Steph Evans, who founded Oasis Beauty 15 years ago, is proof that you can run a business from anywhere. Based in rural Canterbury, she's built the brand up organically, teaching herself along the way and picking up the endorsement of a mountaineering great.
On starting a business with no experience
I’m self-taught. I left school early, fifth form – my dad said to me ‘well you gotta have a trade Steph, Air Force or secretary’. I applied for the Air Force and got accepted and decided, no I don’t wanna do that, so I trained as a secretary for a year. I haven’t had any business training at all. I am entirely self-taught. When it comes to online selling and online marketing of the business it’s all self-taught. But there is plenty of really good information out there in publications that you can subscribe to, to read about, to upskill yourself all the time.
We are trying to encourage as many online sales as we can. We’re really focused on that part of the business because for us being in the middle of nowhere it’s been a way to show people what we’re about. We’ve been able to do video, so they can see who we are … Our Facebook page where we can communicate with people … online for us is a big part of the business, more and more people are becoming more tech savvy so if you’re not online it’s a major mistake.
We’re also in retailers as well so that would be places like health stores like Hardy’s Healthy Living, some pharmacies and beauticians, it’s a mix really. And we don’t want to be everywhere either. We are a boutique brand and the retailers that we’re in, we want to be able to support them rather than being spread too thin. I know that a lot of brands want to be everywhere. But our philosophy is a bit different - we just want to be in selective places and do a really good job where we are and that works for us.
DIY online marketing
We’ve been online for maybe eight years. We started really basic and we’ve just become more sophisticated as we’ve gone on, identified what consumers want when they go online, try and stay up to date with what’s going on overseas and make those changes as we go. We do it all ourselves. We don’t pay consultants to do it. We’re really close to the business - there’s just three of us and we know our brand, we know how we want to communicate.
Sometimes we have to ask for help when it becomes really technical. Adwords was something I did about two years ago and that was to get the word out about my sunscreen. So we designed the ads and in fact you know Google are really good because they rang up to provide free advice and help - apparently they do that with all new businesses that advertise.
In social media it’s about engagement rather than numbers. People go ‘I’ve got this number of likes’ but only a small number of people are actually engaging with you. For us it’s that engagement. When we’re looking at our website, if I’m looking at advertising I’d be looking at how many click-throughs I’m getting and then I would track that to see if those click-throughs result in sales or an enquiry being sent to us. Even if we don’t make a sale having an enquiry is just as valuable because it’s a chance for us to integrate with the customer.
At the moment we’re just learning and growing organically and so far we’ve done an okay job for amateurs. It does show that other people can do it as well.
An unexpected surprise
The biggest surprise was when I had a phone call from a guy called Marty Schmidt, who died last year on K2. He was a very well known respected international mountaineer and he rung me and said ‘hi I’m Marty Schmidt and I used your sunscreen when I was climbing Mt Everest this year and I’d really like to use it again. I’d like to endorse it because it’s the best thing I’ve used for the last 30 years that I’ve been climbing.’ Completely out of the blue. That started a relationship with Marty that spanned quite a few years and having a guy like that, who was using it in really extreme climates, for me as a girl that started off making it in my saucepan, that was a major. That was a real major.
From kitchen tinkering to factory production
You can make products at home but it did get to that point where I couldn’t keep up, I needed to focus on other sides of the business. So I no longer make it at home anymore. We have a couple of factories around the country and that’s taken the pressure off a little bit.
A lot of people think that, and rightly so I guess, that business success is when you export. And I’ve given that a lot of thought and gone down that track and looked at it and decided that I’ve already achieved business success. I’ve built my business up from absolutely nothing as a one-woman band doing it in her kitchen. And it wasn’t meant to be a business to start with, it just evolved. When you have a really good product, things just happen.
Where to from here? No we’re not going to export because I feel we’re already there. We’re just going ti focus on our kiwi customers, we’re going to have our exclusive retailers around the country, we’ll continue to sell online.
We’re just having a good time now really. I employ some great girls, and it’s not too much stress, I get paid now which I didn’t for the first 10 years or so.
We’re just focusing on doing what we do really really well without having the pressure of having to dominate the world and be a kiwi export success story because that’s not where we want to be.
The best advice
My next door neighbour, when I lived in Auckland, is a very sucecessful businessman. All those years ago he said to me ‘what’s your point of difference?’
At that point I didn’t even know but it has taken me about 12 years to work out what our point of difference is - and when you find out your point of difference … things do fall into place. He said to me ‘if you can’t describe what you stand for in four words, you’re in trouble’. And there’s a lot of businesses out there that don’t even know what their point of difference is. When it comes to skincare natural and organic is not a point of difference anymore. Everybody’s natural and organic. So I think if you’re starting out in business work out what your point of difference is. It doesn’t have to be really big but it does have to be a point and then you have to hone in and that’s your message you’re sending through to customers all the time.
It goes for your communication style as well. We have a communication style that’s our own now. We don’t follow the industry standard which is quite serious when they’re talking about skincare - you know, ‘if you don’t do this it’s bad for you, it’s going to hurt you, you should do this…’ We don’t go down that path.
We make super sunscreen and you take that seriously because you’re talking about health, you’re talking about melanoma … but when it comes to skincare for goodness sake it is skincare after all, let’s not take it too seriously. We can make you look great but it’s not a health issue so we’ve taken a much more fun attitude. And customers like it I think. It’s a bit of a relief for them.
The message is you can run a business from anywhere. You can run a successful profitable business from the middle of nowhere. With the internet, with the help of google, your website, social media, you can definitely do it. I would encourage women, and guys as well, that if they are isolated but they’ve got business ideas, to pursue it. You don’t have to be in the big city. I’ve got the best of both worlds.