Joanna Jensen set up baby and child natural toiletries business Childs Farm by combining three things she enjoys most in life: her children, horses, and helping people to be happy with their skin. Tim Wickham finds out how she plans to displace the big pharma companies.
The view from Joanna Jensen’s converted barn office in rural Hampshire must be one of the most idyllic of any CEO. From here, she oversees a business growing at a phenomenal rate: 150% last year, 200% forecast this year. Turnover in 2016 was £6 million.
Sherborne St John’s rolling countryside and friendly farm animals are an integral part of the Childs Farm brand. It’s the name of Jensen’s former property, where the business began. Her horses and children feature prominently on product labels and in its marketing.
Authenticity versus big pharma
A career in investment banking took Jensen from London to Hong Kong, but she always retained her country outlook and interest in horse breeding. She is, in her own words, “a bit of a hippy” at heart who was raised on a homeopathic approach to well being.
Her customer relationship attitude, plus an artistic eye gained working in interior design, is evident in the Childs Farm story that began in 2010. The brand’s vibrant quirkiness is hard to ignore, particularly on retail shelves. Who could disagree with ‘No ifs no sore butts’ to sell its nappy cream?
She finds the ‘mumpreneur’ tag patronising, and isn’t overly keen on ‘entrepreneur’ either. “There are plenty of parents in this country setting up their own companies. If people ask, I say I work for a children’s toiletries business,” she said, revealing a very British reserve about being successful.
Word-of-mouth recommendations from parents, especially via social media, drives demand for the ‘top of mass market’ paediatrician and dermatologist approved products that are also used by grown-ups. “Authenticity in this day and age is absolutely vital. People can quickly tell if you’re talking rubbish. Everything we create is tried on me and my children before undergoing independent tests,” said Jensen. “The brand love we get is unbelievable and completely overwhelming.”
Manufacturing is in Kent and down the road from the business in Alton. The company currently sells around 250,000 bottles a week. “We’re a British brand and employer and, importantly, a rural employer,” emphasised Jensen.
Agile and disruptive
Two ways the business stands out are by being agile and disruptive. “There’s no hanging around saying ‘let’s have another meeting about that’. We just get on with things. If you have confidence in your products, you don’t waiver.”
In 2017, Kantar ranked Childs Farm the UK’s favourite natural based baby and child toiletries brand. The disruptive aim is to lead this market by 2020. Of course, that will mean displacing much larger, more established players. It’s a challenge Jensen relishes. “The big pharma companies find it hard to be authentic,” she observed.
Scaling up the business relies on having a robust and reliable supply chain. “I’m prepared to take on the risk of expanding production because I believe in the brand and think the British public does too. I look to supply chain partners who have an appetite for our level of growth. I also recognise the responsibilities I have to suppliers, as well as to our customers and staff.”
EIS and angels
Jensen is one of 25 Childs Farm shareholders, who include family, friends and two principal angel investors. They are private equity specialist Andrew Leek and marketing expert Paul Cartmell.
Shares in Childs Farm are held through the government-backed Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS), which rewards investors with tax benefits for taking on the higher risk of supporting UK start-up businesses. “I think many small businesses don’t realise the funding opportunities available with angel investors and EIS,” said Jensen. “EIS has been a win:win for Childs Farm and our shareholders.”
For now, she’s happy for the business to continue growing in this ownership format, without taking on lending. “Britain is our core market and for now we’re sitting on our hands regarding international growth. As far as I can, I want to grow using our own resources and managing our own destiny.”
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