The health and cosmetics markets are so saturated with different brands that it seems almost impossible that a start-up could stand out from the crowd.
However, Mark Power has taken a brave stab at offering a point of difference with his business Organic Island, which he launched in 2007.
The company produces lip balm sold in real shells that people can open up.
He talks to StartupSmart about how he has overcome initial derision and a tough year in the export market.
What inspired you to start the business?
I started the business with a partner, who has since left. My background is in marketing, whereas hers is in swimwear.
We noticed the marketability of Aussie products overseas. Whether it was apparel, equipment or the health sector, Australian products seemed to do very well, especially in North America.
We wanted to offer something that was sharp, not gimmicky, that would sell well overseas.
It took about a year to develop the product. Originally, we wanted to put this skin moisturiser within a coconut, as we felt that would really stand out.
But it was difficult to source coconuts, so we narrowed it down to shells.
How did you go about doing that?
We got shells from wholesalers. They are black and need to be sandblasted to give them their natural colour, as well as be sanitised with chemicals.
But why shells?
We knew that shelf space is at a premium with retailers. The only way to get listed is to differentiate yourself. It has got great traction and feedback so far.
What did you do next?
The business cost $30,000 to start – $15,000 from the each of us. We targeted women’s beauty and fashion magazines overseas as we didn’t think there was a domestic market for it.
It wasn’t until we got coverage here that retailers became interested in Australia. It was our mistake, which took us about a year to realise.
It must’ve been difficult to get this unusual product ready for retail, surely?
We started with the Yellow Pages and contacted everyone we could to find a cosmetic manufacturer. We would call companies like Visy to ask who they worked with.
We eventually found one in Melbourne and another one in Brisbane. They said we were crazy – they laughed us out of the door.
We hadn’t got much experience in the industry, so we didn’t realise that as shells aren’t manmade, they are all different sizes and this is a problem. It’s hard to automate a manufacturing process when the sizes aren’t the same – it adds huge cost.
The company we eventually went with had foam moulds which kept the shells stable on the production line as the cream is put into them.
The manufacturer was a young start-up like us. They had a lot of experience in the industry and were excited by the opportunity. They’ve been fantastic through the whole process.
We now sell the product online and wholesale to retailers. I started by going out in the car and promoting the product.