Cosmetics firm tests bathwater for exports

LAUNCHING on to the market with a new range of skincare products, Mallow, Co Cork start-up company Pixy has braved dragons and taken on the giants of the cosmetic world.

Set up in 2012 to offer an Irish alternative to the vast quantity of imported bath and beauty products, Pixy is working on developing sales in the domestic market but is also making plans to dip its toe into the export market.

Selling to 70 pharmacies around the country, it will exhibit at the natural beauty product show at the ExCel in London in June and is also aiming to develop sales in Northern Ireland.

The one-year-old company is the brainchild of Mallow pharmacist, adjunct professor at UCC and serial entrepreneur Peter Weedle, who looked at the variety of imported products being sold in his Mallow pharmacies and said: “We could make them.”

He was already involved in setting up companies selling medication management software to pharmacies in Ireland and Germany.

Turning an old photo studio above the Mallow pharmacy into a mini laboratory in 2011, Prof Weedle and his staff tried making hand creams and bath products from natural ingredients.

“We found they were quite popular with customers and sales went well,’’ he said.

Realising that he needed more than good products to create an impression in a market dominated by major brand names with huge marketing budgets, he set about developing a distinctive identity for his products — and Pixy was born.

“We wanted to target the younger female market and tried a number of names, but Pixy was the one that stuck,” he added.

He employed a graphic designer to develop the packaging, hired a model to be photographed as Pixy for the company literature and took on a PR company to market the new brand.

“Our aim was to bring everything in at 20% less than brand leaders and to offer good natural products that are good value. We have created soaps, gels and spells that are fun, Irish and affordable.”

While still working on the brand image and design, Prof Weedle saw Dragons’ Den on RTÉ and thought this could be a useful way to get Pixy off the ground.

The company was subsequently featured and received two offers of €250,000 which Prof Weedle turned down because he would have had to give away too much equity.

“But we had 10 minutes of airtime and the publicity was great,” he said.

Although he didn’t get dragon investment, he had support from the North Cork Enterprise Board which provided Pixy with a mentor and grant aid when it rented a 3,500sq ft premises at Quartertown in Mallow in July last year.

“We put together a business plan and got a business loan from the Bank of Ireland. Three staff from the chemist shop started work with the company and we hired five more,’’ said Prof Weedle, who estimates that €250,000 has been invested in Pixy so far.

Equipping the premises, including a bath bomb machine imported from the US, the company started production of a range of 70 products which had been developed in the mini lab in the pharmacy.

Prior to setting up the new production facilities, Pixy had travelled to a variety of trade shows in Ireland, including the Cosmetic Association Show in May, where much of the trade’s Christmas buying takes place.

“At this show we built up close to €100,000 worth of orders and sold 2,000 gift sets to one pharmacy chain,” said Prof Weedle.

Production began in August and the company got off to a good start by selling to many of the pharmacies that were being supplied with software by Prof Weedle’s company PharmacyPrime.

Pixy supplied products to 150 pharmacies in the run- up to Christmas, although sales dipped in the early months of this year.

Prof Weedle says they have picked up now and he is looking at developing sales to beauty salons and gift shops. The aim now is to develop Pixy organically, without selling off equity.

The company plans to apply for an Intertrade Ireland sales and marketing programme, which will help it develop sales in the North. It will also apply later in the year to take part in Enterprise Ireland’s First Flight programme in order to develop exports.

“Our intention is to build a brand we can take overseas. We are looking at the Irish diaspora — there are 80 million people of Irish descent around the world — this is a market we can tap into,’’ he said.

Visiting the Natural Beauty Show in London next month, Pixy will be seen by buyers from Britain and Europe. Prof Weedle says he is testing the water with a view to starting exports at a later stage.

“Our aim for this year is to achieve sales of €500,000. We have ambitious plans for the future and would like to have sales of €5m within three to five years,” he added.


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