Going with the ebb and flow of the beauty business
INSIDE TRACK Q&A: Mark & Kira Walton, founders of Voya
What sets your business apart from rivals?
Mark: We are a luxury organic brand. Other companies in Ireland develop cosmetics and beauty products, but not using seaweed and not for the luxury market. Our products are aimed at a high-end market. Our clients include Hilton Waldorf-Astoria, Ritz Carlton, Selfridges and St Regis.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?
Mark: Marrying my business partner. Other people can go home from work and complain about their colleague. I can never do that as I’m married to my colleague!
Kira: The other mistake we’ve made is not listening to our gut instinct. In the past, we went against our own gut decision. We listened to other people when we should have listened to ourselves. One example was our first photo shoot. There was no seaweed in any of the photos, which was ridiculous as our product is based around seaweed. We went with it though and didn’t say anything until the last photo was being taken.
What has been your major success to date?
Kira: There have been several. Getting our products into the Burj Al Arab in Dubai. Being nominated for the Ernst Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Having our products identified as one of the key trends of 2012 by Condé Nast.
Mark: We had no international ambitions when we first set up the business. All we wanted to do was sell our products at the Seaweed Baths in Strandhill, Co Sligo. Now we export 80 per cent of our products to 35 countries worldwide including China, the United Arab Emirates, India, Thailand and the US.
What piece of advice would you give to the Government to stimulate the economy?
Mark: The Government needs to be clever about how it is taxing the economy. You can’t tax your way out of a recession. They need to free up capital so people can go back to spending. A lot of people are saving; they need to be encouraged to spend to kick-start the economy.
A lot of businesses are struggling with access to capital. Something needs to be done about that. The same goes for credit insurance.
Do you think the banks are open for business to SMEs at the moment?
Mark: If you have good cash flow, you had a better chance of getting a loan. The banks are inherently nervous nowadays and the criteria for funding has changed dramatically. Thankfully, we set up our business during the boom. If we were starting out now, I don’t think we’d get a loan at all.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge?
Kira: We created a brand that didn’t exist before. There was no on else in Ireland selling products into the luxury sector, so we had no road map. We not only had to work out how to make organic sea-based products, we also had to work out the logistics of exporting to other countries, getting through customs and getting FDA approval. In fact, every single day we are faced with a new and completely different challenge that we haven’t come across before.
Who do you admire most in business and why?
Kira: I admire Michael O’Leary for his guerrilla-marketing strategy though that would never work in the spa industry. I also admire Madonna as she is always re-inventing herself and keeping up with new trends.
Mark: I admire Bill Gates for all the amazing things he has done, not just in business but philanthropically. It was interesting to see what he did with his money outside of business.
What’s your business worth and would you sell it?
Kira: We’ve had several multi-million euro offers for our business but we’ve turned them all down. Right now, we are under no pressure to sell as we are enjoying the business and it’s doing well.
In conversation with Pamela Newenham