All startups begin with a dream. For Paul and Naomi Whitfeld, that dream is to produce natural, botanically based face and body skin care, candles and herbal teas. From humble beginnings making their products in a Blue Mountains kitchen, their brand, iKOU, now has retail stores throughout Australia and supplies hundreds more businesses in Australia and internationally.
Being avid travellers, Paul and Naomi were inspired by ancient spa rituals from around the world and the moments of rest and relaxation that accompany them. It was with this in mind that they started iKOU, with the desire to share these moments with others.
We asked Paul and Naomi a few questions about their business and what it takes to build a successful startup.
What does iKOU mean?
iKOU is the Japanese verb ‘to rest, to relax, to restore’.
How long did it take you to develop the business concept?
We spent six months living and breathing the entire concept of iKOU, until we decided it was ready to share with the world.
What sets iKOU apart from other similar brands?
Passion! iKOU is a lifestyle, and we live and breathe everything we create. We genuinely want peoples lives to be healthier and happier as a result of iKOU and our ethos of daily rituals to rest and relax.
Why do you think iKOU has such high growth potential?
We have designed iKOU as a flourishing tree with many branches.
Our markets include Wholesale, Retail, Online, and also custom manufacture and bulk product.
Our brand can translate to be a broad range of products and even services.
Products that fit the iKOU lifestyle are broad, everything from skincare to candles to herbal teas. Expansion could easily include homewares, clothing, even healthy food and drinks.. the sky is the limit!
Services currently include Day Spa treatments, which we currently offer at Leading Five-Star Hotels & Spas such as the beautiful Park Hyatt in Sydney (which was Awarded “Best Day Spa Australasia” recently!). In the past we have run yoga classes under the iKOU banner, and potential exists for retreats and workshops. People also keep asking when we are going to launch “iKOU Resort”.. they are right, if ever we created an accommodation concept it would be gorgeous! (We just have to find iKOU Island first!) Paul and I always have trouble finding our perfect match hotels when we travel, as our taste is quite specific. We’ve been described as “Five-Star Hippies”, which is actually pretty accurate, we love exceptional quality and detail balanced with a grounded, spiritual connection with nature. It goes without saying, if ever we open a resort it would have the best Day Spa ever!
To be honest, we’ve been holding business back the last six years since we launched. We’ve been strategic and brand alliance, we don’t just take on any brand partners, and we’ve limited distribution internationally to ensure we’re ready for the expansion sustainably. 2015 we plan to officially launch iKOU face care to the market, which currently we have only made available in our own iKOU retail Stores and 6 Spa partners. We predict this launch will be our major growth area and our biggest success to date. Skincare attracts a loyal following, and iKOU products deliver results fast, so once people try it they come back for more. We’re really excited to be preparing the details for launch.
Did either of you have any previous experience in making these kinds of products?
Many of our products are based on things I used to make for Paul and I. When we met, we were both severe eczema sufferers. I had it all over my face from the age of 11, and Pauls condition covered his body since birth. We cured our own skin through the use of pure, natural ingredients, and therefore have a strong conviction to make products that benefit the person using them, because we know how life changing it is to have great skin. When your skin is relaxed and feeling good, then your mind follows.
What kind of attitude do you think is important to bring to a startup business?
Be authentic. When your business is based on your own passion, it creates a fresh offer in the market and the details are always superior to businesses that follow the lead of others.
Be prepared for long term commitment and sacrifice, keep an open mind to all possibilities, follow your gut instincts, and remember to take some time to celebrate your achievements along the way.
Know where you want to be in the future, and view every decision as being steps towards the big picture goal. Enjoy the journey, and if ever you stop enjoying it.. take a holiday!
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