Panelists weigh in on the issues impacting the efforts of spas in their pursuit of top talent and the things they can do to retain their expertise
From a one-woman project to a successful Canadian brand
People often ask me why I created a skincare brand. In thinking back, my initial interest in natural skincare started when I was young, seeing my mother and grandmother use traditional remedies for health and for the skin, based on our East Indian heritage. Along with this, I was always exposed to small business and hard work, as both my parents have a long history of owning and operating small businesses since moving to Canada from East Africa in 1967.
My interest in using natural ingredients for skincare grew while I studied sciences at college. I spent a great deal of time researching natural ingredients and their benefits to the skin, along with learning about ancient healing practices from around the world, such as Ayurveda. After a couple of years of research and taking courses, including herbology, aromatherapy and Ayurveda, I knew I wanted to share the knowledge I had gained to inspire more people to use natural home remedies for skincare and health.
This led me to write a “DIY Quick & Easy Recipe Handbook for the Skin” in 1996, and I began offering seminars to groups at health/wellness conferences and writing articles focusing on the subject. I put together a second handbook that featured guest writers along with my own chapters, covering a range of topics from natural skincare and healing recipes, to aromatherapy, yoga and reflexology. In 1997, I received the Young Entrepreneur Award from the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, and my company has been featured in several publications since then.
This was when I started envisioning a skincare line that reflected my belief that healing comes from within, and from a connection to nature. This began my journey into creating natural skincare formulas to help heal and rebalance the skin. I was grateful to have connected with some local cosmetic chemists at this time, and I spent a few years learning important skills in the areas of product development/manufacturing, which in hindsight helped me greatly in many ways over the years.
At that time, I noticed many skincare brands on the market contained ingredients that were synthetic and not really focused on a natural, holistic approach. I saw a gap in the industry and I wanted to fill it with skincare products that would be healing. My first line was called the Lotus Line Collection by Ancient Secrets Inc., which I made by hand in small batches based on plant extracts and essential oils. I sold these products directly during my seminars at local trade shows and even got a few contracts at well-known local health and vitamin stores.
In early 2000, during my ongoing research into healing ingredients for the skin, I learned about the remarkable healing benefits of Macrocystis seaweed and intertidal glacial clay from the northern coast of B.C. After studying the history and benefits of these ingredients, which have been used for more than 5,000 years in Thalassotherapy, I knew I needed to use these to create holistic body care for the spa industry. There was nothing like this in the spa industry at that time, so it was a unique opportunity. The initial formulas were developed with the help of my cosmetic chemist colleague, using these Indigenous ingredients, which became the foundation of my very first products in the Ancient Secrets Spa Line. What was so exciting was that these products were one of the first in the Canadian spa industry to be created with locally harvested ingredients that were 100 percent sustainable, and this was long before “green” beauty was a trend.
I grew the product line using seaweed and clay as key ingredients to create sophisticated luxury formulas and launched the line officially in 2005. I would say one of my big breaks came around 2007, when the spa director of the Grotto Spa located at the award-winning Tigh-Na-Mara Resort in Parksville, B.C., took time to learn about my products and saw a vision of being a destination spa that offered spa treatments which reflected the local environment. This was our first big spa partner, and I’m proud to say that to this day, our product line is still offered at this spa. At the same time, my line was picked up by one of the top spa product distributors in the Canadian spa industry, and they helped to further establish the line in several top spas and resorts.
In 2009, I realized that I could only create the vision that I had for my company if I took over the distribution myself, and since then we have been handling our own distribution and all other aspects of the business. I changed the brand name to The Beauty Through Balance Spa Line, to reflect what I truly believe – that true beauty starts from a place of healing from within. I am very proud to say our brand is carried in some of Canada’s most prestigious and award-winning spas, and we are set for expansion outside of Canada. Since its official launch, the line has undergone packaging changes, a number of expansions and updates to the formulas to become a complete range of holistic facial and body care.
Lessons & skills I learned along the way
The path of creating my own business and product line certainly has not been easy or smooth – there have been many ups and downs, and many lessons learned along the way.
A key lesson I’ve learned is that patience is truly a virtue. It isn’t always easy to have patience, because as entrepreneurs with ideas and goals, we want to have them come to fruition as soon as possible. It’s taken me many years to grow the business/brand, and I feel that the slower growth has allowed me to cultivate more patience, which also has helped me in my personal life.
I see many new “green” beauty brands on the market these days, which is wonderful to see, but things were certainly much more challenging to create, launch and market a natural, locally made skincare brand back in the late ’90s and early 2000s. At that time, there was no Instagram, so sales, marketing, brand awareness and generating media opportunities was done the old-fashioned way. Taking a slow growth, hands-on approach allowed time to really improve and sharpen my business skills, along with learning what was needed to achieve the goals I had set out.
My educational background before starting the business was mainly in the sciences and holistic healing/health. Even after starting the brand, I never took any business classes, marketing or accounting courses. I definitely feel that if I had taken the time to educate myself in these areas earlier on, it would have been helpful to structure and manage things better from the start. I would definitely encourage anyone wanting to enter into this field to get a solid education in business and bookkeeping basics.
Keys to success and growth: Over the many years I’ve been able to acquire valuable skills, which is a benefit of starting a business from scratch, especially when it involves product development, manufacturing, sourcing, quality control systems, distribution, marketing, client support, creating a team… and the list goes on. I always say that this business is like a few businesses rolled into one.
Here are a few key things that have contributed to my brand’s growth and success:
Creating a brand/product that is unique, authentic and meets current and future industry trends: Starting out in a competitive market, I knew I had to provide something unique, that connected people to the healing aspects of what I was trying to provide. Being one of the only Canadian-made spa brands using locally harvested ingredients did set us apart from the start, as did offering treatments that were therapeutic in nature. Knowing how to communicate a unique message for your brand is very important, and it’s something I’ve worked on perfecting over the years.
Our sustainable harvesting methods and environmentally conscious approach, along with the remarkable benefits of the seaweed and local clay we are using, created a unique brand story that resonated then and now with spas and customers who want to use something more locally inspired, that also brings results.
Let your life be a reflection of your company/brand, and vice versa: I do my best to live a lifestyle that reflects the core philosophy and concept I want our brand to represent, which is a connection to nature for healing and wellness. I try to live my life according to the same principles by getting out in nature as often as I can, practicing meditation, eating a whole food, plant-based diet, giving back to the community through volunteer work and using natural remedies as a daily practice.
Don’t rush expansion and scaling: One question I’ve been asked a few times is why we didn’t expand into other countries, like the U.S. market, sooner. We actually did. In 2006-08, my line was in a few top spas in the U.S. and I had plans to expand, but then the recession hit, so we pulled back. As the industry slowly improved, we changed our strategy to focus on establishing ourselves successfully in Canada before expanding. Being a small business and growing slowly, we continued to create a solid foundation in Canada. Looking back, this was the right decision because it gave us a chance to put into place what we needed to expand outside of Canada.
The power of negotiating: When running any business, you will have suppliers, and it’s important to have negotiation skills to achieve your needs when it comes to quantities, quality, pricing, etc. This is a very important part of running a successful business, and being able to negotiate well has played an important role in supporting my company’s growth.
Quality control in manufacturing: When developing and selling skincare, I learned right from the start through my work with cosmetic chemists and labs the importance of ensuring the safety, stability and purity of the products. From the beginning, I followed specific processes and procedures for all stages of ingredient sourcing, R&D and manufacturing. For anyone starting a skincare line, I would encourage taking a course in cosmetic chemistry and manufacturing procedures before beginning.
Sales and building long-term relationships: Having strong sales skills is one of the most important aspects of ensuring growth of your product/brand. Prior to starting my business, I had held many jobs starting from the age of 16 that were all sales oriented, which gave me a natural ability to approach sales with confidence and in a way that focused on education and building relationships with potential clients versus a “close the deal” approach. I value the relationships that we have built with our clients and I approach the relationships with respect, gratitude and with an approach of creating a long-term partnership versus retaining a client.
Wear all the hats: Another key to our success is I took time to learn and experience all aspects of the business, from picking/packing orders, to sales, training, marketing, sending out press releases, managing inventory, production planning, etc. This is an important part of knowing how to properly scale and manage a business.
Always stay passionate and embrace the challenges: When starting any business, there will be challenging times, so it’s important to stay focused on your true passion and the reason you started the business in the first place. Use challenges as a positive way to learn and grow.
Create a strong team: Initially, for many years I did wear all the hats, along with having hands-on support from friends and family, but as the business grew, I knew I had to start building a team. When looking for the right people to join your team, try to find people who relate to your company’s philosophy and core values. Also look for people that are passionate about your industry and are open to growing, learning and supporting your vision.
I have been blessed to have some amazing people be a part of this journey, from my parents helping when I first started out in their basement back in the early 1990s, to my husband who was working behind the scenes handling the accounting. In 2018, he took on a more active full-time role in the areas of operations and strategy, which has helped the company grow and expand. I’m also grateful to all of our committed team members we’ve had along the way at our labs and head office, along with trainers and product educators. The right partners and team members are the most valuable asset you can have as you grow.
Lastly, I would say that I’ve always tried to do my best to conduct business with integrity and truth. I have run the business from the start based on my own personal core values, and it’s never steered me wrong.
As a female CEO/entrepreneur who has gone through the many challenges and successes of owning and operating a business while developing a brand from scratch, I hope that I can continue to inspire, help and support other women starting out in business or wanting to create their own product line. My vision is to continue creating therapeutic products that help people with their skin and promote well-being, along with taking more time to share my experiences through writing and speaking.