WHETHER you are a believer or a sceptic there is no denying that aromatherapy is big business.And it is not just multinationals making a pretty penny researching and producing a range of beauty and therapy products.Perth company Sodashi recently signed a distribution contract with a US company that will take its range of skin care and beauty treatment products into salons and spas across the US west coast.Founder and managing director Megan Larsen signed the company’s first overseas contract two years after starting the company in 1999.“We went to a beauty expo in Sydney and I met a lady who ended up becoming the spa manager at the Sheraton in Bangkok. She used some of the Sodashi products personally and when she took the position at the Sheraton she put a range of the products in there,” Ms Larsen said.“The products then got taken up fairly quickly by (hotel chain) Marriott and we’re now in the final stages of signing with a spa company that operates in Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia.”What started out as homemade aromatherapy products that Ms Larsen sold at her then naturopathy store has since grown into a profitable international business.“I found I was selling things that claimed to be natural but really were not what they should be. I’m a very good sales person but I need to believe in what I’m selling,” she said.“I’ve got high ethical values and I don’t want to be giving anyone anything that’s not good for them.”In its first year the products drew sales of $60,000. Three years later those revenues were pushing $500,000.Sodashi products can be found in 17 WA salons and 53 national salons.Ms Larsen has come into the market at an opportune time. While the Australian spa industry has not enjoyed the financial investment and reward of countries situated in South East Asia or the US, it is, however, growing.Two day spas have hit the Perth market in recent years.A 2001 International SPA Association member study found that the average sales volume for spas was between $1 and $ 5 million US.ISPA’s executive director Lynne Walker McNees said current lifestyle trends were creating demand.“The explosion of the spa industry has been phenomenal. Consumer demand is driving growth, people are searching for an escape from work related stress, and they are realising the long-term benefits of taking care of themselves,” Ms McNees said.An ISPA survey of the effects of September 11 found renewed interest in the spa industry with many people seeking out health and healing treatments.Australian beauty professionals agree that there is growth in the market due partly to greater consumer understanding.The International Academy for Professional Beauty Therapy principal Stephanie Ellison-Judge said both the salon and day spa industries were enjoying strong growth. She said the demand for nature products such as the Sodashi range is increasing.“People are much more educated. Clients want to get more natural and get away from the alcohols and other chemicals, they are much more aware of ingredients,” Ms Ellison-Judge said.“There are more people training to be beauty therapists and they are out spreading the word.”Australian College of Beauty Therapy secretary Chris Goodman said some beauty therapy outlets were incorporating day spas or even opting to go down the day spa model completely.“I can see the bigger ones surviving because they have the space and the money backing them,” Ms Goodman said.“A lot of companies are starting to be more aware of what consumers are seeking, the trend seems to be a lot of products with a natural focus.”Ms Larsen said consumer demand and appreciation of Sodashi products would be the drivers that kept her business growing.“We’ve grown the skin care range because I was amazed at the effect of people’s skin. I never believed it wouldn’t be successful.”
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