Creativity plus business skills equals future success
Take a look at the Om Organics website and you’d never know that, not long ago, the business was a one-woman show operating out of a kitchen. Now, in its “body” category alone it offers 24 options, from Pink Coconut Body Scrub to Vanilla Moon Body Oil. Order a skin or hair care item online or buy it at one of over 50 “stockists” around Canada, plus one in Hong Kong. Or, if you’ve got a business and want to sell your own product, ask Om Organics to make it for you.
Owner and founder Kari Asselin was once an aesthetician who worked for others. She then began experimenting with plant-based formulations and noticed improvements in her own skin. “Without much consideration,” she writes on her website, “I quit my full time job, maxed out my credit cards, and began a three year journey of intensive study into the world of natural cosmetics formulation.”
At first, she sold her products at local farmers’ markets. When demand soared, she made the move to produce and sell the products in a downtown Invermere storefront. A year later, she also took over the vacant space next door.
Shortly after, though, her equipment and space was again at full capacity. She needed to hire more staff. She needed to expand. She needed more skills to move ahead smartly. “I have a creative mind,” she says. “I didn’t go to business school. I didn’t have any of those tools in my toolbox.”
So Asselin reached out to the Trust’s Basin RevUp program and the skilled expertise it offers. She began the program in December 2019, which turned out to be lucky timing given the events of 2020.
Basin RevUp is a six-month, business accelerator program that supports companies positioned for growth. It connects business owners with experienced mentors, and provides customized growth plans, coaching and training. The program helps tackle rapid growth issues and is designed to promote future business successes.
In need of financial literacy, Asselin’s experience with the program’s mentor took her back to the basics, “teaching me the foundational stuff before moving on.” She was introduced to decision making based on information and data.
Determining margins and tracking the exact costs of production were part of her initial education. Having always priced her products intuitively, she was tasked with identifying the specific costs associated with “every ingredient, the packaging, every minute of production.” She got the help she needed to analyze every channel of her business: storefront, online and wholesale.
Another valuable component was setting goals, with objectives and key results. She says, “It’s not just a to-do list. You set a goal and then decide what to do to get there.”
Encouraged by her mentors, Asselin started to focus on one area of the business at a time. Until the program, she was involved in every aspect of the business. She says, “I was seeing all these shiny things. I was all over the place, unfocused.”
Like with so many other businesses, COVID-19 forced her and Om Organics to switch gears. With the help of weekly Zoom meetings with her RevUp team, Asselin started building “worst-, mid- and best-case scenarios—especially worst-case scenarios—to make it through, which put us at ease.”
Although she had to shut down her storefront, she had her new e-commerce website already in production, and its completion early in the pandemic couldn’t have been more timely.
“The focus shifted, with so many unknowns,” she says. Yet despite being ready to sell online, there were still many challenges. “Supply chains were buckling, and we couldn’t get deliveries.”
However, with the business pivoting to the new website and e-commerce, “We saw our online sales go up by 900 per cent. And with wholesale orders now at zero due to COVID, our direct-to-consumer carried us through.”
Uncomfortable reopening the storefront with its production so exposed to the public, a couple of things became clear: “To maintain the safety and quality of our products, we decided to keep the storefront closed, expand production and focus on marketing.”
She says that, “with online shopping, our sales are up 40 per cent from last year.” But that doesn’t mean brick-and-mortar retail is over for Om Organics. “We plan to build a dedicated production and order fulfilment facility,” she says. “Once we’ve moved production, we’ll reopen the store.”
With the help of Basin RevUp, Asselin feels better equipped than ever taking these big steps. “I was trying to do everything: production, retail, order fulfilment.” With an eye on growth and “financial tools that allow me to make proper, data-driven decisions, I’m no longer operating just through intuition,” she says.
“I now have a new focus leading a team and I’m working on the business, rather than working in the business.”