Aucklander Hannah Hong, 33, founder of skincare brand Lemon & Beaker, shares her global ambitions for the company and how changing laws in China will open up new opportunities for New Zealand firms.
What does your business do?
Lemon & Beaker is a skincare brand that began in September last year and formulates skincare products with essential oils and native New Zealand botanical ingredients. We have six products and we're selling our product in 14 pharmacies across New Zealand.
What was the motivation for starting Lemon & Beaker?
I studied chemistry and psychology, and did an MBA in Shanghai, I used to work for Bath and Body Works in Dubai and then apparel companies in South Korea but I always had a heart for having my own skincare brand. In the last two years I had been brainstorming my own skincare business. I wanted to build a brand of skincare that was not only good on my skin but uses natural packaging and ingredients. I wanted to explore New Zealand botanical ingredients such as kawakawa and harakeke so I came up with a line that is different to others as we wanted to make sure it was good for the environment and for people.
You recently brought on Grant Bai, the former chief executive of Green Cross Health, as a director - what is he responsible for?
I'm involved in the product side of the business, and I took on Grant because I wanted someone to manage the business side of it. Grant is also a shareholder, he was appointed director and chairperson of Lemon & Beaker in April. We have meetings every two weeks to go through the business strategy and marketing, and he connects us to stockists.
How big is your team?
Me, Grant and we have two freelancers working with us; Alex, who organises sales and marketing here in Auckland, and Irina, doing the same in overseas markets.
Are you selling your products overseas?
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Yes, but at the moment only through our online store. My plan is to take Lemon & Beaker global through online and offline retail. Right now we're targeting Australia and China, including the local market, and we expect to move into the United States next year. We still need to find a distributor in the US but Grant has connections in California so we'll be talking to them at the end of the year.
What plans do you have for marketing and selling into China?
Only online at the moment because China hasn't been released from animal testing yet but we do expect that to happen soon. Once that goes through then we can start exporting directly, hopefully at the end of this year. China is going to allow cruelty-free products, which do not test on animals, to be stocked in physical stores. All of New Zealand companies that create cruelty-free products will then be able to enter and sell into bricks and mortar stores. There are a lot of brands here that can't currently enter China because of this.
What are you focused on achieving this year?
Before 2020 we want to be present everywhere in New Zealand and grow the number of stockists selling our product. We are targeting bigger distributors such as Farmers and pharmacies, and hopefully we'll also be in department stores. We wouldn't mind small stockists having our products but we mainly want to focus on bigger distributors because if you want to go global that's the way. We also want to export aggressively to Singapore and China, that's our goal.
How do you plan to take Lemon & Beaker 'global' and do you consider this an ambitious target?
We do believe this is highly achievable because this is a New Zealand skincare brand made with New Zealand botanical ingredients, and the products look luxurious. We get a lot of interest from people because our products look different from other brands as we use natural colouring that looks very distinctive.
In five years time I hope for Lemon & Beaker to be present in every continent, including America and the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Oceania. By then we hope to have an established company here with a big warehouse, and that we have lots of global investors. We'd like to have investors that are not only investing money but their energy and vision as well, and we'd prefer distributors being our investors because we want people that sell our product putting their spirit into it.
How much have you invested to get the business up and running?
I've invested $250,000 so far and Grant has invested another $250,000. We need to invest more because we invest a lot in packaging. We are looking into finding more shareholders and investors and getting a business bank loan. Our packaging is not cheap; it's made of glass that's imported from Korea. Because we're dedicated to being a non-user of plastic, we are spending a lot of money on packaging compared to other brands - that's our main cost at the moment.
What advice do you give to other people thinking about starting a business?
Everyone has good ideas, but you've got to have good people around who can support you, and a strong vision. Even though sometimes people will attack you you've just got to hold on to your vision. If your vision is good enough to impress yourself I think it can also impress others - that's what happened with me.