The natural route to success
FUTURE PROOF TanOrganic:With the success of her natural tanning product, Noelle O’Connor has managed to bounce back from the post-Tiger bust
AT THE HEIGHT of the Celtic Tiger, beauty therapist Noelle O’Connor had a chain of six salons and a beauty product distribution company under her belt. Then the banking system collapsed, along with the property market and O’Connor’s business, for which she had just received a €1.5 million offer, began crumbling around her.
But despite having to close several of her salons, the Kildare businesswoman didn’t let the recession get to her. She moved into the tanning business and now exports her TanOrganic brand to 14 countries worldwide.
O’Connor began her career in a single cubicle beauty room at the back of a local hairdressers, before expanding to other premises to form Ireland’s first beauty chain, Éalú Spa Therapy. “I started off the business in 1996 on foot of a £2,000 credit union loan, but moved to my own premises in 1999.”
Having a shop front trebled her business overnight, she says, and several months later she opened a second salon. “Then I was approached by hotels. I opened a salon at the Heritage Hotel in Laois, followed by another in the Glen Royal in Maynooth.”
While operating several salons, O’Connor saw a gap in the market for a distribution business for cosmetics and beauty products.
“I started with a pay-as-you-go phone and computer, and scaled up to having around 400 accounts around the country. I was one of the first people practically in Europe to begin supplying mineral make-up to beauty salons.”
The beauty industry was booming and the distribution company, SkinLogic, was doing very well. She planned to expand to 10 salons before franchising the idea nationwide.
O’Connor received an offer of €1.5 million for the chain in 2008. Then the banking system collapsed. “Our revenues dropped by 70 per cent. People stopped taking hotel breaks, which really affected our hotel spa business. On top of that, we had fitted out all the spas to a very high spec. All the equipment we had was state of the art and leased. It was hard paying for it when we weren’t getting the money in.”
The buyer for the salons disappeared, O’Connor’s home was mortgaged to the hilt, and cash was running out fast. As the number of people going to beauty salons dropped, O’Connor found her distribution company was also beginning to suffer.
“The next obvious route for me always was to set up a brand of my own. I had been working on a skincare range for a while but that got shelved as you need several products – cleanser, toner, moisturiser, exfoliator, etc just to start off, so it can be very costly.”