Many businesses measure their success by how many staff they hire. But for Alison Vickery, succeeding in business meant downsizing her team from six staff to just two.
When Vickery set out to establish a beauty brand, she knew offering an organic range simply wouldn’t cut it in such a crowded market.
Vickery wanted to produce something that would set her apart from her competitors. In 2008 she created Pod Puraceuticals, a completely carbon-neutral skincare line.
“Basically, I had about three ideas and this was the one that sort of came together,” she says.
“I have an autoimmune disease, which means I’m highly allergic to synthetic fragrances and a lot of chemicals.”
“I was in my late 40s when I started the business, and I wanted to take good care of myself… I identified that there was an opportunity, and there was a demand, for natural products.”
As her business grew, Vickery made the assumption she needed to hire staff in-house.
“The biggest learning curve is really how you scale your business right from the start,” she says.
“I barely had four products – they were just being manufactured – but I knew we had interest at that stage from Priceline in particular and Myer.”
“Here I am running a business, and I don’t know how I do a transaction of that size. The mistake was feeling like I needed to employ people myself.”
About six months after hiring a team, Vickery realised there was an alternative.
“When I initially set up, I hired about five or six people,” she says.
“I started by insourcing everything, pretty much, so I had someone who was an operations manager, which obviously included distribution… I also hired salespeople and training people.”
“I realised I was much better off deciding what was really critical and important to my business and prioritising that, and not being distracted by distribution.”
“The important thing was staying [focused on what] my customer touched. With anything my customer didn’t touch, I found someone I could form a long-term strategic partnership with.”
Now, Vickery directly employs one staff member – an assistant. All other roles are outsourced.
“I have a company that I work with that has 300 staff Australia-wide who can go into stores and do 10 minutes of work for me, as opposed to having someone who is more senior and isn’t as flexible in terms of what they’ll do,” she says.
“I also have a virtual call centre that answers all my phones and answers as my company, and can address a lot of my customers’ needs.”
“By tapping into a network that offers very specialised services and contractors, I can scale up and down my business to meet my needs.”
“It also means I can offer a level of expertise – a breadth of expertise – I could not afford on my own.”
Vickery says it can be tricky for start-ups to anticipate demand when they have nothing to go off.
“One thing that’s really difficult when you do start up is you just don’t know how big that bang’s going to be when you get distribution,” she says.
“When we got Priceline, we ran an advertisement and sold out nationally in half a day. You really don’t know what sort of scale you’re going to need.”
But by changing the way her business operates, Vickery has been able to focus on the most important part: the products.
“I believe we have a very good eCommerce offer and I am constantly amazed how quickly that is growing. I see that as an incredibly important part of my business,” she says.
“Most of my customers want to go into the store and hear about the brand, and know it exists, but they’re increasingly open to making subsequent purchases on the web.”
“It’s something I’m very keen to grow and nurture.”
“The other thing we’ve actively doing is we’re currently running clinical trials on our products… We’re really developing the credibility of the brand and the science behind the brand.”
“I’m really trying to edge up the credibility and consolidate the brand’s position.”