I’ve been musing on the business of business for a while now, the way we conduct it, what we value, what we want to achieve and who helps us along the way. I’ve thought about it in relation to our methods and ethos and spent long evenings working out what I think is important for A.S APOTHECARY not just in terms of products but also how we work.
We are taught from a young age that profit is the motive of business, it forms its raison d’etre, for without profit there is no business, no viability, only failure. Rarely is the question of how much profit should we aim for addressed, it seems a foolish question, clearly the more the better.
In the search for profit, companies seek to minimise costs by moving to areas where labour is cheap and often without union protection, where materials can be purchased in bulk irrespective of the modes of production utilized, where people are replaceable and hour-based contracts flexible to the point of offering no set hours, no security but a requirement of almost permanent availability.
This is business. But not our business. When I set up A.S APOTHECARY I wanted not only to create a different kind of beauty product with honesty and transparency as the essential principles, but also to consider how we could run a successful business with humanity and respect as core values, not in a box ticking, apply for a certificate of business loveliness way, but in a real way delivering real pride to real people.
In much the same way that some major brand beauty products claim naturalness, purity and green credentials only to be unmasked by keen and good bloggers as anything but that, so it is with business. I am often amazed that apparently lovely natural skincare producers employ pretty awful business practices. In recent months we ourselves have been subject to a ‘cease and desist’ lawsuit by a big ‘green’ brand causing us to have to re-brand from AS.AP to A.S APOTHECARY with the (for us) huge raft of costs and inconveniences that entailed. Irrespective of the paucity of their case, faced with their corporate lawyers and unlimited funds, compliance was a necessity. A less resilient company would have gone out of business under such pressure.
Corporate green skincare is big business, according to research carried out by JWT Intelligence “global demand for organic personal care products, one third of which are skincare products, is expected to reach $13.2 BILLION by 2018”. It is a market ripe for exploitation. It is also interesting that consumers are increasingly concerned about ingredients and provenance, thus we see the big non-organic players buying up smaller greener brands to profit from this rising market – REN is now owned by UNILEVER, the Body Shop belongs to L’Oreal, Liz Earle was bought first by Avon and now forms part of the Boots/Walgreens giant.
So this brings us back to how do we choose to do business within this highly fickle competitive market, how do we ensure that we maintain our standards but make a profit. How do we look after the bottom line without allowing ourselves to be ruled by it? How do we remain humane and respectful? I think there are several important things:
• We love what we do, in other words for us the business of A.S APOTHECARY comes from a deep respect for the plants we use, the landscapes we walk and the friends we make along the way. It’s not just a business, it’s a vocation.
• With our therapeutic background, the products we make are beyond surface beauty, they are intended to feed the skin and nourish the spirit. We are not subject to fashion.
• Our team is wise. We have chosen to harness the power of women who have lived lives, we are more interested in the skills and passion people bring than simple paper qualifications. We welcome older women who have run homes and raised children – they have wonderful untapped skills.
• We want people to do well. We welcome their ideas and encourage them to know that they are part of a team – not in words but in everyday actions.
• We value. We understand that sometimes life gets in the way of work and we accommodate that within the workplace.
• We are growing. Our growth is determined by what we can do, which plants we have grown and how much we can make. We don’t borrow, we don’t overstretch ourselves, we work on a human scale and as we grow we get more help.
• We have a flexible plan. Life rarely follows a route predetermined by ourselves so we have a plan but it is subject to change and we welcome that.
• We trust. If you trust your team they reward you with their trust, it’s a two way street.
• We are not greedy. Making products in the way that we do is expensive, labour costs are high and because we source ingredients we can’t grow from really good friends, we pay them properly too. It impacts on our bottom line but we think it is a price worth paying.
And that is the point. The answer to the question how much profit is enough, is relatively straight-forward if you don’t borrow but grow gradually, don’t be greedy but take what is reasonable, think about others and not just yourself. We need enough to live and for those who offer us their time and expertise to live too. We don’t need massive profit because the only way that can be achieved is either by cutting the quality of the ingredients or losing touch with the process or changing the nature of employment. In a world where people are increasingly being asked to do so much more for less, where human dignity and rights are being constantly eroded, where food banks become the norm and the most vulnerable are exploited, we want to offer a different model. It doesn’t bring great wealth but it is fair, honest and mindful. That’s what we call a business.