Sometimes, all it takes is to turn something negative into an opportunity.
In Law Hong Mei’s case, it started with an issue that would make every mother’s heart ache.
Both of her children were stricken with eczema, a medical condition where their skin becomes inflamed or irritated.
“Despite our best efforts to minimise the dust in my house—which included changing the bed linens, sunning the quilts and pillows weekly—the problem still persisted,” she explained in a post.
Reprieve came when her sister sent some plant-based soap bars over from Australia. Hong Mei found that it not only improved her children’s condition, it even had a positive effect on her own dry and itchy skin.
In her continued efforts to stock up on the soap, she came to realise that there was a growing demand for body and skincare products made from natural ingredients, and not much of a supply.
To meet that demand, she started The Olive Tree in 2015 to provide natural body and hair care products in Malaysia.
“Our formulations of our products use natural ingredients derived from plants. If you look into our ingredients, they are free from harmful chemicals,” said Hong Mei.
Spreading Out Their Branches
The Olive Tree’s very first physical store is located in One Utama.
Since then, they’ve made their way into Pavilion too. They also have a strong online presence on their own website and also in e-commerce stores like Hermo and Fashion Valet.
Over the past two years, their product range has also expanded. On top of their handmade olive oil-based soaps, they now carry liquid soaps, scrubs, hair products and also essential oils—many of which are suitable for users with sensitive skin.
One bar of their handmade soap costs upwards of RM27.90 and can last around two to six weeks, depending on use and storage.
“All our products developed based on our company vision—vegan, sulphate and paraben-free, no synthetic colours, and fragrance & cruelty-free.”
– Hong Mei, The Olive Tree
Their products are proudly made in Australia, and Hong Mei wants to keep it that way.
“We have no plan to move the manufacturing location to Malaysia as we wanted to use Australian natural ingredients and their expertise in making our products.”
Since their products are strictly not animal-tested, Hong Mei recruits friends and family to try out the products instead.
“We have personally tested every product for a period of 3 to 6 months in Malaysia before launching them,” she told us.
From Sapling To Tree
Before her foray into owning her own business, Hong Mei specialised in Product and Merchandising for 20 years. She had a stint in Japan developing private labels for Isetan and also did Merchandising Planning for Triumph’s premium brands.
She shared that her key learning from all her experience was: You need to go down to the floor.
“Nothing beats what you see with your own eyes and talking to the local people. We strategise and make decisions based on consumer or the market situation instead of through our own assumptions.”
The Olive Tree is an idea that may have started with her children, but Hong Mei counts herself privileged to be able to help others with similar conditions.
“I love seeing our customers leaving us feedback to thank us having great products for them or their loved ones. It is thrilling to see them coming back with a smile and sharing their stories personally,” she said.
Run by a small core team of 3, The Olive Tree’s setup cost was RM200,000 and came from their own savings. Their initial plan was to launch online and expand through distributing wholesale.
“Our key strategy for the first 5 years is to build our brand,” said Hong Mei. “We started everything from scratch, from developing our products to launching our brand.”
To date, they’ve sold over 20,000 product units, and still consider themselves in the infant stage.
“We have grown 3 times versus the same period last year and we are marching towards achieving our first million dollar sales within a year!” said Hong Mei.
She remains very hands-on with her brand. “My key portfolio is product development and marketing, but I’m also involved in pick & pack, replenishment, and selling on the floor almost every day.”
One of her struggles? “I wish I was 10 years younger.”
“We need tonnes of energy for everyday because of wearing too many hats, but more so due to limited resources—there’s just three of us!” said Hong Mei.
“I used to get weekends off in my previous jobs, but there is no day off when it is working on my own.”
Nonetheless, she already has growth in her sights.
“We are targeting to open few more outlets in key cities to reach out to more consumers and aggressively grow on online channels. Definitely aiming to grow beyond Malaysia,” she said.
She pointed out that a lot of people are moving to natural products as a result of increasing awareness of harmful ingredients that are affecting their health negatively.
“We foresee that the potential is enormous as everyone is looking for healthy alternatives.”
Feature Image Credit: The Olive Tree