10/03/2011 - 00:00

Sodashi stays chemical, and kaftan, free

10/03/2011 - 00:00

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THE skincare business may seem all lavender oil and roses to some, but developing a product range and forging a path in a saturated market has been full of challenges for Megan Larsen, founder of Sodashi.

THE skincare business may seem all lavender oil and roses to some, but developing a product range and forging a path in a saturated market has been full of challenges for Megan Larsen, founder of Sodashi.

When Ms Larsen started the Fremantle-based company in 1999 she wanted to fill a void in the market by developing an effective, chemical-free skincare range.

This was before the proliferation of organic products on the market, at a time when chemicals were believed to be a vital ingredient in skincare.

Ms Larsen set about creating a skincare range with one objective – to be an effective, chemical-free anti-ageing product.

Looking back on Sodashi’s early years, Ms Larsen said she was forging new ground in the industry.

“At the time there was really only one other company making products that were considered natural, there was certainly nothing in the spa industry,” she said.

“There was very much the perception that natural was lovely to use, but not really effective or anti-ageing.

“I think people used to expect me to walk in, in a flowing kaftan to begin with. We broke the barrier, the mould and the mindset of people.”

Warding off stereotypes was a challenge overcome by pitching the business at a high-end market. Sodashi chose day spas and luxury hotels as its target distributors and is now stocked in 60 resorts across 25 countries, with one of its largest contracts with Four Seasons.

Getting the company to that level has taken time and there have been bumps along the way, according to Ms Larsen, who believes personal growth can affect the growth of a business.

“My business is as successful as my own personal growth, and if I don’t learn lessons as I go through, or learn from the challenges that get presented, they will just keep being presented,” she said.

One of these lessons emerged when Sodashi was in its early stages of developing international contracts.

Sodashi signed its first international spa deal in Bangkok in 2000, a year after establishing the business, but when Ms Larsen discovered her products were not being used appropriately and to the standards Sodashi wanted, she cancelled the contract.

“It was our first overseas spa, it evidently could have damaged our brand, it set us back easily three months financially, but we had to do it,” she said.

“They were compromising our brand so we made a decision to take our products out of there.

“That was a decision that was relatively easy, not necessarily on a cost basis; but this is the thing in business, you can’t ever be afraid to make a call that might seem financially challenging, it always seems to pan out that the reward is much greater.”

After cancelling the contract Ms Larsen made a decision to be consistent not only in Sodashi’s 100 different products but also in its client base; she started building a relationship with Four Seasons resorts internationally, a move that has paid off with 14 Four Seasons spas now stocking the products.

Ms Larsen passion for Sodashi’s range is obvious, but she said being flexible enough to meet clients’ needs was one of the most important aspects of building long-term business relationships.

“I think a lot of these spas, especially within the Four Seasons, you need to be on top of what they want. Whether it is creating new spa treatments or helping them to get more involved with the media, you need to be there and work with them,” Ms Larsen said.

She said finding the right partner with aligned principles was integral to the process.

“You have to be malleable without compromising any of your principles or philosophies. That is why, as we have gone through, some spas haven’t worked for us,” she said.

“It has to be mutually beneficial. You have got to stay true to who you are.”

Ms Larsen has focused on product research and development to maintain market position, rather than spending great sums on advertising.

“Rather than taking full-page ads in glossy magazines, we have invested in, hopefully, a direct result for the client by giving them the very best of ingredients, good packaging and training to our spas and their therapists, so the client always gets the best treatment,” she said.

Sodashi exports 70 per cent of its production to diverse destinations of including The Maldives, Dubai and France and the company is now drawing its focus on developing its Australian market share through developing relationships with home grown spas and retreats.

Ms Larsen said while she would like to move into what would be a large and profitable Chinese market, she wasn’t prepared to compromise Sodashi’s anti-animal testing principles, a mandatory requirement for imported products in that country.

 

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