„Esseterre” – Bulgaria, is producing one of the most expensive essential oils of the giant in aromatherapy dōTERRA. The employees are mainly gypsies – Romani people.
Is it possible to make an honest business and be successful in Bulgaria? Can you earn and share with the poor, sick and disadvantaged people? To accept people as they are nevertheless of their differences and to care of them like they are a part of your family. Plamen Nikolov and his team at “Esseterre-Bulgaria” is a prove that business can look different from the conventional beliefs.
Everything starts before 4 years when Plamen Nikolov at that time was an owner of a company for coffee and tea. He acts as an interpreter for a group of Americans who wanted to open a small lavender distillery in Bulgaria. They were representing dōTERRA – a world leader in aromatherapy. To control the quality of essential oils and to guarantee that they respond to “Pure and natural”, dōTERRA travels to the countries where the essential plants grow, purchase them from the local companies and distills them on-site. Apparently, this approach is very successful, because in the last years dōTERRA is in the first lines of the fastest growing companies in the world. For 2018 the company declared an income of USD 2 bn, works at 40 countries and offers over 140 products!
The negotiations with the Bulgarian team did not work well and dōTERRA offers to Plamen Nikolov to take over the project. They liked him because he has experience in trade business (He graduated Economics in Vienna and worked in several trade companies there), speaks German and English and he is an honest and good person. This was decisive for them because for dōTERRA moral is of main importance! The principles they follow are” Make and spread good around you” and this is not a cliché, they really live that way. They share their incomes to help generously to the communities where they work”, says Plamen, who accepts the challenge to open a distillery in Bulgaria, regardless of the fact he had no experience in this area.
In the Grannies backyard.
But why this giant dōTERRA comes exactly in Dobrich?
“Bulgaria is a small dot on the globe, but with unique climate and nature”, explains Plamen with excitement, who lived 15 years in Austria, but chose to return back to his home country. “Here the geography, soil, meteorology-everything is wonderful and gives life to many essential plants, from which you can distill oils with perfect qualities.”
According to Nikolov healing plants exist for sure and for example… in the jungle, but in the jungle, there are no professionals. And we have technologists, engineers who continue to work in the old Bulgarian traditions from the time of one famous Bulgarian literature character “The first rose distillery dates from 1820” notes Plamen Nikolov.
Why the Americans decided to invest in Dobrich? “North-east Bulgaria is famous with large areas for agriculture. In Kazanlak, if you own 20 acres you are a mid-sized farmer, at the same time in Dobrich area every granny has 20 acres back yard”, our host says joking and he points out that in Bulgaria there are 180 000 acres of lavender, and 90 000 of them are in Dobrudzha.
In the beginning was the word.
And so Plamen began to look for a team to start the project. He chose people in whom he trusted 200%! They learn on the way as no one in his team had experience in distillation. But this had its advantages. Family distilleries are with traditions which often limit the entrepreneurs. Plamen’s team wants to fly. Born in Varna he trusted young, ambitious and creative people, who like to experiment and discover new things. They were happy that dōTERRA absolutely trusted them and supports their enthusiasm. And the results weren’t late. “We started on a plain field and today there is a name competition for the streets in the distillery area.”
At the beginning the Americans wanted just one distillery for lavender which was supposed to work only in the summer, but it came out that the Bulgarians started distilling Melissa even before that. The next year from two, the distilled oils became seven. They built a storage and started to import frankincense and myrrh, which they distill in the winter, because there are no plants for distillation in this period. Then they built a new distillery, administrative building…” At one moment we felt that here on the other side of the world we produce for this giant dōTERRA their most common oils -Lavender and Frankincense and their most expensive ones – Melissa and Rose oil and we find the right decisions for all project – this all gives me confidence.”
Great job, but…
An important factor for the success of the American distillery was that the team is Bulgarian and is managed by Bulgarians. Thanks to that factor the team could understand all local habits and specific Bulgarian characters. “We were a new company who came from Varna, with no agricultural experience and when we entered the market, we met strange practices, like farmers distill their oils and leave it in their basements not selling to us. If the price gets higher, they sale it to others…in the next years things changed, they produce more and they do not have a place to sell the production and at that moment we became a gold for them”, shares Plamen
Another challenge for Esseterre was the oil with low quality when in the lavender plants there are other plants. “German chamomile gives blue oil; thistle gives red oil. We refuse to accept such oils”, explains Nikolov and adds that at the distillery in Dobrich they have a modern laboratory where they analyse the oils and do not compromise with the quality.
Through the year’s farmers began to understand that long-term relationship is much better instead of looking in the neighbours’ bowl and search only for the benefits. “We comply with the standards of this market and the farmers understood that it is much better to have a three year agreement which guarantees them safety and good income, instead of – last year with your wife to Maldives and this year it is hard to travel to Tutrakan, because they have no incomes.”
Myrrh with sense of humor
We already mentioned that in Bulgaria there is an expensive capital (unfortunately disappearing) – qualified professionals. It is not a coincidence that only 15 minutes away from the distillery there is a company which produces distillation machines. Esseterre is equipped from this company and soon dōTERRA starts buying machine for its distilleries in Hawaii, Kenya, Albania and Oman. In Kenya with Bulgarian machines they distill eucalypt, geranium, tea tree, and pink pepper. In Albania: helichrisum, red cedar, bay leaf. For every plant the company produces machine which will give best results. Plamen remembers how they broke several machines until they succeeded to produce sandal wood oil, the wood is very hard and they had to transform it in powder. And also, how they had to find a new technology in distilling myrrh, because this plant is a crop with “a sense of humour.”
Why? “Because usually oils are light and they go above the surface. The oil of myrrh though has 120 hours for distillation and in the beginning, it is light after that it becomes heavy. The oil is “Joking”, there is no book or written receipt how to distill myrrh and we had to find the way. Our team made cascade machines and had a huge success!”
Plamen shares that at the beginning the engineers were afraid of asking for changes in the distillation process, they come and barely ask me if they can improve something, but today they don’t do that, because they already know that my answer is:” YES”!
The engineer and R&D are the most inspiring for Esseterre! The company has a testing field where they grow different crops. The oils from the crops are tested in the laboratory which is proud with the new-fangled science equipment. They make a lot of experiments to find new healing oils and to find new distillation processes with new herbs like: lime tree, mursala tea, sumac and marigold. “The idea is to find the new lavender”. This will give sustainability to the Bulgarian agriculture. Today form subsidiaries farmers receive only 100 BGN from an acre, as in good years from lavender the income is BGN 700-800 from an acre. Furthermore, the essential crops engage many people: farmers, distillers, after that the beauty industry, aromatherapy – and this is how the GDP rate in the country is growing.
Bags with tears
Probably the distillery in Dobrich is the most attractive in the summer, when lavender sense is everywhere around you and the purple blooms are like a beautiful carpet. Our team visited the distillery at the time of the Indian summer when you can feel the sense of frankincense from Somaliland.
Plamen Nikolov took us to the production blocks. We passed by the distillery separation system of frankincense “This here even it doesn’t look lovely is something very precious, because in the oil waste there are specific acids and they are examined for cure against cancer…A couple of research centres are working actively with them. One of our future projects is to organize their extraction and to prepare them for production.”, explains Plamen.
Actually, frankincense is well known and used in the past. It was one of the precious gifts which was presented by the three wise men when baby Jesus was born together with the gold and myrrh. It was most commonly used in the church. It is one of the most used oils in aromatherapy – great antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and fights with certain cancers.
Plamen Nikolov takes us to a huge storage filled with bags full of “tears” from the Boswellia tree – 1 000 000 kg. When dōTERRA redirected its production of frankincense in Bulgaria, our country became the largest producer in Europe together with Great Britain. Frankincense oil is on third place of the most sold out dōTERRA oils after lavender and lemon. The tree that gives the resin is wildly growing and cannot be cultivated. It should be at least 10 years old. The resin is obtained from incisions in the trees under which farmers put containers and they are filled within a week. There is a risk of disappearing of the trees due to overexploitation. This is the reason why dōTERRA is trying to cultivate the trees and the control of the harvesting. The frankincense comes to Bulgaria mostly from Somalia, but also from Ethiopia and Sudan.
In the beginning Esseterre is distilling with one machine and today they are eight and they plan to add one more. The aromatic liquid comes out of the huge cauldron slowly. Everywhere is clean and everything is in order. Distillation process of frankincense and myrrh takes 90 to 120 hours and this is the reason why distillery works 24/7. The number of permanent employees is 100 and during the lavender season they become – 261. In 2016 Esseterre started with six employees only…
РОМЕ, РОМЕ, ДРУЖЕ МОЙ…* – a quote from a famous song – I cannot remember all their names, although I want to…” says Plamen with disappointment. His name is famous not only between the employees but also between their relatives.
“Employees involved in the production and agriculture are all gypsies! We accept them as every other employee, and they receive all social assets as the others. And we are also tolerant according to their cultural differences, for example when their cousin is getting married, we don’t bother them for a week! We are actually employers to one whole village.!, says Plamen with a smile. The lack of employees is a problem in Bulgaria, but as other people in the business hire people from abroad and after that bankrupt, Esseterre hires people from the minorities, gives them the certain attitude and with patience and care they make them loyal and willing to work! “That is our way of understanding the social politics, not by exploitation, says Plamen, – “These people need a second, a third chance, they need a different attitude. That is the idea – love is an effort, love is not to take, but to give!”
Love is giving
In order to help more to gypsies in the area, Esseterre becomes a part of TSA (Trust of Social Achievement) – American organization, which finances employers who hire people from the minorities. They invest in professional courses which take time during working hours. The main goal is that gypsies become more proficient and receive Certificates. In this case even if they leave Esseterre as an employer, they will have skills and experience to take another job. Those of them who cannot even write or read take courses in literacy, and after that driving license. In 4 years Esseterre won the hearts of these dark-skin people and their gratitude to the company is to invite their managers to weddings and christening ceremonies.
The social activity of the company does not end here, for the last 4 years they invested BGN 500,000 in social projects. They repaired the sanitary facilities in the local orphanage homes. This year they will change the heating system. They also help the social teahouse which provides job positions to the orphans who leave the orphanage homes when they become 18 years old. They engage mentors from the social teahouse to travel from Varna to Dobrich and meet with the kids and prepare them to face the challenges of life outside the orphanage. Most of the girls without this help are forced to sale their bodies and boys choose the dark side of life.
To stop this vicious circle “Esseterre” financed the foundation “I want to become”. This foundation is like a school for finding a job. Volunteers go together with the kids to different companies and show them different professions; they learn them to write their CV, motivation letters, how to dress appropriately for an interview….
“Two of the boys from the orphanage home already work with us and we try to get other companies in Dobrich involved and give a chance to these children.”, says Plamen.
Another project where “Esseterre” is involved is the “Wonder Garden” – which is an organization that helps disabled people. The government does not allow them to work, but a woman from Dobrich, named Maria, stands up for their rights and builds a greenhouse where they can feel useful. They work with a person who helps them, instead of staying only in their homes like prisoners, feeling useless and not needed.
Other social activities for “Esseterre” are: repairing the local dairy kitchen for children in Dobrich, building new children playgrounds. All employees donate part of their salaries to people with disabilities and provide them with healthy food and wheel chairs. The Manager who started this initiative is Siyana. She is together with Plamen since the first day of the company. Siyana and her team are responsible for the communication with the farmers, journalists and the Wellness Advocates who distribute products of doTERRA around the world. It came out that the distillery in Bulgaria became very quickly one of the head producers from the group of dōTERRA, because the people who would like to visit the distillery are literally waiting on the line list to come to Bulgaria. This year we are waiting for 2000 people and even that we are not a tourist agency, we have to hire people to take care of them.”
Another challenge in front of the company is the distillation of rose oil. In May 2020 Esseterre is planning to open a rose distillery in Sheinovo, a village close to Shipka and participate in the rose oil campaign continuing to spread the glory of Bulgaria around the world.