Charlotte and Andrew Mills are the directors of Nephria.
Nephria Jade beauty products are sourced from a single and unique Nephrite Jade mine in South Korea (hence the name – Nephria). All products are manufactured, packaged and distributed under the direction of Charlotte and Andrew to a worldwide market.
MO: How did you come up with the concept of basing a beauty product line around a jade mine?
Andrew: Around 7 years ago, when my wife and I were still in our previous careers, Charlotte met a South Korean business man. His father had been making a range of beauty and skin care products, using Jade from his own personal mine in the grounds of the family estate. Whilst the products were gorgeous and had very special qualities, the family had not developed the range over the forty or so years they had existed. This was because other lines of business were their priority and they had no knowledge or background in building a cosmetic company.
Charlotte very quickly realized that:
a. The products were inherently of superb quality and benefits for the skin.
b. The packaging needed a substantial redesign to be launched globally.
c. The beauty and skincare market is truly worldwide, is constantly evolving and the majority of customers are open and interested in anything new or unusual.
MO: Can you talk about the process of first having the idea and then developing a beauty product line from scratch? What were some early challenges that you faced and how did you overcome them?
Andrew: Initially, we were overcome with wild excitement, unlimited vision and the thought that we were in a position to take something very special and introduce our brand to a wider market. In brainstorming names, design colours and impressions, we then realized how important it is to have:
a. Something unique.
b. Something that exudes quality and value.
c. A distinct and different style and name that encompasses the brand ethos.
With a couple of good friends, who we knew were artistic and had great taste (you should see their house – exquisite), we put together some ideas, including colour schemes (Jade being the obvious start point), some names and then tried to find a styling that conjured up feeling of the Orient and Jade.
Almost by chance, Charlotte was playing with themes around Jade, Nephrite, Korea and came up with “NEPHRIA” almost by chance. In capturing the source ingredient and by feminizing the word ‘Nephrite’ we knew we had something special. The next stage was to ensure we had created a new word. Internet search engines gave us confidence that we were not in anyone else’s territory, so we secured the NEPHRIA.com, NEPHRIA.co.uk, NEPHRIA.eu and the NEPHRIA name was trademarked.
Already, in around a week, we had committed to our product name, defined our business, established our web presence and started our branding. That was probably one of the most significant parts of our business life and we have been true to those early designs ever since, giving consistency in all our marketing and product exposure.
With any start up business, our early challenges were partly cash flow, with the substantial amount of initial investment needed for licensing, trademarking, establishing the business presence (accounting, website start up costs) and even just continuing to pay the household bills. Since I had recently retired from the Royal Navy and had a sizeable gratuity, cash flow was fortunately never really an issue – we were lucky. The next major challenge id to promote, market and advertise the brand, simply to attract customers. This led to some successes (national newspaper spreads, Television Shopping Channels and clever promotion) and some mistakes (primarily, paying an agency to advertise our brand). We committed to an agency who were quite expensive, lacked passion once we had paid their charges and ultimately were very ordinary. We have been much, much more successful when we have completed our own marketing and we have enjoyed plenty of newspaper, magazine and Sunday supplement coverage.
MO: Can you talk about the experience of running a company with your spouse and how/if you manage to keep a healthy work/life balance?
Andrew: When working with one’s spouse, the main lesson learned is to separate business form the relationship. It is important to be professional in the office and a married coupe in the kitchen, lounge and in privacy. As long as both are able to leave any issues, be they professional or personal in the appropriate environment, then working together is hugely rewarding. The strengths are:
a. Shared total passion and commitment for the business.
b. Shared successes, since we are directors with equal responsibilities and we share the joy and the company growth and progress equally.
c. We are inherently and deeply understanding of each other’s strengths, concerns and desires. This means we work together to support each other when one of us is not entirely comfortable in any situation.
d. Ultimately, we share the same dreams and will achieve our dreams together.
MO: What’s one marketing strategy that’s worked really well for you so far?
Andrew: We tell our story as a married couple, one of whom served in the Royal Navy Submarine Service (obviously me) and one who built her own business in Insurance, then made this amazing discovery, both retired from their previous careers and set up their own international beauty and skin care business in a matter of months. The story is our story and the products are then subliminally added to give the editorial a very genuine and positive feel. Many of our customers feel they know us (and many do), since we answer the telephone, write the letters, answer any E Mail questions and often meet existing and new customers at trade fairs, beauty shows and awards ceremonies.
MO: How integral has social media been to your brand awareness strategy?
Andrew: Social Media is absolutely the future. Our target market is the mature female, from around 35 years old or older. This market sector may or may not be particularly active with social media, but our next generation of customers are absolutely socially aware. We are managing and growing our current market, with a very definite desire to prepare our future customers when they start to consider their own skin care needs.
MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
Andrew: Professionally, since we launched in Harvey Nichols in 2012, we have an agreement to launch in Harrods, once we have 5 products commercially available. That means, as a new brand in the 3 Trillion dollar cosmetic market, we have entered the high street in Harvey Nichols and Harrods – not a bad way to start!
Personally, Charlotte and I have both worked since we left school, firstly in University, then in our careers and neither of us has had a day when we have not been in some form of employment. Our work ethic has improved to the point where we want to work more not less. We both had a huge philanthropic desire and Charlotte is determined that Nephria will allow her to provide hope and facilities for those underprivileged in society. We do not have children and Charlotte is absolutely committed to the care and welfare of the world’s young. When we reach the point where we are growing beyond that which we need, the surplus will be directed into humanitarian projects, aimed specifically at the unfortunate children. The thought that we will give back to the world that has given us so much is our ultimate aim.
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