Winners of the Think Big competition, Oh-lief, are set to grow their business to a global brand.
South Africa’s history is full of entrepreneurs who risked all to see their passions transformed into products that could be valued by others.
The belief that most moms would want the best for their babies led two Cape Town-based sisters, Louiza Rademan and Christine Buchanan, to tackle an already flooded baby products market with a balm they felt discerning moms would clamour for.
Their entrepreneurial journey started when Louiza made an all-natural nappy rash balm for Christine’s first baby. The balm was so effective, that soon the sisters started giving the balm to family and friends – and received rave reviews of the product’s efficacy.
The turning point came when they took their product to their first trade show.
“We made 100 units for the three-day event, convinced that this would be enough. We sold the entire stock on day one. That night we mixed up another 100 jars. We sold out again the following day, and then repeated the exercise that evening, only to sell out again,” reflects Christine.
And so Oh-lief Natural Products was born. Christine and Louiza gave up their jobs, as a property professional and architect respectively, and put their first offering – their organic ‘baby bum balm’- on the market.
A gift of love
“After people had made an initial purchase and experienced the quality and effectiveness of the balm they purchased more,” says Louiza.
“Women buy by brand, with many using the approach adopted by Tupperware - where sales are based on women selling their product from their homes. By following a similar model, we were able to increase sales. Oh-lief was often purchased as a gift of love”
Although sales were taking off, volumes were still manageable, and Christine and Louiza were able to cope with demand while still working out of the kitchens of their homes.
Oh-lief, the hand-made product using olive oil as a base, was on its way to fulfilling its creators’ dreams - the range expanded to include products for adults.
As sales to consumers grew, Oh-lief Natural Products became a fixture in speciality stores from health stores and pharmacies to gift shops, through to independent baby stores.
Identifying opportunities in the market
The Oh-lief Natural Products story could have ended there, with the sisters taking time out to draw breath and rest on their laurels.
Never shy to tackle new marketing adventures, the sisters realised that to grow meant identifying and taking advantage of all opportunities that came their way.
As exhibitors at a European trade show, funded by the Department of Trade and Industry, the wide world of Europe opened up to Oh-lief Natural Products.
While Oh-lief is still made locally in Cape Town, in somewhat larger quantities than was previously the case, the sisters found a distributor in the UK and also entered the Scandinavian market.
R1 million injection
Little did they think that in four short years their confidence in the original Oh-lief Natural Bum Balm and other natural and organic balms and lotions would be significantly rewarded.
Recognition came not only in steadily growing local and international sales, but also in the form of a R1 million cash injection after they won the prestigious Standard Bank-supported ‘Think Big - Building Business Champions’ TV series title.
While this cash injection will go a long way to help the sisters grow their business dream, uniquely, they have been spared from the financial agonies that cash flow problems can bring to even the best-run small business. “We have been in business for four years and have never had one bad debt.”
Focus on marketing
Hidden in this statement is the true secret to the sisters’ success. They control all aspects of their business and realise that taking on the world with a niche product requires ingenuity and constant innovation when it comes to marketing.
Their main marketing focus to date has been word of mouth, which has been extended via social media.
“Exposure on social media may not translate directly into sales, but is essential because it creates brand awareness. It provides an opportunity to use high-quality visuals that appeal to the market, and also to communicate directly with a pool of existing and potential customers,” explains Christine.
This has been reinforced with what is probably the most attractive packaging on the market. With the addition of the Oh-Lief Natural Products Baby Box, a gift pack that would appeal to any woman, and topping the mix with a high quality product, the equation is complete.
As a quality South African brand, another noteworthy accolade recently came for Oh-lief Natural Products with the announcement that Woolworths South Africa would be stocking their luxury adult range on the shelves of 25 of their leading stores, as a first step in bringing the brand to the wider South African public.
The Oh-lief Natural Products formula is working, and is one that Christine and Louiza are determined to maintain.
What does the future hold?
The R1 million prize from Standard Bank’s ‘Think Big’ will enable them to broaden their customer base and up their production capabilities. Both sisters are adamant that the Oh-lief values of which quality, purity and the uniqueness of hand-mixing will remain.
“We will be reinforcing the quality of our product by getting it registered and certified by international bodies, as South Africa does not presently have a recognised certification authority. We are also looking at plans to bring Oh-lief to the attention of all South Africans,” says the duo.
While ‘Think Big – Building Business Champions’ has concluded on TV screens, episodes can still be viewed online by visiting www.standardbank.co.za/thinkbig.