Tom and Stephanie standing under evening lights

MBA '84

Founder and CEO
Safewell Essentials

1. What was your time like at Fuqua? How did Fuqua prepare you for your professional endeavors?


I could not have had a better and more enriching experience during my two years at Fuqua. Before starting my business degree, I was an undergraduate who majored in biology, and I knew very little about business. I decided to concentrate on marketing as I felt that I understood this concept the best out of all the business disciplines. Fuqua's use of teams and collaboration was invaluable to me; the benefits of co-learning business concepts with my peers made a significant difference in my overall experience.


During my time at Duke, we were “the first and last” class at Fuqua; the first in the new building and the last to take classes on the undergraduate campus. It gave me a different perspective on my time in business school, being amongst the undergrads in terms of classroom study, library use, dining, etc.


One of my most memorable professors was Christine Heckman, who taught a mergers and acquisitions class, which gave me a wonderful perspective on how to analyze financial situations; I constantly use the concepts she taught in my daily business decisions. I also loved Clay Hamner, who taught an entrepreneurship class. His perspectives on how to be an entrepreneur gave me a great foundation and helped drive my passion to run my own business.




2. Tell us about Safewell Essentials. How did this entrepreneurial journey begin, and what has it been like for you as the founder and CEO?


Our company’s journey began out of the difficulties created by the pandemic. My wife, Stephanie, is a special needs teacher at our local high school, and during COVID she needed to be in-person with her students. As you can imagine, physical and mental health and wellness was an extremely high priority. She used essential oils diffusers in her classroom to help calm and relax the students and assist them in focusing on the educational tasks. However, the beneficial effects of the oils stopped once they left her classroom. Thus, she and I came up with the idea that a common, transportable pencil, infused with essential oils, would allow the students to benefit from the oils throughout their entire school day. My wife and I discussed the possibilities of this application, used our resources to develop a formulation, and began product development.


It took us over a year to define the look, feel, formulation of the oil, and the processes that were needed to make the pencils on a mass basis. From my toy industry background with Hasbro, I used an antimicrobial and antibacterial coating called Microban. Since there was a lot of emphasis during this period on health and safety, I decided to incorporate the coating to our pencil design. We also decided to use recycled paper as the material for the pencils for many environmental reasons and also because the paper would absorb the essential oil scents better than wood.


The journey has been wonderful. Like any entrepreneurial venture, there have been ups and downs, but overall, the ability to work for myself, in partnership with my wonderful wife, to develop a revolutionary product, and then present it to the world has been everything I had hoped for.


Tom, Stephanie, and the news reporter in the classroom    News reporter kneeling with children in the classroom   Recording the news in the classroom



3. How has the Fuqua community been apart of Safewell Essentials’ story?

Fuqua gave me the opportunity to learn the basic business disciplines through classes in finance, marketing, operations, and manufacturing all bundled up into one entrepreneurial package. This inclusive compendium provided all of the puzzle pieces that are necessary to create and execute one’s business plan. Again, Fuqua helped a biology major transition into a consumer product marketing professional, which, all these years later, has paved the way for the realization of my passions and successes in the entrepreneurial world. (Pictured below is the first production shipment of Safewell Essential pencils.)

A very large stack of boxes in a garage

4. What has been the most beneficial marketing strategy for your company?

From a marketing perspective, the use of social media today is invaluable. I come from a generation of print and TV advertising period. It was effective but costly. The web and all many social media platforms are an amazing array of totally cost-effective, brand-building, and product awareness resources that I could never live without. How did we ever do it before these amazing technologies?

However, as you can imagine, stepping into the world of social media marketing can be challenging with the various platforms, features, and ever-changing trends. I elicited the help of someone who is at the very heartbeat of social media and knows more about reels than most ever will… my teenage neighbor. She has taught my wife and I so much about the personas of each of the social media channels and how to maximize those specific characteristics in our media campaigns. With her help, we have focused on spreading awareness for our company and product to audiences we could have never reached otherwise.

The other highly effective strategy that has generated consumer attention is sampling. We have a product that a buyer needs to touch and smell to truly get the full experience. Once a potential customer gets a feel and smell, they are sold. There is nothing else like it and the benefits are so wide-reaching. Thus, collectively, our use a lot of new marketing strategies with some of the old faithful strategies have yielded a strong launch into a successful and growing business.

Safewell Essential pencils on a watercolor background   Six pencils on a green background next to the text "Pick your scent"   Two packs of pencils side-by-side. One of the packs of pencils is in the decorative packaging, and the other pack of pencils is out of the packaging.


5. What is the most popular scent?

As we are still a relatively newer startup, our initial data and research pool is small, but at this point, lavender is the most popular scent. We use lavender for consumers to enjoy a calming effect. Of the six scents that we offer (lavender, jasmine, peppermint, cinnamon, grapefruit, and bergamot) three are geared toward calm feelings, relaxation, and focus, while the other three are for invigoration and wakefulness.

Two purple pencils crossed over each other in the shape of an "X" with a purple cloud icon in the middle of the image


6. In looking to the future, what is the next big thing that you and your company are looking forward to?

Our company has been nominated for a few national awards, including a nomination by TIME Magazine for Best Inventions of 2022. We are extremely excited about the possibilities of these opportunities for recognition. Additionally, with that type of validation, we are prepared to advance in our strategy timeline and continue to grow the business with an extension of our product range in the upcoming months.


                                                                                       Want to learn more about SafeWell Essentials? Check out the website!

A banner that has an icon representing each of the six scents with the wellness benefits listed above the icons