Marcie Weinstein Smith’s decision to develop a product to deal with her baby’s diaper rash in 2012 dovetailed neatly into the burgeoning trend toward natural products and a consumer category often focused more on quality than cost.
While the $7-billion-a-year U.S. baby product sector may have once seemed impenetrable, internet-based retailers have lowered the barriers to entry and companies like Weinstein Smith’s Lovey’s Body Products Inc. – based in Delta, British Columbia – can enter the export market with relatively low risk.
Lovey’s is one of approximately 382,600 small businesses operating in BC, according to BC Stats’ Small Business Profile 2015 (SMP). The SMP shows that in 2013, 53 per cent of B.C.’s small business exporters shipped their products exclusively to the U.S. However, research by the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada puts Weinstein Smith in an exclusive group: only five per cent of majority female-owned SMEs export goods.
But Weinstein Smith had none of these statistics in mind back in 2009 when she recognized that there was a market for the solution she used in a spray bottle with a cloth as an alternative to baby wipes and commercial creams. When other mothers started asking where they could buy the solution, Weinstein Smith’s background in sales and marketing kicked in – she saw a gap in the market and, working with a professional chemist, she developed the all-natural Lovey’s Tushi Wash.
It wasn’t long before her collaboration with the chemist resulted in Canada’s first diaper ointment in a stick, the Tushi Stick. Not long after launching the Tushi Stick Weinstein Smith was contacted by two women who ran the New York Marathon and told her that they had used the Tushi Stick to prevent chafing. They suggested she develop a product specifically for adults. Weinstein Smith applied the same all-natural-ingredients focus and launched ChafeStop in 2013. In addition to athletes, the anti-chafing stick is popular with people who wear stiff or scratchy clothing, like chefs and first responders, and by people who wear prosthetics, she says.
Weinstein Smith successfully marketed the Lovey’s range across Canada until, in 2014, a fellow mompreneur suggested she export the products to the U.S., and she began the trials and tribulations of selling on Amazon.
“It’s a steep learning curve and at the start it’s overwhelming,” she says. “You have to dedicate the time to figuring it out. Once you have the basics you can’t sit back, you have to continue to test and tweak the listings using different key words to see how they perform and what works.”
Weinstein Smith says that while some of her fellow mompreneurs have found marketing at trade shows worthwhile, results show that the Lovey’s range performs better online. She uses all the social media channels and also sends product samples to major bloggers.
While the “natural” market was once the domain of small, niche companies, Weinstein Smith is now competing against major brands’ deep pockets. Without the capital to compete against those brands in the international marketplace, her strategy is to differentiate her products, focusing on the chemical-free formulations that don’t harm a baby’s immune system, and build online sales through the big retailers like Amazon. She also grows the company’s presence on the ground in boutique baby stores in the U.S.
After seven years of manufacturing and selling her niche products, Weinstein Smith has learned some valuable lessons along the way.
“I started out using a customs broker; it made things easier, but more expensive. Now I ship via DHL – a courier company that includes brokerage services,” she says. “It’s a big company shipping millions of packages so you may not get the same attention you would from a customs broker, but it’s more cost effective.”
Five questions with Lovey’s Body Products founder Marcie Weinstein Smith
1. What was your first export sale?
A Tushi Wash and Tushi Stick on Amazon, to a buyer in California.
2. How did that first export opportunity arise?
I was looking for a way to expand my sales to the U.S. and a fellow mompreneur had had some success with Amazon and suggested I try it. I also initially exported to the U.K. but found it was difficult to compete against local companies, plus the 20% VAT made it more expensive.
3. When it comes to exports, what do you know now that you wish you knew then?
I would have liked to start exporting sooner. For a company selling a niche product there are simply more people in the U.S. who want to buy the product – with such a big population it has the critical mass.
4. How has the trading world changed since you started in business?
The online retailers have changed the way we trade. I see online growing more and more. We need to keep learning to keep up with marketing and selling online – it’s only going to continue to grow. One of the lessons I have learned about online marketing is the value of building an email list. You have to communicate with your customers, find a way to stay in front of them and build a relationship. I have found the mailing list is one of the best ways to do that.
5. What is the #1 thing new SMEs need to know about export and trade?
There’s a lot to learn! SMEs considering exporting their products need to familiarize themselves with documentation, product classifications, tariffs and establishing whether the product is NAFTA eligible.