Organic business growth blooms in Wyndham

Greg, Gemma and Kay Saarinen.
Greg, Gemma and Kay Saarinen.

A passion for herbs, topical naturopathy and an eco-sustainable lifestyle has taken Kay and Greg Saarinen on a journey to develop their home-based business, but as the business stands ready to grow to the next level the couple have vowed to remain true to their principles.

Saarinen Organics was declared the winning business by judges from of the first group of graduates of the University of Wollongong's iAccelerate Bega Valley Innovation Hub.

It all started when Kay and Greg's daughter, Gemma developed eczema.

"She was six months old and I walked out of the doctor's with a cortisone prescription," Kay said. It was something she was not comfortable giving to her baby and as she was studying naturopathy Kay decided to develop a cream to help Gemma's eczema.

Encouraged by the effect of the cream on Gemma and by her friends, who said she should start selling it, Kay started taking her herb-based cosmetic creams to Nethercote Market.

Greg said there was real customer demand with people asking Kay for creams to help specific ailments or problems.

"Now I have 42 creams and everyone of them has a story behind it and how it came about and with a lot of blood, sweat and tears," Kay said.

The family is committed to living an eco-sustainable lifestyle and earning a living in an eco-sustainable way. They grow their own herbs and Kay has a lab on their Wyndham property where she tries out different recipes before settling on final list and quantities of ingredients.

"Every cream has it's own recipe and any ingredients we don't grow we try to source locally," Kay said.

Now 11 years after the first Nethercote Markets, Greg and Kay are taking some big steps in the development of their business after gaining the knowledge and confidence from being graduates at the hub.

Kay was pointed in the direction of the Innovation Hub, a business mentoring and support service which she admits she didn't really know anything about.

But after doing some research Greg and Kay decided that they would apply to be one of the businesses on the first course which would require three days a week of their time over 12 weeks.

Despite being time poor, Greg said they walked out of the interview saying they couldn't not do it.

What did they get out of it?

"We got focus and learnt about corporate business and it's given us the ability to see the need for a standard operating procedure," Greg said.

The business is your baby and to have your ideas pushed and maybe told your baby isn't as pretty as you thought was hard.

Greg Saarinen

Throughout the course they were challenged about their ideas and plans for the business but in return they got advice and support from business educators and mentors.

"The business is your baby and to have your ideas pushed and maybe told your baby isn't as pretty as you thought was hard. It was about having an open mind about the business, being able to change and to adapt," Greg said.

"We were tested and it made us stand up and get a backbone," Greg said.

For Kay it was a chance to get her head around employing people, something she wants to do but had thought would be too difficult. As a result they will be employing someone part time on a casual basis in the near future.

Both Greg and Kay were adamant that while they wanted to upscale their output they also wanted to keep control over the manufacturing process which ultimately will mean building a local factory in the future.

The course has accelerated our business and given us the confidence to go for it.

Kay Saarineen

The option was to outsource manufacturing but Kay said she wanted to keep the integrity of the products, be able to control quantities, bases for the creams and to use their own home-grown herbs wherever possible.

"The course has accelerated our business and given us the confidence to go for it. We've been too busy making an income but this has given us the tools to do something about that," Kay said.

"It's not about upping your profit margin but about going Australia-wide with your own ideas. We're now more focused and it has given us tools for a marketing campaign. We have found our point of difference. We want to get into a lot more stockists in Australia."

Now facing the challenges of upscaling production, taking on staff and expanding their distribution network they are also excited about taking one of their products - the eczema cream - to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for testing.

It will cost anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000 to get the product tested and Kay said they might have to rely on a gofundme page to help out but she feels it is something they need to do.

In the meantime they remain committed to their eco-sustainable lifestyle saying that it is important to care for the earth, care for people and return the surplus.