Shantelle Long Booysen, founder of Elim Spa Products International, is an inspiring entrepreneur who has been operating pretty much under the radar in the Beauty Industry for over a decade. Behind every success story is an embarrassing first effort, and so it was with Shantelle.
Behind most success stories is also a motivation and hers was finding a premium pedicure product at an affordable price that delivered results for women who struggled with dry and cracked heels.
Q: Tell us more about where you come from?
A: My name is Shantelle and I am from Elim Spa products, but today I don’t want to talk about Elim. I want to rather take you on the journey that I followed and what got me from working in my kitchen 14 years ago to exporting to 18 countries globally.
My beginnings were humble, I grew up with two missionaries in Parow and had a wonderful love filled childhood.
You know what they say, it is never bad to be poor as long as you don’t know you are poor. I moved on and finished school at DF Malan, walked the straight and narrow first studying to become a journalist, but I had a boyfriend with long hair who played in a band and that cost me my studies.
I tried again at Stellenbosch, this time a little more responsible and finished my degree that opened up opportunities in Naspers. I worked here for 7 years, they were inflicting pain on me, and I was inflicting pain on them. The model of the story is, that it is very very difficult for entrepreneurs to work in a corporate environment. I needed to be in a space where I could be creative, where I could make things work.
Q: So how did you come to the idea of a premium pedicure?
A: I took a holiday, went to Thailand and I was walking on the beach when I saw a sign that said “Skin foot,” my husband looked at me and laughed and said, “baby this one is for you.” And really this is where MediHeel was born. I went for pedicure, I loved the solution, it did wonders but had terrible side effects. I came back to SA, not knowing the first thing about chemistry, but studied through dr Google and learned. I learned why the product dried my feet.
Q: Did you launch immediately and what was your first breakthrough?
A: It took around 18 months till we had a product in a bottle with a label. And then God set me up. I had a planned meeting with a buyer and arrived at the wrong hotel. The receptionist gracefully introduced me to hotel Y’s buyer while hotel x’s buyer was waiting for me to arrive. It was fate; I had to do business with hotel Y. they were interested
and gave me an immediate go ahead to present the product. They were the first big spa and started asking me for more and more products.
Q: Is this not a saturated market? What made you different?
A: We wanted to create things that were not available. I really wanted a facial for the feet, I wanted facial grade ingredients.
Q: Surely all didn’t just run smoothly?
A: It was 7 years ago when we got a huge knock. I got to my computer one morning and received a mail that said that we were trading illegally under our name MediHeel, In a second, I saw all my hard work going down the drain. This is where Elim was born. We changed our name and decided to make MediHeel the name of our Pedicure. We doubled our business that year and till this day 14 years later, through all the recessions and hard ships, Elim has grown and gained market share every single year.
Q: Tell us about your social responsibilities
A: I am not a great charity person, but I strongly believe in teaching people to fish and creating employment and a few years ago me and my staff ventured out and looked for unemployed skilled wannabe carpenters. We do all our point of sales in wood and this is something we have traditionally imported. We found a group of amazing willing, friendly, and hardworking people and today we are proud to say that everything we offer as point of sale and all our stands are made by Joseph Woodworks. They have grown considerably and have purchased bigger machines
and we are very proud that they now also contract other companies and do all kinds of woodwork.
Q: How important is training staff to you and how do you select staff?
A: I never ever employ skill, attitude and a willingness to learn comes first and skill comes second. If you have the right personality and you can work comfortably in a office full of girls, we can teach you anything. I have employed an admin girl who was willing to work for free she loved our brand so much. Today she is our International Sales Manager and travels globally training therapists.
We have also employed someone who never had the opportunity to finish school and trained her as an admin assistant, today she is a house assistant and au pair and loving it. Another success story is our graphics designer who dropped out of her fashion design course. We gave her an old apple mac, downloaded Photoshop and told her where to find YouTube videos. Self taught she is a very successful freelance graphic designer today.
Q: The best advice for new business women
A: If you don’t live by the praise of men, you won’t die by their criticism and this brings me to a subject that is very near to my heart. It is about keeping an eye on the competition. We have a rule in our office, that we don’t discuss, compare or even look at social media of the opposition. I once listened to a talk where Simon Sinek talks about entrepreneurs comparing themselves and it inspired me to look at my own journey and take my eyes off what companies are doing around me.
I think you need to truly understand why you do what you do. For us, it is creating newness, innovation is not about bringing something different, it is about bringing a solution to an existing problem and solving it. I will give you an example. We are in the process of developing a new range for our body range.
Seeking out the wisdom of the body, is what we do at Elim, selling products is secondary, it comes after the discovery and the education. I can give you another example of feet…. When you wear tight shoes, you heels will become call used because of the friction, we identified this issue and developed a pedicure that eliminates the filing and blading.
Q: Any other advice you can offer?
A: Be real and be vulnerable. People love truth.
• Be quick to say sorry- we have a rule at Elim to be the first to apologize and never shift the blame.
• Allow others the grace you get – we are not perfect, people make mistakes.
• Grow people not money – Chase wisdom and wealth will follow.