[10 MINUTE READ]
Happy Friday everyone! It’s been a scorcher this week and it’s definitely had us rethinking our beauty routine and the products we’re using. On a normal day, we love to keep things quite natural but what with the rising temperatures, we are going back to basics. Minimal ‘no-makeup’ makeup and glowy skin are our beauty goals for the foreseeable future.
That’s why we’re thrilled to have this week’s guest to point us in the right direction. Rebecca Saunders is the Founder and CEO of Seekology, the online and physical store that offers you the best products from independent beauty and wellbeing brands.
In this week’s interview Rebecca talks about the importance of supporting independent brands right now and why she feels brand stories make a difference to consumers. So grab yourself a coffee… ICED COFFEE, and get ready for some Friday inspo.
Welcome Rebecca! Thank you so much for joining us. Could you start by telling me a bit about your childhood and how you feel it has influenced you today?
I was very lucky with my childhood and have many happy memories of growing up in the beautiful city of Bath. From an early age I was always entrepreneurial - every time I went on holiday I would make a museum of my souvenirs and charge friends and family to come and visit! One of my earliest memories is being very excited to go on a school trip to the local Sainsbury’s. I guess I was destined to work in retail, although it took me a while to discover that professionally; my first job after university was in investment banking. That career wasn’t for me, but it did teach me a great work ethic, attention to detail and an understanding of the importance of relationships, which are all really important in retail.
Absolutely! It’s interesting that you didn’t go straight into retail. We have found that lots of our interviewees came to their passion a little bit later actually. So, how did you get started in the beauty industry?
A few years ago I was the Computer Buyer at John Lewis, working with the likes of Samsung and Apple, and travelling the world. After two years I was ready for a change and lobbied hard to become the Beauty Buyer when the role became available. It was an extremely exciting time to be in beauty; it’s hard to imagine now, but at the time (in 2014) influencers were just emerging, social media was suddenly picking up and the market was changing very rapidly. There was a lot happening in digital beauty! That being said, I’m very much of the opinion that both physical and online retail are important. That’s why I set up Seekology with both a store and a website.
"I decided to create Seekology to specifically showcase these independent brands to customers, and in doing so, support British entrepreneurs."
I completely agree! Even though I love online retail, there is something special about the in-person experience too. That is why I think it is important to preserve physical stores! When did you decide to start up Seekology and why? Was the timing important?
As the John Lewis Beauty Buyer, I was approached almost daily by smaller brands that wanted to sell with us, but they weren’t ready or right for our business model. The timing was really critical in setting up Seekology. In the years previous, the speed of innovation from challenger brands across categories like vegan and natural skincare had outpaced bigger retailers’ ability to change. I decided to create Seekology to specifically showcase these independent brands to customers, and in doing so, support British entrepreneurs.
What a great way to do that! And does Seekology consider issues relating to sensitive skin/allergies?
Yes – it’s actually one of the most common customer queries we have in the Seekology store. I made sure we hired real experts to lead the shop floor team. One of our experts used to work at Harrods and Sisley and another has spent time at Elemis, so they can answer customers’ questions on this topic accurately and recommend the most appropriate products for each customer.
That is brilliant! In what ways do you consider sensitive skin/sensitivities/allergies throughout selecting which products and brands to stock?
As well as hiring experts for the store team, I made sure to select brands that could provide a comprehensive offering to customers with sensitive skin. The great thing about working with beauty founders is that many of them created their ranges in response to their own skincare challenges, and several of these entrepreneurs had sensitive skin themselves. By showcasing the stories behind the brands through the physical environment, customers can learn about the ingredients and manufacturing processes of the products in an authentic way. We’re now working on highlighting the stories of our brand founders through the Seekology website, on social media and through our weekly emails.
I love that! I have noticed that storytelling is key in consumer’s connecting with brands and products nowadays. How does Seekology consider sustainability?
Sustainability is a focus for Seekology because it’s a topic that’s really important to our customers (plus, being eco-conscious is necessary full stop). Many of the brands we work with have sustainability at their core; for example through using recycled or recyclable packaging or by manufacturing in the UK and using locally sourced, natural ingredients to reduce the transport impact. On the wellbeing side, we sell activewear that’s made from recycled plastic bottles. As the founder of Seekology, I’ve tried to build sustainability considerations into all aspects of what we do, for example, by sourcing locally printed, recycled paper bags.
It’s great to hear that you’re doing the work! Do you think people are more conscious of the ingredients in their beauty and skincare products nowadays? If so, why?
Yes, people are increasingly questioning what they put onto their skin in the same way they do with what they are eating. In general, customers are becoming more challenging (in a good way) because they want to be more informed about their purchases. A common thread from Seekology store customers is that they are looking for a more natural beauty regime, without compromising on product quality, and need help making the right choices. Luckily, we are able to share some fantastic products with them that are natural, or predominantly natural, and meet their needs. Our store team is now available at the end of an email if any online customers have questions on this front!
Awesome. So apart from the ever-changing customer landscape, what were your biggest challenges in starting up a business?
For me, personally, taking the plunge itself was the hardest thing. I’d been in corporate jobs for about 17 years and so stepping away from that structure of hierarchy, progression and support was mentally difficult. However, I’d always known I wanted to run my own business, so it was a real ‘now-or-never’ moment. Luckily I have a supportive husband and a number of entrepreneurial friends who helped me take the plunge!
A support system is crucial! What strategies do you think have been key to the success of Seekology?
Creating a friendly and relaxing shopping environment was key to the success of the Seekology store, and hopefully this translates to the website too. I really wanted to get away from the “hard sell” associated with traditional beauty retail, and help customers by providing unbiased advice that is often lacking in other environments. This led to a lot of repeat customers in the four months the store was open, and we’re now seeing many of those customers visiting us online.
That’s great! For me, personally, the advice part is key. When a company is willing to take the time to offer advice and help me out with any concerns I have, it sticks with me! Right, what is your favourite thing about your job?
It’s hard to pick one thing, but I would say it’s been finding a team who are just as passionate about Seekology’s mission as I am – they have kept me motivated every day.
"Beauty is so physical; customers really want to smell, touch and feel products on their skin, and nothing beats making a personal connection with a customer to ensure they walk away with the very best product."
And what do you think makes Seekology stand out?
Seekology stands out because it’s a place to shop independent brands, and customers are increasingly searching out small businesses to support - even more so in these challenging times! Simultaneously, the website is very carefully curated; I personally vet every brand to ensure it fits with our ethos... I actually only accept around 10% of the brands that approach me. It also means the quality of the products we stock is really high and the shopping experience online is easy to manage, due to our edits of relevant products. At the moment, our “hand care” and “self-care at home” collections are performing really well.
Wow! I bet! Could you describe your biggest “pinch-me” moment?
On the day we opened our store I popped out to buy some much-needed coffees for the team and saw someone walking down the street carrying a Seekology branded bag. That definitely made it feel real!
It must be so amazing to see a physical manifestation of your dreams coming true! What inspires you?
I’m inspired every day by the brands we feature at Seekology. It’s a genuine privilege to meet so many other entrepreneurs with a similar mission in mind. I love seeing their creativity in their product development and hearing their own business stories.
So what does an average day look like for you?
Like most entrepreneurs, average days are few and far between. However, I typically start with a strong coffee to give me the energy to get my two small children up and ready! During lockdown the little ones have been at home with us; this requires some careful organisation so that my husband and I can both get our work done.
My work day starts with going through emails, checking the Seekology website, making relevant updates to keep the experience fresh for our customers and calling team members to make sure everyone’s on the same page. During lunch I usually look through all our social channels and respond to any queries if necessary. Then, afternoons are spent contacting brands, both those already listed on our site and potential new brands. We get several queries every week from brands that want to sell with us, so I evaluate which ones I think will appeal to our customers.
Then, we try to have some family time before supper and the kids’ bedtime. In the early evening my laptop is usually out again... it’s hard to switch off when you run your own business!
I can definitely relate to that! Do you think you have a work/life balance?
Not really! However, things will get easier once childcare starts. I’ll hopefully be able to make some more time for myself at that point. Most days I try to snatch a quick walk or bath - using Seekology products of course - to try to unwind. But I love what I do so working doesn’t feel like a chore.
That’s how you know you’re doing the right thing I believe! What words do you live by?
Work hard and be kind.
So simple and true! What’s next for Seekology?
We hope to share more amazing brand stories with the world. It’s always so exciting coming across a really inspirational brand founder and getting to know them, as well as selling their products. We’ve worked with 70 brands so far and I want to double that number by the end of the year. And when it’s safe to do so, I can’t wait to have another high street store! Beauty is so physical; customers really want to smell, touch and feel products on their skin, and nothing beats making a personal connection with a customer to ensure they walk away with the very best product.
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