Smooth operator

Smooth operator
From kitchen stove to the world: Bernadette Soares takes on the waxing industry with an old family recipe

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photograph by robin hodgkinson


In 2002, when 12 years spent raising three kids was finally enough for Bernadette Soares, she decided to start a business. Any business.

“I didn’t have the idea first. Most people start with an idea or a product … I wanted to start a business then had to work out what I was actually going to do.”

The answer was a sugaring paste, an allnatural, easy-to-clean, gentler hair removal alternative to wax. Soares adapted her mother-in-law’s recipe, given to her when she left India, and got cooking.

“I had two kitchen fires in the old days. I had these huge vessels and I’d cook up five-kilogram batches. I used to sell it from home to friends and family. You know you’re on the right track when someone will come and repeatedly purchase from your doorstep.”

But when demand increased, Soares found herself mixing batches until two in the morning. “It just reached a stage where I physically couldn’t do it any more.”

With a background in commerce, including a degree in economics and a diploma in business management, Soares leapt out of the cottage industry frying pan and into the fire. She found premises, hired a plant, packaged and branded her product as BodEze sugaring gel, and Smooth operator scored a retail distributor. To update her skills, she began a master’s degree in business innovation and entrepreneurship.

She graduated four years later and, as well as acquiring Radiessence and Natural Glow bronzers under her company Brand Value, decided to take a closer look at the waxing industry. Soares saw an opportunity to create a professional sugaring cartridge system for use by beauty therapists in spas and salons—and not just in New Zealand.

“We saw that the global waxing industry, especially in Europe, was looking more at environmentally-aware products. All the waxes on the market are resin-based, so you have to wash them off the skin with a turpentine solution. That means you’re polluting the waterways, and that thousands of wax cartridges are thrown out every year.”

And so the Pharo salon sugaring system was launched in 2009, the ecofriendly formula given a Kiwi twist with the addition of Manuka honey and kiwifruit. It can be applied at lower temperatures than wax, minimising skin burns and saving time and power, and it’s water-soluble so roller heads can be easily cleaned and reused rather than turfed into landfill. More than 120 salons and 20 beauty schools use the system, which Soares calls a phenomenal result—but it’s a fraction of the global market.

“In February 2010 I began to look for a UK distributor, knowing that we needed to get overseas somehow. I said if we didn’t do it in the next 24 months we’d be pretty stuffed. We’d spent so much money on research and development, so much had gone into getting it to that stage, there was no way we could recoup that money in New Zealand with the market size here.”

She immediately found a UK distributor, SuperNail and Beauty, and Pharo was launched at London’s Olympia Beauty Expo in October.

“I was really fortunate because not many people find a distributor in the first attempt. The distributors I found are in 15 European countries—some of them I hadn’t even heard of. And in the UK there are over 600 beauty colleges, so we met with a lot of them and they were just ecstatic. Sugaring is actually much better known in the UK than in New Zealand … that whole first hurdle is already overcome.”

Brand Enzed added to the product’s appeal. “Anyone we told that it was made in New Zealand were just amazed. They wanted to hold it and touch it. We were a bit tickled by that. When you’ve grown up in a place—I’ve spent most of my life here—you take it for granted, whereas they thought it exotic. And not a single person didn’t know about New Zealand Manuka honey. People would say, ‘I have it on my toast in the morning!’ New Zealand obviously has a fantastic reputation.”

SuperNail and Beauty has a 20-year relationship with a US distributor that is also keen on both the BodEze and Pharo brands, and it is hoped both will be available in the US by March.

“It’s funny in business,” says Soares. “You work on things for years and then you actually fit the puzzle. Four years ago I would have loved to get distributors but it just doesn’t happen that way. It has to take its time. I’d rather go with the right people than launch with the wrong distributor and just muddle around.”

Next on the agenda: branding initiatives, such as Natural Glow gift boxes to support CanTeen, and further product development for the BodEze and Pharo brands, such as a cleanser. “I work on that with companies that specialise in it. Once we have the base range, that’s the only way to grow.”

And what does Soare’s mother-in-law think of the success of her old recipe? “We have a few jokes in the family,” says Soares. “My sister-in-law says they’re still waiting for the royalty payments.”

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