Author’s Blurb: I can’t be the only one who feels some suspicion towards a lot of the natural skincare products we see in pharmacies. Call me a cynic, but I’ve heard about unethical things going down in the industry, even when they’re labelled ‘clean’, ‘green’ or ‘natural’ (though that’s usually for overseas corporate brands).
Since she’s personally invested in her products due to her children’s dependency on the effectiveness of them, she’s ensured that they’re actually free of harmful chemicals and not just saying so on the labels.
5 years later, she’s still incredibly hands-on with everything that The Olive Tree puts out to ensure quality control.
When we last interviewed Hong Mei in 2017, they had sold over 20,000 products in the span of 2 years.
They had appeared to be steadily growing, so we recently interviewed Hong Mei again to catch up with how the business is doing.
Targeting The Right Crowd
While Hong Mei previously expressed the desire for The Olive Tree to expand outside of Malaysia, the majority of their customers still hail from Malaysia.
She’s noted that they haven’t been growing a lot overseas, but puts it down to the fact that they’re very focused on serving the local market.
“Our customers are mainly 30 to 45, and 80% women. Most of them have families and young children, and they’re educated, knowledgeable, they know what real natural products consist of, compared to those that pretend to be natural but aren’t,” Hong Mei shared.
Some customer favourites include their handmade olive soap and the rosemary & mint shampoo, and she shared that they rely on needs based customer feedback to come up with new products.
Take their latest range for example. The Balancing Geranium Collection was based on customer feedback about being unable to find a shampoo for oily scalps with dry and frizzy hair.
Overall, the demand for their products has not significantly increased compared to previous years, though they’ve been enjoying a steady demand from their existing customers.
In the past 5 years, they’ve sold around 95,000 units, and they sell about 2,300 units per month.
Hong Mei declined to share actual revenue digits, but said that this year alone, they’re working on achieving a 30% growth in terms of revenue.
How they’ll be doing this is by focusing on growing their new e-commerce platform on Shopee, launching a subscription model for their products, and expanding into the corporate segment by offering corporate gift options for events and loyalty programmes.
Retail Is The Face Of A Brand
The Olive Tree maintains 3 main retail stores in Klang Valley, and Hong Mei holds on steadfastly to the belief that physical retail is important.
You’ve probably heard of the retail apocalypse that’s apparently happening all over the world with the rise of e-commerce, but this doesn’t seem to be an issue for The Olive Tree.
To Hong Mei, maintaining their retail stores is important because they act as the overall image of the brand and provide customers with more confidence in their products.
“And also we noticed that for our target market, a huge chunk of it, probably 70% of those women with families are not comfortable with shopping online,” she shared.
“They still want to touch and feel the products and talk to the salespeople to understand how the products work, and they would like to pick up the product from the store instead of getting it sent to them.”
On a usual basis, there’s a clear division between their customers who exclusively shop on their online store versus in person at their retail stores.
Think of it as a Venn diagram with very little overlapping, since they’re not trying to cannibalise themselves.
It’s worked out so far, with The Olive Tree having a distinct presence on various platforms to service their different groups of customers.
Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees
Their current key focus is strengthening their online presence, and they have not neglected their online store one bit.
To ensure that they keep driving traffic to their business, Hong Mei makes sure their SEO is strong, that they get good reviews, keep up their newsletter, and please existing customers who will spread the word.
She hopes to be able to grow the business exponentially in general, and one part of that includes expanding their physical stores.
“We would like to get franchisees to actually operate in key cities such as Penang and Johor, we have started to get contacts and we have also visited malls,” Hong Mei shared when we asked her what was in the pipeline for the next 2 years.
However, funding is now a challenge. Back when they first started, Hong Mei and her core team (of 3 then, now there’s 5 of them) started the business with RM200,000 from their own savings.
As that’s simply not sustainable for them considering their plans of growth, she’s concerned about finding funding in time.
For now, she’s still able to get loans from SME Bank, which she believes she can continue getting for a while, but at some point, they’ll need investors in order to grow even bigger.
Bottom Line: Despite my suspicions of natural skincare brands in general, I’d be more likely to trust Hong Mei’s products due to the fact that she’s so hands-on and honest with the products and process. As someone who suffers from eczema flare-ups myself, if The Olive Tree has worked well for her children, that’s all the confidence I need to be converted to a consumer.
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Featured Image Credit: The Olive Tree