The coronavirus crisis has proved to be a huge challenge for local businesses. But some have found innovative ways to survive – and even thrive. A beauty and skincare firm in Acton encapsulates this spirit.
Pai Skincare was launched in 2007 by Sarah Brown and her husband Ed Saper. Sarah’s family is originally from New Zealand – the word ‘Pai’ meaning ‘goodness’ in Maori.
Washing our hands more regularly has become second nature for most of us. So, to help keep us all well stocked with essential soaps and sanitisers, the family business has been working overtime.
The beauty company moved to Acton in 2010 and has grown by more than 30% every year for 10 years. It now occupies a whole building, which incorporates their laboratory, production lines, marketing team and warehouse. This ‘vertical integration’ puts Pai in overall control of the A to Z of its business – which helped it when the COVID-19 crisis broke.
It produces a certified organic range of skin care products, which include natural ingredients such as CO2 Rosehip and Chamomile extracts.
But, during lockdown, Pai got to work to develop a hand sanitiser that was not harsh on the hands. It was named Acton Spirit and Pai donated thousands of units to key NHS and care home workers. Ed told us: “It was a challenge getting hold of some of the ingredients, like the alcohol; so, sometimes, we had up to 13 slightly different formulas with different packaging. But, because all parts of our business are integrated, we could control everything. Creating a new product would have been harder if we weren’t.”
The company has now launched a ‘Pai Labs’ brand which includes Acton Spirit, Soap Sud Island handwash, a nod to Acton’s wash house history; and Freebird, a moisturiser to repair hand skin after using sanitiser, developed especially with NHS and care workers in mind.
Ed said: “Normally it could take 18 months to bring a product to market, but we have done this with three new products in three months. And we are launching our entire two-year pipeline of products by April next year.”
While many of Pai’s 60 full-time staff are working from home, the company is bringing in new technology in the shape of ‘cobots’ – robotic arms on the production line.
“The cobots can operate six days a week and do many of the repetitive tasks such as screwing on lids,” said Ed. “They will help us with social distancing on our production lines. And they are not replacing staff but are an extra help.”
With a 25% increase in sales compared to the same time last year, the company is hiring more staff to help develop a bigger range of products. Pai is also helping schools across west London by donating supplies of hand sanitiser to them. Ed said: “We also donate to Beauty Banks, which give out creams and sanitisers to women who are moving into refuges and have had to leave home with nothing.”
Looking to the future Ed is positive, and he said: “We want to develop our Pai Labs brand with innovative and interesting products, we are experimenting with refill packaging and want to train and recruit more staff locally.”
Ed added: “Some skin conditions can affect people’s confidence. Our job is to help people look after and feel good about their skin.”
Pai sells its products online and direct to stores including Planet Organic and John Lewis in the UK, but 75% of its sales come from exports to France and USA, and it recently began to sell into Sephora in Australia.