This week, I’m talking to Amy Regan.
Amy worked for L’Oreal right out of college, then eventually moved to Jo Malone in London (which is basically the only perfume I wear and costs a million dollars AND IT’S WORTH IT).
Eventually, she moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, believing her days in the cosmetics business were over. While there, she discovered a healing salve, made locally by the same family for over 130 years. She loved the product so much, that she eventually bought the company. We talk about the responsibility of taking over an heirloom brand, her decision to do things the hard way, plus the big, scary thing she did: pitching her products to one of the world’s biggest retailers and succeeding. PS the elevator pitch happened in an actual elevator.
Here’s an excerpt from our conversation. You can listen to the whole dang thing on iTunes.
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Thanks so much for being on the podcast. Where are you calling in from?
Thanks, Molly. I’m calling in from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
OK, please tell me where that is and what it’s like to live there.
It’s the most northeastern tip of land in Canada. Lots of planes fly over Nova Scotia on the way to Europe from New York or Boston. It’s a beautiful place to visit, particularly in the summer or the fall.
How long have you lived there? Are you from there?
I’m from the states originally, but have been here now 12 ½ years, so now this is home.
Tell me how you got involved in the skincare and cosmetics world.
I started my career in the cosmetics industry right out of university. I was really lucky that right out of university, I got a job at L’Oreal, arguably one of the best training grounds in the industry.
Yeah, I’ve heard of them.
I still sort of don’t know how I ended up getting the job there, but I learned a ton from the folks at L’Oreal. I’m still in touch with my first boss at the company. I really got hooked on the industry, and eventually ended up working for… Estée Lauder in London, England. I was in the industry for a long time before moving to Halifax.
When I spoke to you earlier, you said something about having gone to school for religion? How did you end up in the cosmetics industry?
I was a comparative religion major at university, which my father was very displeased with because he lent me a lot of money and thought I should be an engineer or a scientist. But I was just really drawn to the comparative religion department. And funnily enough, I think there’s actually a parallel between religion and marketing, because fundamentally you need a good understanding of human nature. How people respond to things, what drives and motivates them. Really, I think the comparative religion helps me out quite a bit. But I feel very lucky to have been able to take that leap from comparative religion into business. I had a lot to learn when I started at L’Oreal. I ended up spending a year at business school on their behalf to really build more of a foundation of financial skills in business, which I did not have. It’s still my weakness, but it was a great segue.
Was it during that process that you had the thought of wanting to go into business for yourself? Had you always wanted to be entrepreneur?
It was really when I worked for Jo Malone in England. She is the owner and founder of Jo Malone Fragrances, which are now owned by Estée Lauder. I started working with her shortly after Estee Lauder acquired them and I was sort of the liaison between the head office in London and the offices in New York.
Jo is one of those exceptional entrepreneurs who is incredibly creative, visionary and tenacious. I learned a ton working for her. I worked with her for about four years, and I was lucky enough to literally work side-by-side with she and her husband.
Oh my gosh. I have candle envy right now.
Oh yeah, I mean it’s such a brilliant concept and it changed the whole fragrance industry. They were the first to introduce stuff like basil as a fragrance. She really pushed the envelope, she’s a brilliant marketer and brilliant businesswoman. She really encourage me. She’d always say to me , You’re not corporate. You’re an entrepreneur and I know someday I’m going to be reading about you having your own business. I never believed her, but it stuck with me.
After moving to Halifax, I thought well that isn’t going to happen. What am I going to do from here?
You could’ve started a salmon business.
Exactly. Right! So I thought my days in the beauty industry were probably done. But then I discovered this woman who had this amazing formula in Nova Scotia. Her great-grandfather who was from the UK had developed this amazing balm. This family had immigrated to Nova Scotia and had been making this balm in their kitchen for years. It’s very Kiehl’s-esque. When I met her, it was evident that she had something really, really special.
So this formula, it was a balm? Like something topical you’d use on your skin?
The original formulator, Thomas Dixon, created it in the 1870s. He was effectively what we would consider today to be a compound chemist. He had a mercantile and he made concoctions to treat skin irritations. It was intended to cure everything from diaper rash to bug bites to any sort of redness or inflammation on the skin. People formulated things very differently in the 1870s than we do today. He put absolutely everything in it that he knew would treat irritated skin. There’s zero percent water in it and just loaded with emollient oils and minerals that are healing and soothing. So it’s an incredibly effective formula. It’s like nothing else on the market. When I met the founder, she had a bank of hundreds of testimonials from people who had used this product for years to treat all kinds of conditions with tremendous effects… it’s so infrequently in the beauty industry you find something with a real healing capacity that’s also a great product.
So these guys have literally been making this balm for hundred years at home and selling it word of mouth? Or how did that go?
They would make it in their kitchen. Most of them were pharmacists, so they would sell it out of the back of their pharmacy. People in Halifax knew that these people had this formula and they would just go to the back of the pharmacy to buy it.
I think we’ve all stumbled upon somebody doing something really cool, or find a businesses we see so much potential in and think, if only they would do X, Y and Z, this could be huge! So how did you approach this company about helping them grow, then ultimately about buying the company?
It’s funny you say that. I initially reached out to the woman who owned it to offer my consulting services. I sent her a note saying I love your products, love your brand-name, love the story, this is in my wheelhouse and I’d love to help you out in anyway that I can. They were actually looking for funding at the time and creating a packages to take to potential investors. So she said, great I’ll take any of the help you gave me.
We basically started working together. She showed me how to make a balm and we spent a lot of time just kind of hanging out. At the time, she was having lots of people making offers to buy the business because they knew the formula was incredibly effective. In the end, she told me she knew I would do what she would do with the business. She said, I want you to have it. Would you consider buying it?
At that point, I had not remotely considered it! But I started to talk to friends and family and started getting the resources together. I got really, really excited about the opportunity to buy the business and really take it forward.
Once you did end up buying it, what was it like to have someone else’s families hundred-plus-year-old heritage brand in your hands?
It was very terrifying. There was a lot of expectation in terms of what I would do with the business. Working for Jo Malone was a really good foundation for that because at the time I worked for her, she was being acquired by a big company and trying to maintain everything the brand had been about. I felt a sense of responsibility to the Dixon family to really carry on the brand heritage of Skinfix.
Interestingly, the product is an OTC or an over-the-counter, which means it’s a medicinal drug. There are active levels of ingredients and it actually heals conditions on the skin that are considered diseases. It’s a really serious product. And I had never worked with OTCs before, so I started to investigate.
People would say to me, you know Amy, you got a great story that a great brand. Just take the levels of active ingredients down and make it a cosmetic. It’ll be so much easier and less expensive. I absolutely was not going to do that. This product worked because of Is formula and worked for people for so many years. The testimonials were so incredibly heartfelt, so I felt it was completely unethical to change the formula… It’s not easy formula to make, and it’s an expensive formula to make, but it works incredibly well.
It’s really impressive that you took the extra time and effort to keep the brand what it’s always been about.
Thanks. The team here is all women, and a lot of us are moms . And I think there’s something in that that really drives us to create the best product that we can. Women are nurturers and women are caretakers. One of the first lines we launched was a baby line… and we wanted a product that was absolutely going to heal a baby’s eczema. That’s our mission. To heal the skin. The skin lifts the spirit, healthy skin reduces stress for mom. When a baby is up crying and scratching at their skin all night, it’s incredibly stressful. So it is our mission to truly heal the skin and help and do it with in the most natural way possible.
To find out how Amy successfully pitched Skinfix to Target, check out the full episode here.
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PS Want to win some Skinfix Products?
Amy will send one lucky listener their daily lotion, hand repair balm and body repair balm– a $50 value. All you have to do is share a link to this post with your friends on Facebook & tag the Hey Eleanor Facebook page. I’ll pick & announce a winner on next week’s show. And by the way, are you following me on FB? You should be.
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