Mom Doing It For Themselves: Karen Cottier
There’s something about the uplifting aroma of handmade soap, with that pretty packaging experience that we all love to delve into, making us feel special.
Waterford-based mompreneurs, Karen Cottier and Deirdre Meany, have developed the Wild Oats range of additive-free soaps in beautiful surroundings, working around their busy lives.
Tell me a bit about your business:
We produce a range of natural based handmade soaps and oils, bath milk, and gift boxes. Our core range is destined for the gift market; supplying gift shops and tourist destinations and independent artisan shops like Ardkeen.
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Since starting our business, we have discovered that many Irish people seem to suffer from problem skin and either don’t want to - or won’t use scent. Which is why we’re just about to launch our Wild Oats Tender Caring range which is a scent-free, additive-free range made specifically for anyone with really tender skin. It includes a pure, natural range of cleansing and moisturising soap bars and moisturising oils that offers an alternative family solution to medicated and detergent-based commercial products. And it's Irish!
What was your motivation to start up your business?
I’ve always had sensitive skin. I started to get psoriasis when I was 14, and my children have eczema and psoriasis, so we have always had to be really careful of the chemicals in products. So, I decided to create skincare products that smelled beautiful - unlike the petroleum-based, sticky, medicated products I had always had to use.
After getting started with soap making courses here and in the UK, I started to experiment with different natural ingredients. I spent a long time formulating recipes that wouldn’t irritate sensitive skin and that smelled naturally uplifting, but I also wanted the products to look pretty and to give customers the whole gift unwrapping experience.
What is your background?
My background is in advertising and marketing, mostly trade marketing in the UK, where I was Client Services Director for a Marketing company. Deirdre comes from an analytical science background. When my children were old enough, I went back to college and did Architectural Conservation.
We moved back to Ireland around ten years ago, just as the boom was busting. There was no work for me in the conservation area and I wanted to find something I could do at home around the kids that didn’t entail going back to the 16-hour-day marketing world. Wild Oats grew from a tiny seed then to where we are now.
What have been the highs and lows of setting up your own business?
It’s wonderful to get a good reaction from the products. People really loved them and were coming back and asking me if they could stock us. Just hearing people saying nice things about our products gave us great motivation. Within a year, we got picked by Lloyds as one of the six Irish products they chose for their business clinics in 2015, which was a great boost.
It’s also fantastic working in such a beautiful environment - we work in converted stone cowsheds overlooking fields and mountains. It’s hard not to be inspired working in a lovely place with great people and fabulous products.
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Deirdre has a background in science and has two small children, whereas I have older children – moving back into work and juggling our hours to suit each other and business needs was initially tricky, but we have managed to get a good balance between us and it works really well now.
What advice would you give other moms wanting to start up their own business?
Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, it’s always going to take you ten times longer to do something that you are less interested in. You must understand finance to manage your business successfully, but for me, bookkeeping is a form of torture. I can do it - but would really prefer not to have to. If someone else can do it better and quicker, then outsource that element. You can’t do everything. You still need to understand what you are outsourcing, but you don’t have to do it. I would say delegate the things you don’t feel comfortable with and don’t like doing, but make sure you understand the detail and delegate to a professional you trust.
For mums, don’t underestimate your childcare set up before you start. Sometimes you start off doing something as a hobby, something that you do in between times. Suddenly you find yourself dealing with VAT and orders and logistics and that can be overwhelming- especially if you are on your own. The jump from hobby to business can happen very quickly, so just make sure that you’ve got a good plan for your childcare set-up from the start.
Do you have any tips for balancing your work and family life?
I love what I do and it’s almost like having another child. You don’t switch off at 5 o’Clock, I’m lying thinking about it in bed. I think about the business when I am on holiday - it can be hard to switch off.
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Discuss your plans with your partner or family beforehand and decide about sharing tasks. If you’re working out of the home, it can sometimes be difficult as people don’t see you as working, they think they can still pop in and have a cup of coffee. You have to be strict with that and let people know that you are actually working. It’s a tricky one but people get used to it fairly quickly.
Make sure you have a sense of humour, try not to let things get to you. It’s ideal if you have a business partner or mentor, as talking a worry through with someone knowledgable really helps. Make sure you have a hobby or some sort of outlet to help you switch off, and though it sounds ultra organised - make specific time for your family. To be successful, you need to keep a good work-life balance - so be strict with yourself about time off.
What would you say is your next step for 2016 / 2017?
We're about to launch our New Tender Caring range this October. There are so many people who don’t want to use scent and who don’t realise that the soap they’re using is often full of chemicals and preservatives.
The soap we make has none of those nasties, so it’s purely a natural product range. We’ve come up with our Tender Caring range as a non-medicated option, which is safe to use on tender skin. It’s so pure that it’s suitable for use on babies, breastfeeding mums or people who just don’t like scent.
We also have fantastic new Gift Boxes available on our website coming up to Christmas – they are really beautiful and we are really excited about them, so keep an eye out.
If you were to be granted three wishes for your business what would they be?
- On a practical level, it would be fabulous to have an in-house IT guru who would do all our IT bits and somehow magically improve our broadband.
- We would love the Tender Caring range to be the 'go-to' Irish product for everybody who has tender skin nationwide
- We have worked really hard on getting our Wild Oats products just right - products that are full of goodness and natural ingredients, but which also have the impact of beautiful Irish design. Our dream would be for Wild Oats to become the iconic Irish soap brand, one that would be synonymous with modern, contemporary Ireland!
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