresa was walking past the Weavers Way cooperative grocery in Chestnut Hill one day and there was just something about the store that inspired her to walk in.
“We had been thinking of going to bigger retail chains where you have to have a million meetings with different people before you get your product in the store,” Theresa recalls. “But at Weavers Way it was like, ‘No you don’t have to do all that. Just give us a call and we’ll put you in.”
And it was that personal touch that really fit the Urban Essence brand and was a perfect match for the Minors. Timothy could immediately feel that Weavers Way staff shared this ethos.
“What people want you to show them is that we really do care,” Timothy explains. “Obviously everyone wants to make money. But with Weavers Way and their clientele, it’s like we’re partners.”
The success they have found selling their soaps at Weavers Way and other retailers has even allowed the Minors to support organizations they believe in, such as the National MS Society, Greater Delaware Valley Chapter. For Theresa, the ability to give back and run a great business is the most meaningful part of their work.
“There’s just something about turning these raw materials into a soap and actually watching the customer enjoy it. I love it.”