I met Jenni Retourné, founder of Willowberry natural skincare, last year at a Southwood Social Hub dinner in Cheltenham but I’d already been using her Nutrient Boost Cleansing Balm for a while. I’d been looking for product that would cleanse my skin without drying it out and used natural ingredients, plus it meant I was supporting a small business. I asked Jenni to share her business story – it’s sure to inspire anyone thinking of starting up on their own.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I’ve worked in the beauty industry for nearly 15 years – I started off in journalism at trade magazine Pure Beauty, first as Editorial Assistant then quickly moved up the ranks to Assistant Editor then Editor. I eventually left and set up my own marketing company, specialising in blog PR campaigns and copywriting for beauty brands. This was a success from the beginning and I ran this for about seven years.
But having worked with so many beauty business owners over the years, I would always think ‘I want to do what you’re doing’. So eventually I decided to just go for it and create my own natural skincare brand, Willowberry. I’ve always been about living your best life, rather than a safe life! I spent 3.5 years developing it while I ran my marketing consultancy, then in July 2017 it was finally ready to launch and I closed the marketing business. Since then, it has been a whirlwind as I work hard to grow the brand. I’ve been blown away by the customer, expert and press reviews we’ve received – it really makes it all worthwhile.
How did the idea for Willowberry come about?
It was a natural process that happened over a long time – I don’t remember one defining lightbulb moment. I wish I could! It’s like my brand’s tagline ‘Your Skin’s Wellbeing’. That really defined what the brand was all about; helping to nurture the wellbeing of your skin, for a healthy, radiant complexion. How do I not remember that moment happening?! But it really was a gradual effect as the process took shape – my interests, research and product development all naturally evolving into the concept of your skin’s wellbeing, rather than a lightbulb moment for a marketing concept. Actually, I like it better that way. It’s a more honest approach.
My interest in natural skincare grew over time as I trialled hundreds of beauty products throughout my career – I began to notice that it was the natural products that made a real difference to my (then) irritated, dry skin. Plus, it was the natural products that would help improve the condition of my skin long-term, rather than just providing a short-term effect after the product was first applied to the skin. It was when I used a pure rosehip oil that I really realised that natural was for me – that’s why rosehip is a star ingredient in the Willowberry Nutrient Boost skincare range. It is such an incredible, powerful ingredient for the skin.
As I entered my 30s (I’m 36 now), I began to care much more about my health and wellbeing, and so this naturally had an impact on what Willowberry stood for. Good skin comes from taking consistent care of your body from the outside in and the inside out, so skincare, health and wellbeing are naturally intertwined. So I wanted to load my skincare with nutrients to nurture the skin from the outside in, just as you would feed your body with nutrients to nurture it from the inside out. Even though I am getting older, my skin is in better health than ever.
What challenges have you had to overcome?
I have learnt so much in the seven short months since launch. I naively thought that because I had already run my own business and because I already work in the beauty industry that I had it all sussed. But creating and building a brand is such a different process to providing a marketing service like I offered before, so it has been a huge learning curve. Creating and building a brand is a big old beast that you have to nurture and handle with great care!
Having said that, I am so pleased that my entire career history has led to this, because it has helped to create a strong foundation for the brand. I feel like this is exactly where I am meant to be. I really enjoy the journey of the brand that I am creating, rather than just thinking – ‘I’ll be happy once I’ve achieved X’. Even the hairy scary moments – it’s what make the good times feel great and you look back on the tough moments and feel proud that you kept on fighting.
What lessons have you learnt?
- It is so important to create a solid foundation for the brand rather than chasing the easy wins that could be detrimental to the brand later on.
- Always work with integrity and follow your gut – this is something I have always done and it really does pay off.
- Know exactly what is happening with the finances in your business (if numbers aren’t your thing, you need to make it your thing!) – just because you have cash in the bank doesn’t mean you are making profit, so you need to know your numbers inside out.
- Cash flow is king to be able to move your business forward.
- Always put your customer first.
- Make sure you are working ‘on’ your business not ‘in’ your business, so that you are leading the business down the path you want to take it, rather than it leading you. It is so easy to spend a couple of years working hard on tasks that keep you busy in your business but isn’t necessarily driving it forward, only to look back and realise once it’s too late.
- I have a gorgeous three year old little girl so time is always of the essence, so I have learnt to prioritise tasks and have a laser focus to get stuff done.
- Surround yourself with like-minded people. I am a member of Southwood Social Hub and it is an incredible community of amazing women running their own businesses. Everyone is at different stages in their business and we all support each other and lift each other up. When you’re single-handedly running your own business these are the people that become your team, your tribe.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business woman?
Hone your idea, make a plan, then get started. It might seem like you have a mountain to climb, but you’ll never reach the top if you don’t start walking. Baby steps, and suddenly one day you will find yourself there. And it’s a darned good feeling. I’d rather try and fail than to never have tried at all.