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Irie Rock ready to formalise business, grow foreign sales

Published:Wednesday | February 5, 2020 | 12:18 AMHuntley Medley - Senior Business Writer
Irie Rock Yaad Spa founder Racquell Brown.
Irie Rock Yaad Spa founder Racquell Brown.

Racquell Brown initially worked with a coffee making company as a marketer.

She started a small business “on the side” when the company started to retrench its workforce as the global recession took root in 2009.

By the time the axe fell on her position six months later, her business Irie Rock Yaad Spa’s initial three skin care products, made from selected natural ingredients, were already doing fairly good sales in five retail locations across Jamaica.

The Irie Rock line now has more than 50 products in its portfolio, and a deal is in the making for a foreign company to manufacture the brand for overseas markets.

The initial products were developed from around 2006 when the entrepreneur lived and worked in the United Kingdom. Brown, who existed on a tight personal budget, could not afford visits to a dermatologist as she was accustomed to in Jamaica, and so researched and tried to manufacture a home-grown solution to her acne-prone skin.

She resisted a temptation to start the business from then but took the time to do extensive research and planning.

So, by 2009, she was dusting off and implementing a business plan that had already been written. In an interview with the Financial Gleaner, she reminisced that she needed the push of redundancy one Friday afternoon to get fully into entrepreneurship by the following Monday morning.

“For me it’s either do or die. I don’t do things halfway,” she said.

The business has a staff of five, including Brown. She intends to convert what is now a sole proprietorship into a limited liability company. Having invested $150,000 for start-up, the business has been sustained by reinvestment, in the region of $35 million to date, without bank loans.

“As we are going to the next chapter, we are now looking at the possibility of attracting equity investment this year,” said Brown, noting that the focus previously was on getting the business on a firm operational footing before going to market for equity financing.

The skincare company has benefited from grant funding of $2.5 million through the Development Bank of Jamaica’s Ignite programme, with the Jamaica Manufacturers Association providing guidance and business advice.

Irie Rock, a brand name which came from a focus group session among early customers, despite Brown’s own initial ambivalence about the name, started off with three products – a body oil, body scrub and body butter. More complex products were added later. Making and distributing the products out of the kitchen of her one-bedroom apartment in Spaldings, Manchester, at the time, Brown recalls that she got early support from hotel gift shops and spas.

The business has since relocated to Portmore, St Catherine.

The business now has a range of 56 skincare and beauty products and 250 retail customers in Jamaica. It is also distributed through High Street Pak Cosmetics’ nine stores in London and at Foster’s, a major retailer in the Cayman Islands, and through ecommerce platforms.

Brown says the company’s website and Amazon are responsible for about 10 per cent of Irie Rock sales. The plan is to grow online sales by an additional five per cent over the next year, online marketing having been an area of focus and development for the past four years.

Irie Rock produces about 5,000 bottles of the various products each month – a level, Brown knows must be increased dramatically once more Jamaican and overseas distribution channels open up.

About 40 per cent of Irie Rock’s manufacturing is outsourced and as the company grows, the plan is to outsource more of the production, leaving Brown to concentrate on getting the products to market.

While the unnamed Jamaican manufacturer will continue to produce the brand for the local market, the entrepreneur disclosed that talks are now being held with a manufacturer in Miami, Florida, to make the Irie Rock range of products to satisfy the growing overseas market.

Brown highly recommends to first-time small entrepreneurs who are doing manufacturing and processing, to get their products tested at the Scientific Research Council and the Bureau of Standards Jamaica, as testing takes the business and products beyond guesswork. She notes, however, that companies like hers, which are seeking to break into the overseas market in a big way, require product testing and certification not necessarily available in Jamaica.

The worldwide market for skincare products is estimated at US$150 billion and growing. By 2025, the market is expected to be worth US$190 billion.

Given the growth potential, Brown is positioning to expand her brand to other foreign markets.

“We are looking to get into the European Union market and we are going to Greece to get some of our products tested because those particular tests are not offered in Jamaica, and in the United States the tests are too expensive,” she notes.

The process involved in getting certified for the EU market is proving to be challenging, costly and tedious, but Brown says she will not be deterred from doing what it takes to get into that space.

The Irie Rock business model focuses on bulk sales to retailers and has deliberately not attempted to get into the retail space itself.

Brown explains that this was informed by her work at Tie Rack, an apparel chain in the United Kingdom that at one time had about 330 locations in 24 countries.

“Working at Tie Rack was like an extended business and marketing course. I learnt that every square foot of retail space had a dollar value attached to it and is required to earn that value in sales every day. Understanding the science behind retail, I decided that may not be the route for us as a company. We are better off getting the products to the retailers,” the businesswoman said.