Helen Twose: Right partners key to growth

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Bernadette Soares always aimed to go global. Photo / Greg Bowker
Bernadette Soares always aimed to go global. Photo / Greg Bowker

Taking her mother-in-law's hair removal recipe and giving it a Kiwi twist is opening salon doors in Britain for Bernadette Soares.

Soares has been selling a version of the family recipe for more than 10 years, initially as consumer brand bodEze but since 2007 as part of the Pharo salon-specific range.

The sugar-based alternative to waxing is now used in more than 500 salons in New Zealand, Australia and Europe.

The gel formula - a secret recipe concocted by Soares from sugar, lemon juice, water, aloe vera, kiwifruit and manuka honey - is less painful than regular waxing, applied at a lower temperature and doesn't require solvents to clean residue off the skin. It is for those very reasons that sugaring is so amazing, says Soares.

Becoming the supplier of choice for The Carlton Institute's chain of 16 beauty colleges across Britain and Ireland was partly due to a pinch of good luck.

Soares just happened to ring the beauty college the week it was reconsidering its current supplier of sugaring gel. She backed up that phone call with trainers on the ground, demonstrating the product, and a local distributor on hand to smooth supply issues.

Soares says she wins new accounts based on service, timely delivery and faultless products.

"We are focusing on things that maybe big companies don't focus on. We almost have to, we don't have a choice."

Not every distributor partnership has worked out. When Soares launched Pharo in the Australian market she teamed up with one of the biggest players, but the business relationship soured within six months.

She says her sugaring gels didn't generate the sales and margins earned by high-end skincare line-ups and, as a result, her range didn't get the attention it needed from reps. "What I learned quickly was to find someone who can grow with me, who is also hungry for growth."

She found a beauty school owner in Brisbane who wanted to add a distribution side to the existing training business.

In 18 months Australian sales have grown from 30 salons to almost 180, says Soares.

It's a strategy she hopes to repeat in other overseas markets.

Soares is about to head to Britain and Europe to grow her network of contacts and hopefully find her perfect distribution match in France.

"Before I used to look for a big splash: 'Oh, I want a big distributor in France'.

"Now even if I find a small beauty training school or a small beauty therapist who wants to start up in distribution, just get in the door, I've learned that.

"You just work your way in. It's one step at a time."

Her intention was always to take the brand, which now includes all the lotions and paraphernalia needed for therapists to provide a luxury sugaring treatment, to a global audience.

Despite sugaring being a popular, home-based hair removal method in the Middle East, there are very few commercial sugar gel suppliers.

"That's the great thing. With any other salon product, be it skincare, be it makeup, you would compete with a hundred, two hundred competitors.

"I'm competing with four or five competitors worldwide."

She also has the Radiessence makeup range and the Natural Glow bronzers under her Brand Value umbrella.

The last few years have been tough to grow the makeup brands, she says. Retail sales took a hit after the economy turned in 2008 and online sites began offering big name cosmetics at a fraction of the usual price.

"I had to make some very big changes, very tough decisions, just had to trim overheads, trim costs, but also constantly focus on getting those key overseas markets."

- NZ Herald

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