Joanna Jensen is the founder and executive chairman of the UK’s number one baby and children’s toiletry brand, Childs Farm.
The story behind the brand’s inception was a perfect storm of circumstance, chance and determination. Jensen suffered from sensitive skin as a child. However, after the birth of her second child, Bella she discovered Bella was allergic to everything. She tried all the products that were available on the market, but nothing was suitable, and Bella often had very sore, red raw skin.
“Out of desperation I started creating homemade products,” said Jensen. “Luckily, I had a bit of homeopathic knowledge from my childhood – so had some sense of what natural products would blend and what would be efficacious.”
While it was never her intention to create a range or, indeed a business, Jensen quickly became aware that her products worked; in fact, they worked so well, she was sure that they could help hundreds, if not thousands of people. So, seeing a gap in the market and determined to help others, she teamed up with the best people in class who helped her to manufacture and package what became Childs Farm. Over the last 9 years, the business has continued to bloom and grow apace, both in the UK, Australia, Europe, The Middle East, Asia & China.
Yet this seemingly runaway success story has been far from a walk in the park. The inception of Childs Farm coincided with the 2008 financial downturn. Jensen’s husband found himself redundant from his job in the City, and so she had to think of creative ways to earn money. Some of her ventures included turning her home into an upmarket B&B and a wedding venue – even moving her children out of their bedrooms during the weekends to offer to guests. Jensen said: “While I look back and recognise that we had a lot of fun, working together and creating our wedding venue and B&B, there was were a fair amount of sleepless nights and Pot Noodle dinners. Nothing was easy and sometimes we felt we were on an uphill struggle. I had the battle of providing for the family, while getting a business – that I had one hundred percent faith in – off the ground; while simultaneously managing the day to day family commitments and bringing up my young children.”
Joanna’s energy to make money for her family and to make a success of her business never wavered. Once Childs Farm had the right formula, the right branding, the right fragrances and its iconic bright, fun packaging – her determination continued to drive the brand forward.
She remembers: “As we lived in the country, I would attend my rural shows, to sell the products directly to the public. When I did get a listing in a shop – usually an independent retailer – I would physically drive boxes of product to their premises, often covering hundreds of miles a day to deliver them by hand.”
Childs Farm’s first national retail listing came in 2014 with Boots, and since then it’s never looked back. Today, Childs Farm is the UK’s number 1 baby and child toiletry brand with so many awards and accolades, her rural based HQ near Basingstoke is struggling to find the space to proudly display them.
Jensen comments: “We are tremendously proud of our number 1 status. The category is dominated by global pharmaceuticals, so it’s a real achievement in such a short space of time.”
So, what advice does she have for retailers and suppliers struggling in the current crisis?
“It’s critical that retailers don’t try to pass on their increased cost base to suppliers. It seems to me that while some are being incredibly flexible and supportive, some are not. I’ve observed how some retailers are unrealistically and unfairly increasing the costs of POS in store. Any increased and unnecessary costs will ultimately be passed onto consumers, so effectively it’s a case of shooting themselves – and us – in the foot.
Retailers must adopt and adapt rapidly to changing shopping behaviours; they simply cannot expect suppliers to compensate as it’s neither fair nor sustainable. We’re all in this together and need to be agile and reskin our business models accordingly. At Childs Farm Covid-19 has impacted on some of our manufacturers. For example, there’s been a scarcity of some of our packaging components which has meant the costs have escalated. We’ve had to absorb that cost into our business and will not pass it onto our customers. If retailers can’t reframe their model, then they shouldn’t penalise supply partners as it’s a lose-lose scenario. We must adhere to and improve on GSCOP – to protect all our market positions.”
As well as re-thinking and refining her business plans root and branch, Jensen has also managed to create six new lines for Childs Farm, three of which have gone in store since Covid-19 hit the UK shores; the rest will launch in July and August. She’s also highly critical of big brands across all sectors who are overly leaning in on Government to help them through these challenging times.
“There are a lot of entrepreneurs and big businesses out there who’ve made hundreds of millions of pounds, in some cases over a billion, when times were good. They need to be prepared to give something back rather than rely on – ultimately – the taxpayer to dig them out of this challenging hole. My main concern is that if they overly rely on the Government to dig them out, we won’t be able to properly look after the people who need help from the state the most – the really vulnerable people in society. We’re already in recession which is pushing more and more people into poverty. We need to make these people are our top priority. In business, it’s also essential that we try to keep the life blood of the UK economy – SMEs – alive. They form 97% of our overall GDP. And, at the end of the day, we must remember that this is a moment in time. It’s tough. But the world of retail will recover; just not necessarily in the same shape and style as pre-Covid.”