Sam Fells developed Breaze as a way to help her teenage son cope with his allergies to pollen, pets and dust. With a background in natural healthcare (Sam used to manage the vitamins, supplements and traditional medicines range at Boots) she was keen to find a way to help Theo without always resorting to antihistamine tablets which made him drowsy. Here, she tells her story, reveals her green credentials and explains why traditional retailing is not always the right fit for niche brands
What inspired you to set up your business?
In 2015, right before his GCSEs my son Theo, then 16 started suffering from hay fever. I was desperate to find a product which wouldn’t make him drowsy – he found that most antihistamines made him very groggy and he was a bit squeamish about eye drops and nasal sprays too. He was bunged up, finding it hard to sleep and pretty miserable. I’d recently left my corporate job at Boots where I’d been looking after the vitamins, supplements and complementary medicines category so I knew that some essential oils have antihistamine properties. Having just joined our family business (which makes specialist motion activated fragrances) I wondered if combining therapeutic essential oils with a long lasting, slow release micro-encapsulated delivery system could offer a solution. I got to work researching which oils had enough evidence to support their antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties and armed with a few test tubes, I put together a formulation made up of around a dozen different essential oils and tested it on Theo. It really seemed to help and over the past four years we’ve used that initial formulation to develop and test two products: A vapour oil which you drop onto a tissue and inhale, and a motion activated pillowcase which has millions of vapour filled capsules applied to the surface; the soothing therapeutic vapours are released as you sleep.
In 2016 consumer trials showed that 80 per cent of participants reported that their symptoms were eased and some also remarked that they slept better and their eyes were less puffy in the morning. A market test in 2018 produced some really great results and gave me the confidence to set up Breaze Health Ltd as a standalone company to develop and produce natural health and wellbeing products based on the therapeutic properties of essential oils. We launch for real in March 2019.
What makes your you/your product special and where are you based?
We are based in Grantham, Lincolnshire where we share premises with MicroCapture, our small family business which manufactures the Breaze range for us. We’re passionate about a more natural approach to managing common health concerns and we’ve got lots more ideas in the pipeline for Breaze. We’ve recently tested a sleep formulation with the University of Lincoln and plan to add Breaze Sleep to the range later this year. Products for stress and anxiety and memory are in development currently. From the outset we’ve worked hard to make sure Breaze has sound environmental credentials. Our pillowcases, although a disposable item are manufactured from natural viscose in a closed loop system; they are both biodegradable and compostable. Our essential oils come from renewable sources and we minimise the use of plastic packaging as much as possible.
How do you use social media to help promote your business?
Without social media we’d find it almost impossible to reach our customers. Being so small we don’t have big marketing and PR budgets so every penny we spend has to work extra hard for us. The beauty of social media is the ability to test an advert in real time to a highly targeted audience and know within hours whether it’s working or not. For a product like ours where recommendation is critical, Facebook is our go to channel. We know from research that our customers have a high propensity to recommend and during our market test in 2018, we attracted over 300 followers in just 6 weeks. We plan to build on that when we go live with the 2019 launch in March. Until recently I’ve been a Twitter laggard, and I confess I still struggle to work out how to be and stay relevant in this space but we can be found @BreazeHealth
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
Don’t bother trying to launch a new niche brand with traditional retailers. Coming from a retail background, when I began this journey I really believed that we would only be taken seriously if we were on sale in Boots, Superdrug, Holland & Barrett and all the others. I built my initial strategy on being in physical retail but it quickly became clear that we’d struggle to meet the margin expectations and marketing support, listing and promotional fees they require. We just weren’t big enough to play in that arena and none of the retailers had the appetite to nurture new brands. I wasn’t in a position to run at a loss just to get established in retail so I had to think again. I had an epiphany when speaking to my favourite former boss at Boots, Jayne Mayled. Jayne had been through a very similar experience trying to build her own specialist hair care brand, White Hot. She’d had launched in physical retail but had come to realise that social media, direct supply and pure play online beauty retailers were the most cost effective way to reach her niche market. That one conversation with her literally saved me years of work and probably tens of thousands of pounds.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Very unoriginal: time and lack of it! I remain heavily involved with our core business MicroCapture so trying to build Breaze whilst simultaneously managing and growing MicroCapture is a constant challenge. And that’s before I even get started on all the usual stuff of life – staying happily married, running the house, looking after the family, supporting ageing parents, walking the dog…. I needn’t continue!
How do you switch off?
I love horses and riding and I’m lucky enough to have my own horse. Just being around them in the field calms my spirit and I do my best thinking when I’m in the saddle.
Where do you go on holiday?
As a family we ski every winter, our favourite place is Bormio in the Italian Alps. I love short city breaks too. A couple of nights away helps me re-calibrate. I’m just back from Amsterdam with Mark, my husband and next on the list is Granada in Spain with my 16 year old daughter, Molly. Best ever holiday was a safari in Zambia and Malawi in 2016. We were in the middle of a national park the size of Wales with no running water, no mains electricity, no WiFi, surrounded by big game – I’ve never felt so alive.
What lesson do you wish you had learnt at school?
That it’s okay to fail. All my best lessons as an adult have come from falling on my face!
What app/website/twitter account (other than your own!) would you recommend?
Feelunique.com have revolutionised online beauty it’s pure genius the way they engage and reward their predominantly young shopper base.
@caitlinmoran on Twitter because she’s just so very right about just about everything
Where do you see yourself/your company in five years’ time?
I have a vision of Breaze as an established household brand. I’ll have stepped back leaving it in the care of fresher, younger hands and minds. I’ll be doing more riding too!