Having forged a successful career as an artist, a busy mother of four children and now successful business owner, Vicky Woolford acknowledges she is very driven to succeed and has “always been someone who enjoys a challenge”.
It’s no surprise then to learn her natural skin care company Savar (after the French greeting Ca Va or “hello, how are you”), launched nine years ago, was a category finalist in the Export New Zealand, 2017 Exporter of the Year Awards.
Working as an artist was the catalyst into the world of business and natural skin care. “My skin suffered from the chemicals and substances I used as an artist. I became acutely aware of the effect of substances on my skin and the environment and, at the time, my three teenage daughters were beginning to experiment with beauty products,” recalls Vicky. “I struggled to find skin care products that would work for me and realised there was an opportunity to create a skin care range that tapped into the natural healing power of plants.
“Worldwide, there has been a huge move towards a more natural approach to health and beauty, and New Zealand has been at the forefront of this, due to our inspiring beauty and abundance of natural plants and resources. “We include many native ingredients in our range, such as New Zealand blackcurrant, organic bilberry and goji berries, to name a few; each with special and unique qualities to provide optimum results.
“Early research indicated that consumers wanted a range suitable for all skin types, including sensitive. In addition, those products needed to be safe and gentle enough to be used during pregnancy, and while breastfeeding.”
When questioned on the price of skin care products, Vicky responds: “As an ultra-premium natural New Zealand brand, we formulate our products using premium plant-based ingredients and our top-quality extracts are made locally, exclusively for us.
“All our boxes, labels, gift-tags and gift sleeves are also produced here. From Day One, we decided to source everything locally, wherever possible, to support local industry.” The products are also manufactured to the strictest and highest quality standards, she says, in state-of-the-art GMP certified laboratories.
Quality advice - From the outset Vicky sought advice and assistance from mentors and consultants, and more recently NZTE. “We have a legal adviser who is an expert in a wide range of fields including international law; a marketing consultant; and a China market adviser, Paul O’Brien.
“We trademarked Savar in many countries including New Zealand, Australia, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, the EU, Taiwan and the US, to protect our brand into the future. “From the beginning, although New Zealand is a very important market, it was always our intention to export. We identified Asia as our initial, preferred export market because of the huge population base and increasing wealth in virtually all Asian economies,” Vicky explains. “A large market like that presents both opportunities and obstacles. We have targeted our marketing to enable us to more effectively reach our target market.”
Vicky believes keeping a close eye on your markets is key. “Markets are forever changing, and we are always looking to diversify. Many channels play an important role in our business including local retail stores, online and cross border. “The Daigou channel (Chinese personal shoppers) has been great for us and has played an important role in raising our profile in Asia and, more recently, Australia.
“I consider market analysis vital too, in order for us to be focused around our future.” She also adds social media, teamwork, “research, research and more research,” to the mix. To that end, Savar is currently collaborating in a research programme with Auckland University Business School, researching buying habits, different customer segments, and communication channels, to create brand awareness.
“We also recognise the importance of social media and receive weekly reports on what is being said about us on all platforms,” says Vicky. “This information is monitored by an employee fluent in Mandarin, who has an Auckland University Master’s Degree in International Business. “Our research showed the Asian consumer has a love of authentic, premium, honest and safe New Zealand-made products. So we took the plunge three or four years ago, spending considerable time researching the best products to suit the Asian climate and skin types.
“This led to the development of new products when we identified that skincare, particularly in Asia, could be seasonal. So, we’ve developed products to generate year-round turnover and help even out the seasonal fluctuations. “The development of new products has itself led to considerable growth and ongoing business opportunities.”
Overcoming challenges - Woolford acknowledges that establishing her successful company has been tougher than she’d imagined. “Initially we were faced with constant challenges. For example, most of the bottles and gift bags we use are either on indent or come from overseas. That meant lead times had to be factored in. It also takes time to find the right suppliers and develop valuable business relationships.
“My family has been hugely supportive from the outset with all of them being involved in the business in some way or another. I also have the most amazing team beside me which has grown over the years. “As you might have expected, we take a holistic approach to business and believe true health encompasses mind, body and soul – and hence have an exceptionally team-orientated focus. Our team motto is ‘excellence together’. “Any new staff members are chosen primarily on values and attitude, along with experience, as we believe the ‘right fit’ in a team environment is the most important factor. “I can’t imagine you could take on a venture like this unless you had good support around you – both at work and at home.”
One of Vicky’s favourite quotes is: ‘Whenever you see a successful business, someone has made a courageous decision. “That’s simply because it takes a huge amount of drive, faith and determination to get a successful business up and running.”