Routine and the sweet smell of international success
By ATB Financial 7 April 2020 4 min read
There’s nothing routine about Neige and Pippa Blair. The dynamic founders of Routine natural deodorants play in an alt-folk band, share a mother-in-law, have four kids between them—and have seen their Calgary, Alberta-based business embraced across Canada, the US and international markets.
One is the marketing wiz, the other the numbers gal. Both like to call themselves formerly stinky sisters. They have built a community of followers that spans across the globe and has almost doubled, year-over-year since 2016, taking revenues above $3 million in 2019 with the support and advice from family, friends and ATB.
Neige and Pippa joke their overnight success took about 10 years, with a lot of networking, planning, meeting with bankers, and the odd vocal disagreement in between. After three years of running production from the basement, demand grew enough that they needed to expand to a larger facility. Having bootstrapped their way to growth—investing their own funds and reinvesting profits—Neige and Pippa knew they needed to up their game.
Growing pains and the need for cash flow
The surge in demand threw their cash flow out of balance as they had to order and pay for a much larger number of cream jars but still had to wait for sales to cover the costs, Pippa recalls. “We had to get funding somehow to cover the gap,” she says, noting they considered bringing in new investors as well as seeking financing.
Neige and Pippa attended a business accelerator program in Calgary, District Ventures, and met Jennifer Wong, with ATB. In casual conversation, Jennifer shared that while there were good reasons to get investors involved, it made sense to go the debt route since Neige and Pippa were looking to finance inventory and could potentially need more funding later to help with distribution. Routine presented their financials, business plan and projections to ATB, and were granted two short-term loans and an operating line of credit that allowed them to plan for the future and to continue growing.
The growth came mostly by word of mouth and social media—and canny marketing that captured the attention, hearts and armpits of devotees around the world. Routine’s success comes not only from meeting a need and delivering effective natural, no-filler deodorant creams in 15 distinct scents: the brand is cheeky and personable which makes people connect more closely to it.
From overnight success to international expansion in the US and beyond
After selling deodorant cream for almost a decade, Routine is venturing into launching deodorant sticks this spring, funded with an operating line of credit supplying the capital. How and when they expand to new markets with new products comes from on-the-ground market research—they look at location, demographics, vibe, keep note of trends and go with the flow, rather than push against the river.
“We’re really moving in the direction of where the demand is,” says Neige. “So, we've made it sort of one of our ways of running our company. If you have a closed door, then you don't go down that path. And we often realize we see the reason why later.”
Routine goes where their customers are, and their first international expansion was in the United Arab Emirates. Someone there had used their product, contacted them and wanted to distribute it. “The door was open, and we followed.” Similarly, they have a growing fan base in Denmark, where the distributor wants to expand into eight other European locations.
Expanding into the US is a “no brainer” for the sisters, who already see about 25% of their online sales to the States, when they looked at market volume, proximity and ease of trade, and a growing awareness of the benefits of natural ingredients. They already are in Whole Foods Markets across Canada, so it makes sense to migrate to the US Whole Foods Market chain. They also would like to double their business again in 2020, expanding into the US organically through a distributor with a focus on health food and green beauty channels.
Routine has also worked with Business Development Canada to secure a loan, SheEO to secure a zero-percent interest loan and obtained a large grant from Export Development Canada to attend a major trade show—a key strategy to expand their distributor network and their product reach in the US. They learned that lesson after about three years of markets and retail outlets: what really took the business to a whole new level was taking part in a trade show held by the Canadian Health Food Association, the largest health and wellness retailer trade show in the country.
Although skeptical at first, going to the trade show was one of the most important business decisions they made—the exposure doubled their sales by hooking up with a large Canadian distributor.
As firm believers in building and maintaining community, Neige and Pippa know their community of family, friends, partners and customers have brought them to where Routine is today. The rest of the plan just falls into place as you put in the work, go with your gut, listen to your customers and follow the demand.
Learn more from Routine with their 8 tips on expansion.