The founder of the Caci brand shares her thoughts on women in business and beauty
Her Caci brand is a global success story, but Kiwi Jackie Smith isn’t anywhere near done yet. She explains why budding businesswomen should ‘think big’, and why beauty is a feminist issue
It wouldn’t be a crazy assumption to think that the founder of New Zealand’s most recognised skincare and appearance medicine franchise might have been a beautician by trade, not a nurse-turned-IT project manager. But when it comes to the story behind Jackie Smith’s expansion of the Caci brand from its first clinic in 1994 to the 47 clinics open in New Zealand today – not to mention three in the UK – those unrelated career dots all join up.
Jackie, 57, trained as a nurse and worked in breast cancer research before going on her OE with husband, David. They lived in Jersey in the Channel Islands for nearly seven years, where they had their first child, James, and during that time Jackie worked in a business role in the IT industry. She says the people and process skills she learned from nursing came in very handy.
“I ended up working in the computer industry, managing a team of 20 computer engineers. It was like herding cats!”
At the time the hot concept in IT was
They became one of the first clinics in the world to offer laser hair removal
‘total quality management’. It was all about standards and customer focus; little did Jackie know how helpful it would be later on.
The couple came home to New Zealand in 1994 to start their own business, so they could have the lifestyle they wanted and some control over their destiny. They’d found a piece of technology called the CACI machine, a facial toning treatment that wasn’t available here, and started a clinic in Newmarket, Auckland.
Ironically, that technology was the seed, but didn’t end up being the core business at all. “Very quickly after we’d started the clinic in Newmarket other people came and said, ‘We want to do what you’re doing too.’”
They were all interested in the technology, so Jackie and David decided to build a franchise.
“But the facial toning treatment wasn't what led the charge for what we do now. It started us in this sector, but within 12 months we were into laser hair removal.”
Finding out about the technology was a chance discovery. “There’s a science and technology programme called Tomorrow’s World that was on British TV for years – it was all about future innovations. David was up late one night with Maddy, our then-baby daughter, watching it and saw how a professor in Wales had developed a laser for hair removal. Because we’d been involved in the industry, he instantly knew that was our future.”
The couple jumped on the opportunity, becoming one of the first commercial clinics in the world to offer laser hair removal. Being there right from the start gave the business a huge push. The change in technology had taken the whole industry by surprise, creating a new nonsurgical ground halfway between cosmetic surgery and beauty therapy.
That was when Jackie’s previous careers really came into play. “Both my nursing and business backgrounds became very useful. I was able to really dig into all the anatomy and physiology around hair growth, but also put together a training programme for the nurses in our clinics, so that right from the beginning, standards and the customer mattered. Technology is
important, but it’s not the whole thing. You have to deliver in a way that solves a problem for the customer – it’s not about the organisation and it’s not about the technology; it’s all about the customer.”
And hair removal has been one of their core products ever since, although recent years have seen a shift towards skin rejuvenation treatments. It’s ironic as Jackie says she was an ardent feminist in the 70s and went a whole year without shaving her legs or armpits.
“Sometimes I think we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t with beauty. We say it’s skin deep but it is hugely important to so many of us.
“The question is, do you fight that from a feminist perspective or do you go ‘What’s okay?’ and find a way to say ‘This is what women want, and it shouldn’t make them less valuable because it's something that’s important to them’. Why can’t women embrace looking good and still be valuable, thinking, intelligent beings? It’s a feminist issue. It’s really important to care about the way you look, yet we are told it’s trivial and vanity.
“I’ve come to learn over the years it’s all about what it means to that woman and it’s not for us to judge what that is. We think things like Botox and fillers are trivial, but you try being that woman who people always ask ‘Why are you frowning? Why are you cross?’ Getting those comments day after day, and then you get Botox and you don’t frown – it can make a huge difference. I don’t believe women have to do any of the stuff we offer – women have to do what’s right for them, and nobody should be judging that.”
TO NEW SHORES
The exponential growth of Caci to what it is now has taken more than 20 years for many reasons. The market is growing and Jackie and David have been working hard to make sure all the Is are dotted and Ts are crossed before expanding too rapidly. That’s why it’s taken seven years to be satisfied enough with the model to export, and in 2016 they made their first foray overseas. It’s something they’ve wanted to do for a long time, but had to find the right market. After considering
Being right there from the start gave the business a huge push
Australia, California, Canada, the UK and the Republic of Ireland, they settled on the UK.
“We chose the UK because we run on a nurse-led model – and that’s where healthcare is going – but it’s so much more advanced in the UK. We knew we were going into a really supportive environment where that part of our model was not going to be questioned.”
The decision to expand into this market has also been based on what Jackie believes wasn’t available in the UK yet.
“It’s very fragmented over there. There are big standards issues – we found that in all the markets we looked at. There are lots of individual operators, but not so many franchises.”
She says the biggest franchise in the UK has 40 clinics, less than Caci has in New Zealand. “They were also mainly talking to the elite and celebrity status of this market rather than serving real women.”
BIGGER AND BETTER
So what does a woman at the start of creating a global brand have to say to other Kiwi businesswomen? “It’s important to know it’s safer to dream big and aim well into the future,” says Jackie. “I’d love to see more women business owners think ‘where could I take this?’ That’s when you start solving bigger problems.”
She also thinks we need to change the narrative around women in business as there’s lots more support out there than before. “We have to stop saying it’s tough for women to be in business and look at the stories of women who are, and realise we can. Let's get rid of that idea and say ‘We can, and let’s do it and let’s look at some role models and examples to see what it takes.’”
The grand plan is to have 40 clinics in the UK by 2019 under their UK brand Skinsmiths and there’s no doubt Jackie and David will make this happen.
“Our ultimate goal is to build a recognised global brand, and take a bit of Kiwi to the world in the process.”
From top: Caci’s handbag-sized Ki sunscreen; celebrating Caci Napier’s 10th birthday; the clinic’s fleet of cars, the Caci ‘Smurfettes’.