Sodashi stays close to home

27/09/2016 - 11:16

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A niche skincare products manufacturer has kept all its operations WA based despite its accelerating growth in a global high-end market.

HOME BASE: Megan Larsen plans to keep Sodashi’s manufacturing operations in the North Fremantle warehouse. Photo: Attila Csaszar

A niche skincare products manufacturer has kept all its operations WA based despite its accelerating growth in a global high-end market.

A focus on its core, niche market, and a refusal to compromise on quality are just two of the reasons Sodashi founder Megan Larsen offers for the decision to remain as a manufacturer in Western Australia.

Given the way manufacturing is perceived as rare in the state, observers could be forgiven for thinking Sodashi is something of an outlier.

And, while many businesses have transferred manufacturing elsewhere, there are numerous companies that have quietly found WA a good place to make things.

Businesses like Funky Monkey Bars, Safescape, Normandie Foods, Aquatic Leisure Technologies and MetroCount are just some examples of successful local manufacturing and processing.

The mining downturn might have prompted some companies to quit WA, but in other ways it has made the decision easier for some to keep their manufacturing base here.

There is an upside in more available labour, cheaper rent and a lower Australian dollar which has worked in the favour of those that want to make things here.

Sodashi has stood by its local foundations for almost 20 years, delivering natural skincare products to a global market from its manufacturing facilities in North Fremantle.

Ms Larsen started the business in Perth in 1999, producing a range of chemical-free cosmetics that utilise local cold-pressed botanicals.

Despite relocating to Sydney in 2013, Ms Larsen has maintained her manufacturing base in WA.

“I’ve never considered moving the manufacturing out of Perth,” Ms Larsen told Business News.

“We’ve got a really dedicated WA team and Perth really has provided us with a great base to access places like Asia and Europe.”

Fast start

Ms Larsen’s business hit the ground running, securing its first international client, in Thailand, within its first year of operations.

In 2005, Sodashi launched into the European market, and this year will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Four Season’s famous Hotel George V in Paris.

More recently, Sodashi has secured contracts with Emirates private jets, the Ritz-Carlton in Tokyo, the Mandarin Oriental in Hyde Park, Gwyneth Paltrow’s online beauty platform, and has launched into the Hong Kong market.

As of 2016, the home-grown brand is now stocked in more than 70 luxury spas across 25 countries.

“We’ve had customers buying products from us since the beginning so I think that shows we’re doing the right thing,” Ms Larsen said.

Niche

Ms Larsen began concocting different natural blends in frustration of the lack of chemical-free products on the market and launched her first skincare product, now known as Sodashi’s rejuvenating face and neck moisturiser, through her (then) health food store in Duncraig.

“At the time this was being made on my own kitchen bench in South Perth,” she said. “When my batch of 50 moisturisers sold out in two days, I realised I was on to something.”

Sodashi now produces more than 100 distinct professional and retail spa products.

“Currently our manufacturing facility produces around four batches a day, and could include anything from 250 to 500 products per batch,” she said.

Ms Larsen said although costs were high in Perth, she wasn’t prepared to compromise on quality and has stuck to a small-batch approach to beauty, where each production is a one-off.

“People scale up and move off somewhere else, but for us it’s really important that we continue to manufacture in-house in Perth,” she said.

“We invest heavily into our product and, given we are so particular about the quality of ingredients, this ensures we know what’s going into the product but more importantly what’s staying out.”

Since moving to the North Fremantle premises in the early 2000s, the Perth team has grown from fewer than 10 staff to 20, and Ms Larsen said the modest number was a reflection on how Sodashi had been able to accommodate growth by improving manufacturing efficiencies.

“There are all sorts of ways of growing a company but one thing that’s really important is investing in your team,” she said.

“Everything is still done by hand; our largest batch is around 80 kilograms so we’re not producing thousands, and I think that shows in our formulation quality.”

Although Ms Larsen lives on the other side of the country, she is still actively involved in the hands-on side of the business, whether concocting new product formulations or meeting clients and she travels back to Perth every six weeks to visit the warehouse.

“Perth was the perfect platform for me to start Sodashi,” she said.

“It’s a supportive state businesswise and I think people are known for their friendliness and entrepreneurship. And I found it easy to connect with the right people at the right time.”

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