Thu | Jul 2, 2020

Mira Botanicals scaling up amid COVID-19 downturn

Published:Wednesday | April 8, 2020 | 12:05 AMHuntley Medley/Senior Business Writer
Helen daCosta, founder and owner of Mira Botanicals.
Helen daCosta, founder and owner of Mira Botanicals.

Business is down 80 per cent for microbusiness Mira Botanicals, but owner Helen daCosta hopes to stick to her timeline of scaling up the venture, and placing her all-natural body care products in shops and pharmacies across the country before the year is out.

The entrepreneur is heading to a financial institution to secure funding for the expansion, hopeful, she says, that the current emphasis on assisting micro and small enterprises against the background of the devastation of businesses by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the venture’s business plan, will help to seal a financing deal.

“There is hope for us yet,” said daCosta, sounding an optimistic note in a telephone interview with the Financial Gleaner.

The venture has been so far funded out of pocket in the amount of close to half a million dollars, but continued self-financing is increasingly difficult with the downturn, she says. Profit margins have been small due, daCosta said, to a deliberate strategy to keep prices low to break into the market and remain competitive - something that was possible because of low overheads in the labour-intensive business.

The businesswoman is now banking, too, on being able to quickly build back the business’ client base as she strengthens digital marketing and deliveries.

“I encourage Jamaicans at this time, while keeping themselves and their families safe, to also think about the small businesses that are hurting and where possible, to continue to support small businesses of all types,” she said.

Two years ago, daCosta experimented with making her own body oils and soaps from natural herbs because she didn’t like the idea of using on her skin products with names she did not know and could not pronounce.

By her account, the home-made products smelled so good, persons started asking her where she bought her perfumes. She then made larger batches of the soaps and oils, not just to meet her personal needs, but also to fill the orders from relatives and friends that soon began rolling in.

Experimentation, research and help from a chemist friend served to perfect the formulations. Today, Mira Botanicals, a sole trader micro business registered and known by her middle name, is an important, though not her only source of income. daCosta, who holds a first degree in hotel and tourism management and a master’s degree in entrepreneurship, also does events and projects management.

Mira Botanicals’ first commercial product was a lemon grass and coconut oil body oil, followed by a lavender-based body oil recommended for relaxation. The company now markets a range comprising four body oils, four body scrubs and a line of local and imported natural body soaps.

The St Andrew home-based business has relied on word-of-mouth marketing, pop-up shows, as well as Facebook and Instagram to drum up sales.

Mira has moved to online interaction and commerce, made necessary by social-distancing protocols as Jamaica and other countries tackles the coronavirus crisis, with daCosta noting that she misses the personal interaction with customers at pop-up shows and events. A business website is said to be in the making and is expected to be up and running within a matter of weeks.

A small loyal clientele has been keeping the till turning over for Mira Botanicals since the COVID-19 pandemic.

DaCosta is optimistic that persons with skin irritations and disorders and consumers, who prefer natural skincare products over ones with chemicals and other ingredients they don’t know, will continue to seek out all-natural herb-based ones despite the exigencies of the times. But she accepts that orders from clients in Mira’s main overseas markets of the United States, Canada and The Bahamas will continue to be dampened while the current health emergency continues.

Women are the main purchasers of Mira Botanicals’ products, but daCosta had been seeing a growing number of male buyers, particularly for the natural line of soaps, including one designed specifically as an underarm scrub to remove deodorant build-up.

Mira Botanicals has seen an opportunity open up for adding hand sanitisers made from aloe vera to the product line-up, but the effort has so far been hampered by a shortage of alcohol in sufficient quantity to begin production.

Going forward, the small-scale entrepreneur is keeping an eye on the cost of raw materials, including the supply of bottles, which are imported as a result of what she describes as an unreliable local supply. She is hopeful that local suppliers of other input, including castor oil and herbs, will be able to keep the supply chain going despite the limitation on movement in the country at this time.