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The aromatherapy and spa path to health and happiness

IN this week's SME Focus a therapy specialist explains how she took an entrepreneurial change of direction after tiring of corporate life.

SUCCESSUL FORMULA: Gail Bryden retrained as a therapist and developed her own line of products with 100% natural ingredients. Picture: Steve Cox
SUCCESSUL FORMULA: Gail Bryden retrained as a therapist and developed her own line of products with 100% natural ingredients. Picture: Steve Cox

Name: Gail Bryden.

Age: 41.

What is your business called? JustBe Botanicals.

Where is it based? Edinburgh.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

Aromatherapy products and sensory spa treatments. The range includes botanically based skincare, pure aromatherapy candles and organic teas. All the products are hand-blended in small batches using 100% natural ingredients. In addition to making the products, I also provide therapist training for the JustBe facials, massage and spa treatments.

Who does it sell to?

There's a professional and retail range. Current routes to market are via spas, salons, independent therapists and retail outlets including Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Gardens. The range is also available to buy online.

How many employees?

Having won £15,000 under the Scottish Government's Edge [Encouraging Dynamic Growth Entrepreneurs] awards programme in December 2013 to support employment, I took on my first employee in January to focus on Business Development. I aim to take on a second this year to help with production.

When was it formed?

November 2009 on returning from working as a holistic therapist on a mind detox retreat in Turkey. Of all the treatments offered, therapeutic massage was always the most popular. Although it felt the retreat guests gained a lot from the various talks and therapies on offer, I realised people simply wanted to "just be". This was where the idea for developing a range of products and treatments intended to help others simply be themselves came from. The range initially started with four massage oils and has now developed to offer something that appeals to each one of the five senses.

On returning from Turkey with the idea of developing a range of massage oils, I contacted Theresa McInnes who used to sell and provide advice on the use of essential oils from ISO - a respected well-being shop she ran with her husband in Edinburgh.

Theresa was just preparing for retirement and was delighted to get involved with the project as she wanted to continue to work with essential oils and she had some surplus oils that I could use.

Theresa appeared at the first meeting with a bag full of essential oils and some empty bottles. She suggested I get a notepad and pen and simply started mixing the oils one drop at a time till I found a blend I liked and said she'd come back in a week to see how I was getting on. Feeling slightly daunted, I started the process and a week later I had the first four blends - JustBe Loved, JustBe Happy, JustBe Energised and JustBe Sweet. Initially Theresa mixed the blends, until I gained my Clinical Aromatherapy qualification which allows me to do the blending myself from my kitchen table.

I was fortunate enough to win a place in the Entrepreneurial Spark Hatchery last year and am currently completing ESpark's Nest programs. Both help join up the dots of support for small businesses.

Annual turnover?

This year's projections are for £64,000+.

Why did you take the plunge?

Stress. Like a lot of people I found myself on a hamster wheel and didn't know how to get off. In 2007, my body made the decision for me and I knew that if I wanted to return to full health I wouldn't be able to work in the stress of an office environment. As part of my journey back to full health, I was given a piece of advice to find something that would "ground" me. As massage was something that had always interested me, I took six months to retrain as a holistic massage therapist. With the addition of subsequent qualifications, my first business was called Your True Potential, which offers a series of therapies including Life Coaching, Mind Detox and Bodywork. While I still offer one-to-one sessions, I enjoy training other therapists to use the JustBe range.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Prior to retaining as a therapist, I worked in a variety of marketing and consumer insight roles for Kimberly-Clark, Heinz, Scottish & Newcastle and Diageo.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

JustBe has always been self-funded. Although "hand to mouth" for the first couple of years, I have always worked within the company's means.

What was your biggest break?

I was delighted all the outlets I approached in the beginning said yes. I will always be grateful to Zest in Edinburgh for being my first salon to use the range in treatments. I was delighted to have received two awards in this years Ultimate Natural Beauty Bible awards for JustBe Cleansed Eye Makeup Remover and JustBe Cleansed Cleansing Balm.

What was your worst moment?

A couple of months into developing a bespoke range for Waldorf Astoria spas, I received a call to say the project would have to be put on hold. But it was an amazing confidence boost to have been considered and I am still hopeful this could be a potential partnership in the future.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I love making and creating new products, which perhaps explains why I have such a big range.

What do you least enjoy?

Not being able to switch off. Always "being on"comes with the job. I occasionally wish that I could work "normal" hours, but you never know where a good idea will come from and that's all part of the fun.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

For JustBe Botanicals to be a household name in the UK among my target market - which is typically female 35+. Within the next 12-18 months, would like to supply a selection of skincare retailers including Space NK and be exporting to mainland Europe.

What are your top priorities?

To develop retail packaging; to grow our presence in the Spa market; to achieve Taste Awards for our organic tea range; to get more listings in retail outlets; to enjoy the journey.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Continue to support SME businesses while raising awareness and demand for "Made in Britain".

What was the most valuable lesson you learned?

To be myself, to be authentic and to keep going. If you feel you've run out of energy and inspiration, keep going. Tomorrow's another day and you don't have to do it all right now. That "you're better than you think you are" and that "you are enough".Things that every small business owner needs to be reminded of now and again.

How do you relax?

By being active - either going to the gym, cooking or hanging out with friends. I'm not very good at sitting doing nothing. If I ever feel stressed, it's typically because I've been too much in my head or spent too long in front of the computer. Hand-blending the products calms my mind. I also enjoy going on holiday or more specifically seeing the sun and new places rather than taking a break from work.

I have been fortunate enough over the last two years to be a guest therapist in five-star YTL Spa Retreats in Bali and Malaysia. Some may say a busman's holiday - but an amazing honour and experience nonetheless.

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