Bob Diamond opened Essence of Nature at the Original Farmers Market in 1993. The store specializes in custom made lotions, perfumes and offers a wide variety of luscious soaps and offers at least 120 different scents. Bob has had a richly varied life, he was once a child actor, a Hollywood agent, and a VP for a major medical corporation for 17 years. Bob is the proud father of two grown daughters. We spent some time talking with him about his years as a corporate executive, his adventures in the screen trade, his first forays into business on his own and how he came to develop and open Essence of Nature.
“The Medical corporation I worked for had wanted me to transfer to Houston or Atlanta, but my mother, aunts and other family were here in LA. I stayed to take care of them. I did that for 20 years, gladly. It just wasn’t worth it to me to leave LA and them.
So I decided to go into business for myself. The company was very good to me so after I left, I had some time to investigate what I wanted to do. I found this opportunity with “Popwheels.” They were sort of like roller skates, although they weren’t really skates – they were clogs and when you pulled this little lever, wheels would come down. A man in Muskegon, Michigan had them, he imported them from Italy and I was their West Coast distributor. But, like any fad, they faded and I had to figure out what I would do next.
I was a child actor. I appeared on shows like “Rawhide,” “Chevy Mystery Show,” I did some movies and I produced a few films. I then worked for a pretty big agency, I handled some significant talent. But it’s a tough business and some folks can be thankless and it’s not a great way to spend a life – working with people who move on without so much as a “goodbye,” and who needs that?
But while I was being an agent and manager, I would come to the Original Farmers Market every day for breakfast. I just loved it. I would sit and look through my submissions for actors. I did this for many years. And when I needed to buy flowers for a special occasion, I would buy them at the Market and I got to know the owner of the flower store back then. We used to talk about what other kinds of stores that could work in the Market, this is long before The Grove opened.
During this time, I went on an extended holiday to Europe, including London. And while I was in London, I was introduced to the Body Shop. I thought it was a wonderful company and I talked with the owners about opening one up in the States, but they are privately owned and I couldn’t get an ownership opportunity.. But the thought of that type of store stayed with me.
Then one morning I was having breakfast at the Market and it came to me – there could be a Body Shop type of store in the Market. My friend from the flower shop introduced me to the A.F. Gilmore Company (owners of the Market) and they liked the idea. So, I walked away from the talent business and into Essence of Nature.
Now you have to remember, most of the stores at the Market at that time were open stalls. There were very few finished stores, none that had actually four walls. But I wanted a finished store, so we built it from scratch. It’s small, but it doesn’t feel cramped, it has lots of windows and people can roam the small aisles and find a huge selection of items.
Right from the start, I knew I wanted to offer something unusual, like personalized lotions. I traveled all over, investigating what other similar stores were doing. One day I had lunch with one of my daughters and she was wearing this lovely scent, she said it was called China Rain. She knew the store in Northern California that carried these special oils, so I went up there, met with the owners, and made a deal. They’ve been part of our business since then.
What’s really interesting is that we do custom-blending. A person can come into the store, smell my rose oil and then, if they want it in a lotion, bubble bath, bath gel or just by itself, I can make it for them. I have 120 different scents. When you enter the store, there’s a sheet that tells what’s available. I think this is what really sets us apart from other similar stores. People like to mix their own scents and it’s fresh.
The store is very unique in LA because so many other soap and scent stores have closed down. We’ve endured, I’m happy to say, and I think it’s because I have such wonderful people working for me. They really take such good care of our customers. We have a lot of regulars who come back and the tourists really love the store, too.
My biggest selling items are my Burt’s Bee items, China Rain, China Lily and China musk scents along with aromatherapy incense and candles, and Mustela baby products.
I was carrying Burt’s Bee items long before the company became this huge corporation; when Burt was still a hippy simply making his lotions.
I love my store because I enjoy making people happy. They love the scents. And I love meeting people. When I first opened, I didn’t know that much about running a business, except for my stint with the “Popwheels” store, so sure it was a risk. But when I saw what the Body Shop had done in Europe, I was convinced it would work here.
I’m so glad the store is part of the Market. It’s like being part of a family, it’s like having a store in a small town where everyone knows everyone.”