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Woof woof and not a dog in sight

May 18th 2016

AroundTheFarm1

I was recently invited by the owner of a global skincare brand to spend time at their overseas located property to provide some consulting advice with respect matters pertaining to operations, sales/marketing, brand building and performance management.

Our client is a USDA Certified Organic skincare company that farms, manufactures and sells a wide range of skincare products (adult and baby) for the global market with high end spas, specialist luxury retailers and B2C their core customer base. Established about 20 years ago as the result of years of research into the benefits and applications of organic content in skincare products, their dedication to being truly organic led to our client achieving their unique certifications and through their ongoing commitment to the founder's vision has enabled them to become one of the world's select certified organic farms and manufacturing facilities. 

Free from chemicals and hidden ingredients all of their products are formulated, manufactured and packaged by their professional team and today is uniquely positioned to cater to the personal needs of the consumer highly conscious of their personal health and general well being.

Interestingly I discovered the farm to be largely supported by the WWOOF movement, a world-wide organization linking volunteers with the organic farming community to promote cultural and educational experiences thereby helping to build a sustainable global community. Those dedicated "woofers" in attendance included travellers from Germany, UK, France, Canada, Chile and Denmark, a truly cosmopolitan community. Hard working and lots of fun all brought their individual personalities to this farming environment and added to the prevailing dynamic camaraderie.  

Being truly organic and in the process of building a global brand presents some interesting and complex challenges for our client. With China an emerging market and several global initiatives on the table we sought the services of a leading communications marketing organization to advise on the best ways to connect with core and emerging customers. With competing brands such as Estee Lauder, Guerlain, Clarins and Dior these discussions proved timely, insightful and highly necessary. As an interesting aside it is worth noting that of the top 50 skincare brands today 41 are over 60 years of age and 15 are over 100. The importance of developing customer brand loyalty over generations cannot be underestimated. 

Being a global player we also concentrated on their growing challenges with respect logistics and distribution. Representatives of a top 10 logistics organization visited the farm to better understand the specific requirements and to align their service proposition with the future direction of this business. With an emerging and new e commerce direction in play we sought to secure a partnership with a 3PL highly experienced with this business application and able to add value in their fast emerging EMEA market. A "final mile" distribution strategy was sought to best complement their exciting growth plans.  

Another tricky and contentious matter relates to distribution and the forming of effective strategic partnerships when challenged by the need to attract customers in significant volumes. This is a matter of huge concern when seeking to open up the China market. We were able to determine that there exist many inter-connected layers within the distribution programme in China with an agent/sub-agent culture firmly in play. This can lead to immense frustration and compounded by a loss of considerable revenue as is the case here. Margins of up to 60% are eroded through this unique partnership model and when you take into account commissions paid internally coupled with the over reliance and use of sample products at the retail end, it is no wonder our discussions centered on a more strategic and effective business partner model.

Whilst there I played a role in the selection process of a soon to be appointed Financial Controller. Being a rather small organization I conveyed to the business owner the merits of inclusion, through securing the views of their key executives as is sends a powerful and positive message internally in addition to managing for risk should any potential issues be raised by fellow management. I have found from experience that key stakeholders hold some interesting and relevant views about a potential hire, and to utilize their collective and individual thoughts to hold significant value. This proved to be the case.  

Of added interest when asked to review the merits of a particular executive that happened to be born in the same country as our client I noted some particularly negative body language when later joined by the founding Director. I soon realized that their initial interview was conducted in their native language and structured on informal lines. I discovered my involvement was intended to be more of a "rubber stamp" as our client was very keen to hire. When certain adverse behavioural qualities emerged during the second interview (conducted by myself) I determined a state of acute frustration on the part of our client. Added feedback revealed the initial discussion to be far less formal and not overly probing nor challenging. When challenged by myself the interviewee failed to inspire with a decidedly different view formed by the client. The key lesson for hiring managers is to secure the views of a number of key stakeholders and not subscribe to a less formal selection process when interviewing an executive on somewhat familiar and supposed favourable grounds; in this instance from the same country of birth, for it can lead to a level of unwanted discrimination.  

    

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