This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That. We've asked readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories. Their answers are edited.
Introducing Bill Baker, founder of Consonant Skincare, based in Toronto.
Q: Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, its goals, and why you chose to locate where you did?
A: For years I suffered from significant skin issues that required prescription medication for relief from the symptoms. In 2005, someone suggested I try natural products, and my skin literally cleared up overnight.
I did some research into the ingredients in the products I had been using, and I was shocked by what I learned. Many synthetic ingredients in conventional skin care products are harsh and irritating at best, toxic and even carcinogenic at worst.
While I loved what natural products did for my skin, I didn't love how they felt or how they were presented. At the time, you had to shop for natural skin care products at health food stores, and they were all stereotypically "granola:" earthy packaging, heavily scented (usually with patchouli), and formulations that I would characterize as heavy-handed.
So in 2009, I founded Consonant Skincare as a way to take natural skin care out of the health food store and bring it into the mainstream.
Our skin-care products are 100-per-cent natural, so they're healthy, but they're still skin care, not salad dressing. Our products feel great to use, they are stylishly packaged, and they have won awards for their formulations. We were particularly proud to win the Grand Prize at the Canadian Beauty Innovation Awards last year for our high-performance hydration booster, HydrExtreme.
After a few years of selling wholesale only, we opened the Consonant Skincare store in midtown Toronto as a way to get closer to our customers. The store is more than a destination for healthy skin-care products, it is a destination for healthy skin. That's why we have books, and why we hold seminars on "healthy nutrition for healthy skin." It's why we have information cards that help customers learn to read cosmetics labels, and most importantly, it's why we focus on educating customers, not just selling to them.
Q: What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to launch this business?
A: When I first discovered the truth about ingredients in skin care I went door to door at the company where I was working to see what other people knew. When I talked about parabens and sulfates I just got blank looks. But I quickly realized this was something people were going to care about once they became more educated on the subject.
That was when I decided I wanted to be in this business for the rest of my working life. To me, natural skin care is not about vanity, it is about health. With Consonant Skincare I can feel good about spending the second half of my career making products that improve the lives of our customers.
Q: Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
A: Our customers are all ages and from all walks of life. They exercise and eat healthy so they can live more vibrant and full lives. They tend to be skeptical of the promises made by the "big guys," and they demand performance from the products they buy.
We spend the majority of our promotional budget on e-mail marketing and public relations to reach these consumers. The smartest thing we did when we opened our store was hire the best PR firm in the business. It is completely tapped in to the beauty, style and fashion trend setters in Canada, and we can draw a straight line from their outreach with these influential leaders, to footsteps in our store.
We also give our customers incentive to refer their friends to Consonant Skincare through our Friends with Benefits program, so we are seeing a big boom in our business through these referrals.
Q: What is your role in the business? How many employees do you have, and what are you looking for in a hire?
A: One of the hardest things for me with this business has been to put myself out there as the face of the brand. I tend to be more of a team player, and I love putting other people in the spotlight. But I recognize there is a powerful and meaningful back story to Consonant Skincare, and it is my story. So I am onsite at the store almost every day to meet customers and help them make choices that are right for them.
While I have a phenomenal team that I collaborate with, both internally and externally, I tend to be the creative driver behind the brand and I lead the process of new product development.
Disciplines such as social media and CRM (customer relationship management) I manage from a much higher level, because I'm fortunate to have someone who lives and breathes it, and who does a much better job at it than I ever would.
We have three permanent employees and a roster of occasional workers who swoop in when we have an in-store event and when we are particularly busy. But our philosophy on hiring is different from most skin-care companies. We aren't looking for estheticians or "beauty professionals." We hire good people who live our values of honesty, integrity, reliability and determination. Skin care you can learn, values are ingrained.
Q: You've been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
A: I believe there are three important factors contributing to our success.
The first, and most important, is our products: they completely deliver. We promise younger, healthier looking skin and our customers get it. Our repeat purchase rate is extremely high, and we hear time and again from our customers that they are getting compliments on their skin, sometimes for the first time in their lives. Without products that deliver you have nothing.
The second is our position on scent. We believe your skin care should be about what it does for you, not what it smells like. As one of our customers said recently, scent is the new second hand smoke. So we add nothing to alter or enhance the scent of our products. We are ahead of the curve on this, and every day we see more and more people coming into our store because they want natural products with no added scent, and they are hard to find.
The third is our customer service. We believe our customers are always right, and we offer a 100 per cent money back guarantee with no time limit and no qualifications. You can use an entire bottle of our Firming Eye Cream, for example, and if you don't think it was worth the $36 you paid for it, we actually want you to bring it back for a refund. While we seldom get products back, when we do, we learn more about how our products work with different skin types.
So our unconditional guarantee is good for us because we learn from it, and it's good for our clients because it means there is zero risk, only upside, to trying Consonant Skincare.
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