By ELLEN READ
Inviting 80 women to your house so you can rip the hair off their legs might not seem a savvy business move, but it worked for Auckland woman Bernadette Soares.
Starting out with just a basic family recipe, she has developed and launched a hair removal gel range that is available in pharmacies throughout New Zealand and is about to enter the Australian market.
Known as body sugaring - because the recipe is based on a sugar gel - the technique is the most popular and traditional method of hair removal in Middle Eastern societies and has gained popularity with Western women in recent years.
The bodEze products launched in June this year are a far cry from the family concoction that was Indian-born Soares' starting point.
Her venture, BerNZ Enterprises, began a couple of years ago, when she was looking at returning to work after raising her children. She thought it would be a good time to start a business.
"You need a good idea or product, so I decided to see if I could enhance the family recipe."
In the kitchen of her West Auckland home, Soares began her many experiments to perfect the product's look, texture and performance. She gave the product a New Zealand-made identity by including aloe vera and kiwifruit extracts.
At the same time as refining the product, she conducted market research - the sugaring parties for friends and families - and worked on branding and packaging design. The bodEze popped up at one of the home parties.
A breakthrough came after she placed a $20 advertisement for her hair remover in a church newsletter. It caught the eye of the research and development director of Auckland-based Douglas Pharmaceuticals.
Over the following months, the product was trialled and tested, and the results brought Douglas Pharmaceuticals on board as bodEze's manufacturer, marketer and distributor.
"It took my production from 5kg batches in my kitchen to 500kg batches in a factory," Soares says.
The alliance has dramatically reduced the time it takes Soares to get her products to market and means the hair remover gel is being distributed nationwide at an early stage of the business.
The products are sold in 250 New Zealand pharmacies and Soares, who is completing her Masters in business innovation and entrepreneurship at Unitec, has signed two more major distribution deals.
One, signed this week with a Sydney distributor, will result in the bodEze sugaring hair removal products being sold at at 100 pharmacies throughout New South Wales. The second deal is for distribution of bodEze products to souvenir and duty free stores in New Zealand.
Soares nabbed the Australian deal after having a stall at pharmacy trade shows in Melbourne and Sydney in July and August.
"There was a lot of interest in bodEze's product, packaging, and pricing and this translated into us successfully negotiating our first distributorship in Australia.
"The products are presented in clear plastic boxes which lets light through them when stacked in shops. Plus, the containers holding the gel are bright orange [for men] or green [for women] so also catch shoppers' eyes."
Soares attributes her quick success with bodEze to "having a great team of people to work with".
"I see all my contractors, suppliers, manufacturers, distributors and customers as vital stakeholders in the product's success."
Soares launched a men's range after learning many customers were buying the product for their male partners or their children.
Her next challenges are increasing New Zealanders awareness of body sugaring and making the business international.
She says she enrolled in the Unitec programme to learn more about growing an innovative business, to network with like-minded entrepreneurs and to receive mentoring.