How did you come to found your organic insect repellent range, Ya Mate?
I ask myself sometimes if I knew how hard it was going to be, would I do it again. I also firmly believe, if you do have a good product, you just need to get people to use it and then word of mouth will help develop your sales.
Ya Mate was one of the many products that I was experimenting with in the late 1990s. I was very passionate and focused on finding a natural alternative to using the chemical products that are on the market. Citronella is a known repellent but not strong enough on its own so after much experimentation, I found a combination of essential oils and plant extracts that were effective and I knew we were ready to bring Ya Mate to the market.
How did you go about making the product and testing it?
Initially I would buy bulk base creams and mix my oils and extracts into them but I wanted better quality products with less chemicals so I started making all of my own.
At that time, I was working in my other business, The Body Spot massage at Bondi Icebergs, and I would use my clients, friends and family as my guinea pigs.
As time has progressed, I got testimonials from volunteers and workers from Hunter Wetlands, Mission Australia in Uganda, World Humanitarian Project, and Buzz Off anti malaria org. All have used Ya Mate and still do!
What's the story behind the brand name?
I was brain storming with one of my clients from the Icebergs for weeks over this. We decided that the names of other repellents on the market were too hard and negative and, at the end of the day, a good insect repellent is your best friend! So, the name Ya Mate popped up – unusual yes but – your mate will always protect you!
You founded it in 2006 and initially you sold online at markets. How hard was it to build the brand?
I ask myself sometimes if I knew how hard it was going to be, would I do it again! I also firmly believe, if you do have a good product, you just need to get people to use it and then word of mouth will help develop your sales and this is certainly true with my range.
All of our stockists have come on board because their customers have asked them to get the products in store!
This whole business has been a giant learning curve for me and still is. I have done a lot of business courses over the time, more recently with the Hunter Business centre, to learn about marketing, getting and maintaining customers, social networking and developing the brand, oh, and the bookwork!
Ya Mate is now found in more than 600 shops, including pharmacies. Is your next target supermarket chains?
Definitely not. I want to maintain the integrity of my products and don’t want them to be mass marketed.
I want them to remain as a boutique brand available in Pharmacies and Health Food stores.
There are many organic skin products out there. How are yours different?
At this stage I don’t do skin care – my range is more personal care. Because I actually experiment, develop and formulate all of my range. it makes me unique. My focus is effectiveness and quality and I use the best ingredients available.
What have been the most difficult moments in business?
Getting established was really tough with lots of highs and lows. The business is totally self funded by my earnings from my massage clinic in Bondi. I would work there one week to earn enough money to buy ingredients and the other week, frantically making the product for my partner Ray to sell at markets, fairs and Trade Shows. We would have one profitable show which really buoyed our spirits, and then we would have two or three not so profitable! It was a real roller coaster ride until I finally decided to quit working hands on in my clinic five years ago and work full time on getting things really up and running.
And what have been the best bits?
When my products started appearing in shops, I would have to pinch myself to believe that I finally got that far! I was a real sense of achievement. The other high I get out of this is being able to help people – whether that be through my products, or being able to give people a job and/or income.
What is your focus in 2017?
Consolidation. Riding on the success of my Ya Mate range and few other products, for the last three years I have been working on expanding to create an on line store. I am in the process of having a new web site built with over 70 products on it. We have also developed a catalogue and will start to do door to door sales. I also want to expand into the Western states of Australia so that Love Oil Collection will become national.
What's your least favourite insect in the animal kingdom?
Hmmm.......it’s got to be the mossie and cockroach. I mean, what is their purpose on this earth! Ants, spiders, grubs and beetles etc have a job to do here but those two are just crawling, blood-sucking low lifes!