The baby balm market is big business, if the success of South African start-up Oh- lief is anything to go by. The natural and organic beauty and baby product range went from being a modest home-based word-of-mouth success to an international brand in just four years, earning founders Louiza Rademan and Christine Buchanan R1-million from local bank Standard Bank in its Think Big competition to boost small business.
The Cape Town-based sisters are long-time fans of natural and organic products, and when Buchanan was expecting her first child, she wanted to continue using such products. Not finding a suitable range on the shelves, the sisters turned to family recipes, and Rademan whipped up a nappy balm that worked for Buchanan’s child and received rave reviews from family and friends.
The seed for what would become an international business was planted; Rademan and Buchanan attended a three-day trade show with 100 units of the balm, only to sell out on the first day. “We made 100 units for the three-day event, convinced that this would be enough. We sold the entire stock on day one. That night we mixed up another 100 jars. We sold out again the following day, and then repeated the exercise that evening, only to sell out again,’ said Buchanan.
It was time to concentrate on Oh-lief Natural Products; the sisters quit their day jobs, property and architecture, to concentrate on refining their product. They still worked out of their kitchens, and kept the business to scale, putting the organic baby bum balm on sale.
“After people had made an initial purchase and experienced the quality and effectiveness of the balm they purchased more,’ said Rademan. “Women buy by brand, with many using the approach adopted by Tupperware – where sales are based on women selling their product from their homes. By following a similar model, we were able to increase sales.’
Rademan and Buchanan took heart at this increase in sales and expanded the olive- oil based range to include adult-focused products. They soon saw their products flying off shelves in pharmacies, health stores and independent baby stores.
Rademan and Buchanan say they’ve never “had one bad debt’. That’s a feat for a small business in uncertain economic times, especially for a product that targets high- end consumers, and the partners have capitalised on this success and expanded it using modern marketing; social media, word of mouth and attractive packaging.
Modern marketing, worldwide appeal
“Exposure on social media may not translate directly into sales, but is essential because it creates brand awareness. “It provides an opportunity to use high-quality visuals that appeal to the market, and also to communicate directly with a pool of existing and potential customers,’ said Buchanan.
The brand is now making inroads in Europe, after exhibiting at a European trade show funded by the Department of Trade and Industry. Selling in the UK and Scandinavia, it is no longer a home-based business, but manufactured at larger premises in Cape Town. It is also now going to be introduced to a wider South African market through local retailer Woolworths, which will stock the Oh-Lief luxury adult range at 25 stores.
Winning the Think Big Business Champions competition is a big boost for the partners. They say they will be using the cash prize to reinforce “the quality of our product by getting it registered and certified by international bodies.. We are also looking at plans to bring Oh-lief to the attention of all South Africans.’
The sisters are determined that even while they grow the brand and business, they will stay true to quality, purity and the “uniqueness of hand mixing their product’.