From broccoli shots to prickly pear seed oil, when it comes to the best health and beauty must-haves few are more qualified to comment than Gill Sinclair. The co-founder of online retailer Victoria Health probably knew about them first. In fact, she probably launched them.
Sinclair and business partner and pharmacist Shabir Daya have made it their business to source cutting-edge beauty and wellness products and bring them direct to consumers ahead of the curve via their illustrious Victoria Health website.
They are responsible for launching what became some of the industry’s most well-known brands, including The Ordinary for the late Brandon Truaxe of DECIEM, Lanolips for Kirsten Carriol, Color Wow for John Frieda and Gail Federici and Fitflops for Marcia Kilgore.
Sinclair, who comes from a corporate property background, says: “Long before the advent of Victoria Health, I would always seek niche products whenever I was travelling. It was hugely satisfying to discover the next big thing. Essentially, this is how we operate today. It’s all about the zeitgeist.”
Established more than 20 years ago as one of the first e-commerce health and beauty sites, Victoria Health has unsurprisingly seen an increase in traffic since the start of Covid-19.
Long before the advent of Victoria Health, I would always seek niche products whenever I was travelling. It was hugely satisfying to discover the next big thing. Essentially, this is how we operate today. It’s all about the zeitgeist
“There was a very noticeable hike at the beginning of the pandemic from people seeking advice and help,” says Sinclair.
And as the UK enters another set of new lockdown restrictions, she says: “I think one of the most apparent aspects of living in the ‘now’ is that none of us can plan anything. I have written so many times over the years on our newsletters that I have never created a business plan for VH, mostly because I don’t really look at us as a business, more of a happening. Life can change in a heartbeat; we have all witnessed that this year.
I don’t really look at us as a business, more of a happening. Life can change in a heartbeat; we have all witnessed that this year.
“During lockdown, we will carry on working on our website refresh due to go live later this month.”
The platform already has a huge online following – new users are increasing daily – with around 6,000 products live on the site and
a weekly newsletter reaching more than 350,000 devotees. Among the company’s fans is Nigella Lawson.
Health accounts for over 60 percent of the business; this jumped to nearer 80 percent during the early part of the pandemic. Sinclair says: “I think we provide a trusted resource and our customers know we would never play on their potential vulnerability. We have been equally transparent as we are not suggesting by taking certain supplements it will protect you from contracting or curing you from Covid-19.
“What we are offering is giving you knowledge and a source for supplements to give your body an opportunity to be in optimal health and providing the best immunity protection for other seasonal infections.”
Sales of vitamin D, vitamin C and zinc have all risen during the crisis. “The importance of vitamin D3 has been a hot topic. It continues to receive intense media coverage. Better You created the world’s first intra-oral vitamin D spray, and there is no doubt in my mind that it is best-in-class. It is a product we launched with Better You more than 10 years ago. We campaigned for the importance of recognising vitamin D deficiencies, which has recently come to the fore in a significant way over the past few months.”
I think we provide a trusted resource and our customers know we would never play on their potential vulnerability. We have been equally transparent as we are not suggesting by taking certain supplements it will protect you from contracting or curing you from Covid-19
Victoria Health hand sanitiser sales were up 5,000 percent during March and the closure of all non-essential businesses, including hairdressers and nail bars that month, sparked a surge in people buying at-home beauty products.
“There were many trends to note, including nail files, foot files, buffers, the super Tweezy hair removal tool, castor oil and hair dye. The Super Buffer had an increase of 8,000 percent versus last year alone.”
Will the behavioural changes of DIY beauty care stick beyond the pandemic? “It’s too early to tell, but beauty is a multi-billion pound industry and my hope would be that we still have the treatments that matter to us. It is important we continue to support the businesses who have suffered such tremendous loss. Certain things are sacrosanct.”
Sinclair does believe the importance placed on protecting our immunity system will be ongoing, “together with a wider acceptance that supplementation really matters, such as the daily intake of probiotics”.
When Sinclair and Daya teamed up, she was the UK distributor of Australian Bush Flower Essences, while Daya had several Victoria Health stores. “I placed the products in his stores.” Together, they decided to launch an online element to Daya’s existing business.
“It wasn’t difficult but that was because the internet was not what is today. Our initial site remained static for months on end with just four products shown at the bottom of our home page. It was so archaic and I laugh whenever I think about it.
“Ecommerce was in its infancy so in a sense we took a leap of faith, trusted our intuition and went for it,” recalls Sinclair.
“There were no rules and I have always believed naivety in business plays a huge role. If I knew then what I know now, I’m not sure I would ever have done it.”
The past few months have been particularly challenging. “The pandemic has affected all businesses and there are several key factors that remain unresolved. We believe it will take some time for many manufacturers to address these issues.
“They range from raw ingredient and packaging shortages and production difficulties. These delays result in products being on ‘pre-order’ status and customers waiting a little longer than normal.”
An ongoing challenge is managing wait lists. “Wait lists are very real and very stressful.”
She notes a few “product famines” over the years. “Managing them can be monumental, but we did it and the prickly pear seed oil wait list went from August to November.”
Other popular products include ionicell, fulvic acid elixir, hyaluronic acid capsules high strength and neurophroline, which has been clinically shown to take the stress out of skin, reducing inflammation. “Inflammation is a main cause of ageing and it is an addiction I will not give up!”
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