DESPITE starting during the heart of the global recession, in 2009, Jamaican skincare company Irie Rock has managed to not only survive, but to thrive.
"Our offering has grown quite a bit. We started with only three products; now we have about 64 products within our product line," business owner Racquell Brown told the Jamaica Observer.
The idea for starting the company, Brown said, came to her in 2004 while she lived in the United Kingdom (UK).
"...When I was there I had no dermatologist that I would go to so I had to be making do, trying to figure it out," she said.
On returning to Jamaica, Brown said the idea still lingered, but the lack of capital to start the business forced her in another direction. The aspiring entrepreneur got a job at a coffee company, where she worked as a marketing co-ordinator.
Two years into working at the organisation, however, Brown said the company started making positions redundant.
"I started thinking that 'if you are one of those persons, what would you do? Do you want to go and find another job? Or do you want to, at this time start your own business?'," Brown said.
She answered in the affirmative to the latter and while on vacation leave from her nine-to-five job, she jumped in with both feet. She started promoting her line in hotels and gift shops across the island, and landed the first five customers.
"[It] was enough for us based on the fact that we just started out [and] I was working full-time at another company... it was enough for me to just get my foot in," Brown told the Observer.
Six months later, she got axed, but rather than be despondent, she used it as the fillip to become a full-time entrepreneur. Things really took off one month after that, as it is at that time that Irie Rock got one of its biggest contracts.
"I was in awe... that customer ended up holding the company down for a good two years," Brown gushed.
When the company just started "...I was doing production, sales, marketing... I lived in my car pretty much. I was literally driving around Jamaica just trying to get the product out," Brown said.
Today, the company has five employees, herself included.
Irie Rock's products include serums, body splashes and its newest introduction, a facial care line. The products, which were once only available in hotels and gift shops, are now also in beauty supply stores and pharmacies islandwide.
In the serum line, Irie Rock boasts an anti-ageing formula, a pigment serum, a vitamin C serum, a two per cent salicylic acid serum and a three per cent glycolic acid blend. The facial line, called Tea Tree and Witch Hazel, includes toners, moisturisers, cleansers, scrubs and an aloe vera gel. The body butters, body scrubs and body oils carry the scents of mango, papaya, coconut, vanilla and cocoa butter. The body splashes come in similar fragrances, with an additional coffee scented product. The "natural pampering ingredients" used provide a range of benefits, from moisturising to the prevention of wrinkles, sagging skin, age spots and clearing up acne and other blemishes.
But the road to success was not an easy trod for the proprietor who said being an entrepreneur "can be quite daunting".
"We try to use Jamaican products as much as possible... we get our coconut oil locally [and] we try to get as much cocoa butter locally. It poses its difficulties, to be honest. We also get our lemon grass locally," Brown said. "Unfortunately, for skin care, you don't get a lot of raw materials here in Jamaica, so we are forced to import it," she continued.
Asked about the company's other challenges, Brown told the Observer: "I realise that when you become an entrepreneur you don't sleep anymore... and it's not because you don't want to sleep but because your brain is constantly working and you're constantly worrying and you're not only thinking about your financial stability but your employees; how you are going to meet the sales target... how you are going to cover overheads on a whole."
She said that two years ago the company faced some "tough decisions" which led to the genesis of the facial line which "brought the company back on track".
"When introduced, it was more of a 'thank you Lord' kind of moment," Brown exclaimed.
Challenges aside, Brown says Irie Rock's biggest accomplishment to date occurred last November when an international entity made a request to have its products shipped overseas.
"That for us is a big thing because that is where we hope to extend the brand," said an overjoyed Brown.
She said though the overseas market can be "very competitive", it also has the potential to be "very [financially] rewarding". She said there are plans to launch an online campaign through social media. The platform she said would lead prospective consumers to the Irie Rock website and the Amazon stores in hopes that they will purchase goods.
"We want to be in the mix and in order for us to grow we know that we have to grow in these markets," Brown stated.
Brown also intends to do videos which would inform the public as to how to care for their skin as well as to capture more of the local market.
Irie Rock's products can be found in Fontana Pharmacy, Monarch Pharmacy, Clinicare, Geniss Pharmacy and Disson Beauty Supply Store.
See part seven in the series in the Sunday Observer, August 17, 2014.