Small business: Women entrepreneurs - Sarah Townsend

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Aromatherapy Company founder Sarah Townsend. Photo / Supplied
Aromatherapy Company founder Sarah Townsend. Photo / Supplied

Sarah Townsend, The Aromatherapy Company, creator of the therapeutic body care range, Therapy, and other natural body care ranges including Naturals, Man, Baby Therapy and Feet. The other side of the business is home fragrance and gift driven, candles and fragrance diffusers. She talks to Gill South.

In the home fragrance, gift and natural body products areas, The Aromatherapy Company is the sole New Zealand supplier of home fragrance in Farmers. The majority of our ranges stocked in David Jones nationwide and in all leading gift stores. We maintain a strong presence in the leading department stores in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, South Africa and the Middle East.

What did you set out to build when you started out?

My initial idea was somewhat of a cottage industry business, focused simply on providing my customers with the benefits of essential oils in their everyday lives. My inspiration has always been drawn from my father, a successful entrepreneur in his own right, and as such my whole life has always been surrounded by business - I guess it was a natural progression for me to create my own.

I actually got my first taste for business and drive for success at the age of 13, when I opened a stall at the Cook Street Markets selling imported fabrics. This business grew quite fast, eventually earning me enough money to buy my first car. However back then, I could have only dreamed about finding my products in leading department stores all over the world. I feel so proud to represent New Zealand internationally and sharing my very 'grassroots' idea with people around the world, showcasing our country's wonderful ingredients on an international stage.

What values does your business have?

Through everything, I aim to keep The Aromatherapy Company strongly tied to its roots and to my original motivation in starting the company.

At the heart of our business, we are committed to creating pure and natural body care for our customers. All our body care products are free from parabens, sodium laurel sulphates and mineral oils and - unlike most others on the market - they are also free from artificial fragrance (only essential oils are used to create the beautiful scents we offer). We are constantly searching for new ways to refine our formulations and make them as simple and pure as possible.

We also value very highly being environmentally friendly, with all our packaging being recyclable and contributing one per cent of the profits from our most successful Therapy Range to the 1 per cent For The Planet Foundation.

What drives you?

Initially I started to spread the natural goodness of essential oils and support my young family, however now what drives me is being able to see such a high demand for natural products after so many years of little recognition. It is also a reward for me to be able to sustain such enormous growth after 20 plus years of business and to see a New Zealand brand succeeding on the world stage.

I am also inspired to be able to produce natural essential oil based products that people can use in their everyday lives and share all the therapeutic benefits of essential oils. I was always inspired by my father, my business mentor, who has always been and still continues to be a great entrepreneur. He is not only my good friend, but my reason for working as hard as I do on a daily basis.

I also work hard to show my family the joys you can get from life if you work hard with a community conscience and stick to what you believe in.

I am enjoying being involved giving back to other woman starting out in businesses through mentoring programmes. These women contact me directly and are able to make such a difference to bringing their ideas to life is very rewarding.

What challenges have you had along the way?

Where do I start? It was very difficult to introduce my products into the marketplace as people didn't care about whether the products they were using contained chemicals or were recyclable. They also viewed aromatherapy as a bit too 'alternative'. However interestingly, those product bases I started with 21 years ago have now, just recently, become our most popular sellers, as people have become more aware of the harmful effects of using chemical body products and also the importance of being environmentally friendly. Aromatherapy is now widely accepted by the majority as a great thing to incorporate into everyday life to help relieve various stresses.

Export - It has been a challenge getting our products out there. I am now in my 15th year of attending international fairs and I am pleased to say that now all those years of hard work have paid off. We now enjoy strong brand recognition worldwide.

How much has work life balance been important?

As my family are very important to me, I strive to maintain a healthy work/life balance. But particularly in the last four years, since we have been experiencing such enormous growth, this has been extremely difficult. However, I am happy to say we have recently been lucky to find another dynamic woman, with international experience as CEO, to help me with the everyday running of the company, which has allowed me to have a better balance and let me focus on the areas I am most capable at - namely the creative side of our business.

As I have two daughters, no matter how busy I have been I have always ensured I'm there when it really matters - such as at important school events. The monthly overseas travel does take a toll on my family life, but it means that when I am back with them our time is really special. I also try and take them with me when I can.

To maintain a good balance I make sure I take regular holidays with my family, use my essential oil blends to relax and unwind and do lots of walking!


Everyone thinks they can design a boardgame. There are some actually doing it and achieving some success here and overseas.
Tell us your stories - email me, Gill South here.

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