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

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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.

THE BREAK­THROUGH

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’.

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