Cleaning the house is not usually a fun activity but, as Bondi Wash founder Belinda Everingham says, it shouldn’t make you feel literally ill. Fed up with getting headaches from the harsh chemicals in bench sprays and even in hand wash, Belinda started playing with a range of Australian botanicals and essential oils to create her own cleaning products. For six months she experimented in her kitchen, and immersed herself in learning about native scents and plant extracts, truly a world away from the corporate sphere she’d once inhabited.
A few years down the track, and her company Bondi Wash has a flagship store in Sydney’s Bondi Beach, and devoted followings in China, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. With hundreds of stockists of the brand’s home, body, baby and dog ranges, and a soon-to-be-launched online store for the European market, Bondi Wash is the quintessential start-up success story of local entrepreneur made good. But that success doesn’t come without an array of considerable challenges, not the least of which is Belinda’s chosen range of ingredients.
“I love working with the Japanese market because of their deep appreciation for quality and aesthetics.”
Keeping the products natural and championing Australian native ingredients to an international audience has remained central to the company’s objectives. As Belinda explains, however, “natural ingredients are far more unpredictable and difficult to work with than synthetics. The issues of shelf life and stability around these ingredients test even the most accomplished chemist. And we work with outstanding people in this field.” It slows product development and costs more, and Belinda has got used to people telling her she should be growing faster. She remains undeterred: “I would much rather take the time to get things right and maintain the integrity of the products and the brand, than rush things through for the sake of rapid growth.”
Sticking to her guns on that issue appears to have worked – the increasing demand for the products both in Australia and internationally is testament to their popularity. That popularity, however, has also resulted in increasingly complicated logistical demands. Interestingly, Belinda says that the biggest challenges to meeting online consumer demand have taken place domestically. She acknowledges that that may be partly because of inadequate systems software to deal with the rapid growth, but is also due to reliance on the already stretched services of post and courier providers in a country of vast distances. “Trouble-shooting small logistical problems that can rapidly turn into big customer service problems means more daily screen time than I would like,” says Belinda. “I think we are getting to the point where a different level of expertise might be required to help smooth out these issues.”
Customer service is clearly something Belinda is dedicated to. “The thing is,” she says, “Australians are actually generally very polite. It’s hard to get frank and honest feedback from them. So when someone does take the time to let us know they are dissatisfied with something, I take that very seriously.” She admits that in the early days, a critical email could be like a punch in the guts that would take ages to recover from. Now, however, she understands that it’s part of running a business and often presents an opportunity to make a positive change or at least to connect authentically with a customer.
“Australians are actually generally very polite. It’s hard to get frank and honest feedback from them.”
Customer preferences and behaviours are, Belinda has discovered, different the world over. In Japan for instance, where Bondi Wash is stocked in high-end department stores as well as in a dedicated online store, customers are extremely particular about every aspect of a product in a way that Belinda says is unique in her experience. “The demand for perfection and total integrity of product – whether it be the look and consistency of the liquid itself, our ability to justify our claims for its effectiveness, or the appearance and feel of the packaging – is exacting. I love working with the Japanese market because of their deep appreciation for quality and aesthetics.”
She gives a telling example of how this can at times, however, make for time-consuming and expensive obstacles: the Japanese stockists do not wish to have tamper seals on their products as they destroy the look of the packaging and are not good for the environment. China, on the other hand, insists on tamper seals on all products. This meant that Bondi Wash had to replicate lines – one with seals and one without.
Constantly striving to improve and streamline operations while still focusing on product development and customer service would seem challenge enough, but problems can come from all kinds of unexpected sources. A long-running copyright issue for example, has proven particularly trying for Belinda, but her philosophical approach to these tribulations, along with a team she credits as wonderful, and a network of supportive friends and family, means she can step lightly into each day and celebrate the success of a business she started in her own kitchen with her own hands. The occasional headache may still descend, but a whiff of mandarin and myrtle soon sends it on its way.