Family matters at Douglas firm

MARTIN MOORE
Last updated 05:00 24/04/2014
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Megan Douglas

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The skincare industry suffers from no shortage of products billing themselves as natural, and World Organic's growth in this highly competitive market demonstrates the importance of having something unique.

Launched in 2011 by former fashion designer Megan Douglas, the company hit profitability late last year and is on track to achieve revenue of $1.5 million in the current year. Douglas expects that to exceed $2 million in 2015.

The company made a deliberate decision to sell its World Organic, River Veda and The Organic Skin Co ranges of beauty products via a Tupperware-style party plan model, and now has a network of 360 salespeople across New Zealand and Australia.

"They know the personal touch. If you go to a department store as a woman it's daunting because you can't try everything or talk to anyone about your skin type," Douglas says.

World Organic's products are made using a process called super-critical extraction, which produces extremely concentrated herbal extracts without the usual use of chemical solvents. Douglas was immediately drawn to the technology when she found it at a trade show in Hong Kong, and says hers is currently the only beauty company in New Zealand using it.

"I saw this and I said 'this is incredible, this is the future'."

Provided by a supplier near Mumbai in India, the extracts are up to 50 times more concentrated than those made with standard extraction methods, resulting in products with maximum potency, she says.

The herbs are grown on fair trade farms in the same area.The decision to go to India for ingredients marks a personal return for Douglas, who travelled the country in her 20s.Her goal was to take the eastern ingredients and ideas she had experienced there and package them in a way that would appeal to western consumers.

"I wanted to work with products from different places around the world, especially India because there was a whole bounty of things there, [and] in doing that, also benefiting the communities we were getting our ingredients from."

World Organic is a family affair, with Douglas' partner, brother, and sister-in-law all investing and working in the enterprise. Her father, former finance minister Roger Douglas, is also an investor and on the board, and helps with book keeping and advice.

"I think they've got complementary skills, and it works out well, and they've got a high interest in natural therapy, which the family has always had," Roger Douglas says, referring to the natural supplement company Red Seal which the family owned until the 1980s.

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He thinks the key to the success of his daughter's latest venture has been the methodical way she has gone about it, taking the time to develop a high quality product and proving it in the New Zealand market before moving on to Australia, then proving it in Australia before considering taking it further afield.

"I think what Megan and Lisette (Megan's sister-in-law) are very good at is working out where they want to be in two or three years then going slowly about it," he says.

"They haven't just thrown a bit of product in and called it organic, they've gone about ensuring that it is and they have it all certified."

World Organic's credentials are through BioGro, a non-profit New Zealand organic certifier owned by the New Zealand Biological Producers and Consumers Society.

The beauty products company is just the latest enterprise in a long entrepreneurial career for Megan Douglas.At age 18 she co-founded a hair and clothing outlet business. She later moved to London and went into fashion design, getting her creations stocked in large British retailers including Harrods, Whistles and Josephs.

Having started two businesses by the time most people are just finishing university, she decided to do a bit of soul-searching and spent time living and working in Japan and India. She then retrained as a herbalist and naturopath, but her business roots called and she began developing the idea of producing her own natural skincare products.

After remortgaging the house and three years of research the first ranges were launched.

Balancing her environmental and social goals with running a profitable business has not always been easy, but it is something Douglas is committed to.

"I think it's the small things you do along the way, making decisions based on considerations other than just the bottom line.

"You need to make a decision that is not going to be hard on the environment, and also one that means your business will still be sustainable and successful, because you need both," she says.

Right now she's focussing on getting the fundamentals right, and is not too sure how big the company could get. It's just starting to dip its toe into the US market, selling online and via partners.

"We could take in other investment because we're at the stage now where we're rocking and rolling and expanding quickly but we want to hold onto equity for a little longer," she says.  

- Unlimited

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