It’s no secret that supporting local and up-and-coming Canadian brands is a passion of mine, but over the years I’ve come to realise a few things: Not every local brand is great, not every local brand will succeed, and not many local brands will survive beyond their first year of business. This is not meant to sound negative, but it is the reality of a small business. Being an entrepreneur may sound desirable and cool, but true #entrepreneurlife is extremely hard work that’s both difficult and challenging. Often times, you see a brand, product or idea abandoned early on once the realities of what it will actually take to grow and succeed (especially to become a viable business) really set in. This is (part of) why I’m genuinely so thrilled to have been able to witness the constant growth and continued success of Consonant Skincare; a Toronto-based Canadian skincare company that’s dedicated to creating great natural products for their customers. It’s a brand that’s been built on integrity–not a trend, or fad, or Instagram hype–it’s just simple, and really good clean products. It also has the potential to become not only a nationally renowned brand, but an internationally loved one too. One of my most favourite things about the company, however, is the founder himself, Bill Baker, because he happens to be one of the loveliest and most gracious people you will ever meet–which is a quality I really love in people in general, but it’s always really refreshing to find in a leader. Since Bill just opened up his third brick and mortar Consonant Skincare location in Toronto, this time on West Queen West (just a hop, skip and a jump from Trinity Bellwoods), I couldn’t think of a better person to interview for our latest #FounderFiles feature. Keep reading to meet Bill and his company!
Business Name: Consonant Skincare
Name & Title: Bill Baker, Founder and CEO
Location: Toronto, Canada
Education: BA, UWO
Edit Seven: Tell us about your brand, what do you do?
Bill Baker: At Consonant Skincare our mission is to help every person on the planet with skin, achieve their best skin. And we are doing this by taking natural skin care out of the heath food store and we are bringing it into the mainstream.
But we recognize our award-winning, 100% natural clinically-proven skin is just the beginning when it comes to achieving your best skin; so we actively educate our customers about all the other factors that impact your skin: lifestyle, diet, nutrition and exercise.
E7: How did you start your business? What inspired you to start?
BB: I am a person who has suffered from bad skin for my whole life. It is extremely dry, prone to sun damage, and very sensitive. About fifteen years ago a co-worker was making natural soap at home and bringing it to the office to sell. I bought some to be nice, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it until I was caught short one day in the shower with no soap. I reached for the natural bar, and without exaggeration, my skin issues went away over night.
I did lots of research and was shocked to discover the conventional products I was buying to get relief from my problems were actually causing my problems. They contained ingredients that were harsh and irritating at best, and toxic and carcinogenic at worst.
But when I canvassed some of my friends and coworkers about these harsh ingredients, no one knew how harmful they could actually be.
Through my research I also discovered a nascent but growing movement of people looking for products without the harmful chemicals. These early adopters were typically shopping for their personal care products in health food stores, which didn’t appeal to me. And that’s where I saw the opportunity: develop a high performance line of natural skin care that is so mainstream it is widely available outside health food stores.
E7: Why do you love what you do?
BB: Almost every day a customer tells me how our products changed their life, because like me, many of our customers who have suffered with skin issues for years have discovered their best skin after switching to Consonant Skincare.
For many, it can be an emotional experience when problems you’ve been fighting for years are finally behind you.
And that’s why I love what I do; because, even during the toughest times of building the business, I remembered that our products actually make a meaningful difference in the lives of our customers.
E7: What makes your business special?
BB: We have phenomenal products and we offer exceptional customer service, but what makes this business truly special is the remarkable group of people behind the products. Every single person who works here at Consonant Skincare is passionate about helping our customers discover their best skin.
E7: What makes your product special?
BB: Our vision is to bring natural skin care out of the health food store and bring it into the mainstream.
But many consumers still believe you have to make sacrifices when you select natural skin care products. So we will only achieve our vision if we offer products that are more than just 100% natural, because natural only gets you so far.
Consonant Skincare products are also award-winning, clinically proven and high performance. And that is what is most special about our products: they’re healthy AND they work!
E7: What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from running your business?
BB: I have learned that every cliché you’ve ever heard about starting a small business is true. It can be challenging, it can be frustrating, and it will probably take a lot longer than you think.
But the number one lesson I have learned, is that persistence pays off. I do believe there is a fine line between persistence and pestering that you have to be careful not to cross. But when you are strategically persistent, it definitely pays off.
E7: What have been some of the pros and cons of building your business in Toronto/Canada?
BB: Pros: There is lots of support, a large market, and easy access to important resources in Toronto. There is also the opportunity to build a national brand relatively efficiently.
Cons: Increasingly, Canadian retailers are divisions of US or European mega-glomerates. These companies tend to be a little inward looking and often search for brands exclusively in their home markets. So this can make distribution a challenge, not just outside of Canada, but even within our own borders.
E7: What is your #1 piece of advice to keep in mind when starting your own business?
BB: It goes without saying you will hear “no” a lot when you start a new business. Whether it is from a supplier you want to work with or from a customer you want to sell your products to. But you have to remember, no doesn’t mean “no”, no means “not now”.
E7: Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting your business?
BB: I’m glad I didn’t know what I didn’t know before I started this business. The road has been long and the climb has been steep. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to get Consonant Skincare off the ground. But now that investment is paying off, so I’m glad I did it. But if I’d have known then what I know now about the challenges I was going to face, I’m not sure I would have gone for it. To that end, I wouldn’t change a thing.
E7: What is a challenge you’d tell future entrepreneurs in the skincare business to prepare for?
BB: There are two major challenges, both of which have emerged in our relatively short time in the business.
The first, is how fragmented the market has become. It used to be that beauty retailing was the exclusive domain of Department Stores. Then drug stores got into the game which was a good thing, because competition helps consumers.
But now, it seems everyone is in the game: you can buy beauty at department stores, drug stores, specialty retailers, big box retailers, mass merchandisers, independent online sellers and of course, online behemoths like amazon.com.
So, how do you go to market? Where do you focus your resources? There is no easy answer. If you only focus on one channel you will miss a lot of opportunity, but if you spread yourself too thin across too many channels you risk diluting your message and having no impact at all.
Second, the number of competitors has exploded. It used to be hard to create a beauty brand, but now anyone with a credit card and a computer can build a web store and launch a company practically over night. Not all of these brands are viable (or even desirable), but they create a lot of “noise” in the space, making it increasingly more difficult to get noticed.
E7: Tell us about your new retail concept on Queen West?
BB: Our promise is to help people with skin achieve their best skin. But we recognize great skin is about more than just great skin care. It is about healthy nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
Our new store on Queen Street West in Toronto will allow us to make good on this promise, and to deliver everything you need to discover your best skin all in one place.
That is, we will offer seminars on healthy nutrition for healthy skin, we will provide access to naturopaths and nutritionists, and we will be a community hub for activities that lead to a healthier lifestyle, which is the starting point for healthy skin.
E7: In an age where more shopping is happening online, how does retail and your flagship locations still benefit your business and customers?
BB: Buying online is very functional, and has become an almost commoditized transaction.
But in our new store, customers will have an experience.
It sounds like a cliché, but it is true. We won’t even have any products for sale in the front part of the store. It will be all about discovering the products, testing them and maybe taking some samples home to try.
But most importantly, customers can connect with our Regimen Coaches. Consonant Regimen Coaches are trained to help our customers access the information and the experts they need to achieve their best skin.
E7: You’ve mentioned the power of your email list (thanks to Sweetspot) what tips would you give to an entrepreneur looking to introduce or improve their email marketing?
BB: I’m often surprised when I talk to entrepreneurs in the early days of their start ups and they haven’t given any consideration to marketing. Successful marketing requires planning and resources.
We plan a year in advance, but we refine our plan constantly, so we can respond to a changing marketplace.
With respect to resources, the most important is money. Typically, good marketing programs aren’t free, but at the same time, they don’t have to be expensive. What is most important, is that they are engineered to deliver results.
There are never guarantees that any given marketing program or promotion is going to make the cash register ring, but if every program is structured to add names to your email list, that is a measurable (and meaningful) ROI.
E7: How do you stay organized, balanced and motivated?
BB: This isn’t always easy. Success begets success, and with more success comes more work. (A great problem to have!)
But I was finding I was losing balance as I struggled to stay on top of everything happening in my personal and professional lives.
So I started making appointments for things outside work. I don’t just plan to go to the gym, I make an appointment to meet someone there. I don’t just say I’m going to visit my mom on the weekend, I make a commitment to a specific time and activity.
I have found being accountable helps.
E7: Who are some of your mentors/role models?
BB: I admire anyone who has become a master of something. Whether that is accounting or acting, running a business or running a race. I see myself as a generalist who knows a little about a lot of things; so I gravitate to experts who know a lot about a specific thing when I’m looking for mentoring. These are the people that help me the most.
E7: Do you have a daily or regular ritual you practice that you love?
BB: I seem to have a few:
I’m a dog owner, so rain or shine, hot or cold, I’m out walking my dog. If we miss the walk for some reason, I feel it.
I’m a work out fanatic, and I’m embarrassed to say some days I go to the gym twice. But it helps me blow off steam and it keeps me sane.
I’m a Virgo, so I love habit and routine. Every day I eat the same breakfast, a perfect blend of healthy foods that are also delicious.
E7: Where do you go or what do you do to look for inspiration?
BB: For inspiration I go to two very different places: nature and design books.
Nothing beats natural for capital I inspiration. No man-made water feature is more spectacular than Niagara Falls, no manufactured space compares to the Rocky Mountains and no artificial lighting can match the beauty of a sunset or the drama of a full moon.
And I am constantly inspired by the creativity of others, so I love design books because they showcase this talent and they demonstrate that with imagination, the most beautiful things can be created.
E7: As company based in Canada, do you have international goals and why?
BB: Since day one I have considered Consonant Skincare a global brand that originated in Canada. And thanks to technology, we have indeed become a global brand, having shipped our skin care to customers on every continent on the planet.
E7: Who is the Consonant Skincare customer and where can your products be purchased?
BB: We like to say Consonant Skincare is for people with skin. They are for young people and mature people, women and men, all skin types and all skin colours.
We believe Consonant Skincare can live at the foundation of every person’s skin care regimen. Our products are formulated to provide potent and persistent hydration above all else, and that benefits everyone regardless of skin type.
In Canada Consonant Skincare is widely available at both online and offline retailers, including our own consonant.com website and our own bricks and mortar stores in Toronto.
(Story by Editor-in-Chief, Gracie Carroll)