How a passion for organic skincare led to successful international growth

Catherine Cervasio, Founder of Aromababy took the ultimate leap of faith back in 1994. Pregnant at the time and having recently been made redundant Catherine turned her passion for pure, natural, organic-rich baby skincare into a thriving international business. Since its launch in 1994, Aromababy was a concept ahead of its time, and has grown to become a leading skincare brand on a global scale.

“At the time, aromatherapy and ‘natural’ were emerging as the next ‘big thing’,” Catherine recalls. “But when I began researching, to my surprise there were no baby brands embracing the organic phenomenon. The further I delved, the more information I uncovered potentially linking common ingredients in baby skincare, to rashes, irritations and eczema. It was this information that inspired me to develop a natural range of baby care utilising organic ingredients and removing components such as sulphates, parabens, propylene glycol, petro chemicals and so on.”

Created as a world-first, Aromababy products were soon picked up by hospitals and used by midwives all across Australia. “I understood up to one in three infants could experience eczema or skin sensitivities, potentially linked to the use of topical creams, lotions and body washes, within their first year of life. This was a huge concern to me and I figured, no doubt – to other parents,” Catherine recalls. “So I targeted pharmacies and hospitals. My choice in these two markets was driven by a desire to begin sharing information and posing the benefits to both, in offering ‘choice’ in the type of baby products offered to new parents. The feedback we received, once Aromababy was in the market, was overwhelmingly positive.”

Expanding globally 

Unsurprisingly, Aromababy’s success on a domestic level saw them launch the brand globally within a few short years. “The first official export market for Aromababy was Dubai,” says Catherine. “This was followed closely by South Korea Catherine then set her sights on Hong Kong, believing it to be a perfect market for Aromababy. “Hong Kong was a seamless next step and as a ‘smaller’ market, quite manageable in terms of risk,” Catherine explains.

Having said that, entering the international marketplace is not without risk. Each country has presented individual challenges for Aromababy, from problems with distributors to overcoming the barriers of bringing in a new product.

“There’s an enormous amount of focus on exporting to China for example,” says Catherine, “but exporting to this region involves an extremely rigorous market entry process, particularly for personal care and beauty products. Meeting regulatory guidelines is an expensive, complex and often drawn-out procedure, sometimes still resulting in failure to gain valuable “CIQ” approvals, which are required in order to sell in Chinese retail stores.”

In terms of future growth, Catherine says there are opportunities everywhere, due to her specific sector maturing, with more people embracing the idea of natural and organic. Catherine had scaled back the domestic side of the business in order to focus more on the export markets over the past decade, but has since discovered a demand from pharmacies in Australia seeking specialist brands that are not sold in the mass market. “We’re in the position of having a well-established, Australian-made product range with two decades of brand heritage,” says Catherine. “The future looks pretty bright.”

Any successful entrepreneur understands that there’s an art to juggling the work/life balance, and Catherine is no exception. “Some would say I work too much, but I do know how to switch off,” she says. “I love to cook – I find it very therapeutic, so dinner time is when my family shares what has happened throughout their day. My ‘parent time’ definitely grounds me and is the most rewarding part of my day. I also have a gorgeous group of close friends who are very supportive.”

When it came to her choice of a business banking partner, Catherine teamed up with ANZ very early on. “I was able to access branches which were conveniently located to my office (important in those days), and they offered a personalised approach to business banking,” she recalls. ANZ, she says, understands the shifting nature of business goals and have kept up with hers in order to support the growth of Aromababy. “Different needs around lending, assets and growth have all come into play,” Catherine explains. “I feel supported and connected to my banking team and this in turns helps me feel confident in making growth plans for my business long term.”

Catherine's advice for people starting out

  • Believe in yourself and what you’re trying to do. My previous employer coaxed me into a product development role which I was reluctant to take. I’ve never looked back.
  • Research. It’s vital to know your market, your target audience, your point of difference and your competitors before you think about starting a business.
  • IP. Protecting your intellectual property from the outset is paramount. This includes trademarks, patents, social media handles, domain names and so on. There is no point coming up with a fabulous business concept if you’re likely to face trade barriers relating to IP in a particular country or sector.
  • Love what you do. Be sure to pursue a business idea that excites you – find an idea that involves something you are really passionate about. Business is never without challenges, but will it will be the passion that keeps you going when times are tough.

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