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Real mum profile: Catherine de Groot, www.trilogyproducts.com

trilogy products business women business mums
Sisters Catherine and Sarah have turned their small investments into a profitable and global business

Catherine de Groot, is mother of one (with another child on the way), previously a journalist, a live-in helper for royalty and a chalet chef, co-founded Trilogy (www.trilogyproducts.com) with her sister Sarah Gibbs back in 2002.

Catherine grew up in New Zealand and Australia with her sister Sarah. They had always been great friends but after school their careers took them on different paths and to opposite sides of the world. Catherine worked for many years as a beauty journalist and was the owner of two successful retail ventures before founding Trilogy with Sarah in 2002.

The Trilogy story began with a discovery. Catherine’s sister Sarah started a company manufacturing ingredients from plants for the natural supplement and cosmetic industries and it was at this time she discovered the skin-loving benefits of Rosehip oil.

Sarah gave Catherine a sample of the Rosehip oil to see what she thought. Catherine describes how Rosehip oil was like nothing they’d ever tried before – a pure, natural, un-fragranced oil which absorbed effortlessly into the skin leaving none of the greasy feel one expected from oil, only soft, smooth skin. After several months of trials and research into the science behind it, they were hooked. Catherine knew they had a wonderful ingredient and a niche market in need of a contemporary makeover. Trilogy was born.

With a tiny launch budget, Catherine optimistically figured that they could just cover the cost of their first production run and its packaging. Sarah and Catherine divvied up the jobs; Catherine would put her efforts into product development and branding and Sarah finance, sales and marketing. The first year was an absolute rollercoaster for both sisters. They paid themselves a pittance but by the end of it their first range of products had rolled off the production line, several hundred stores were stocking their range, they’d made a profit and had great fun working together.

Now the company’s product range of 40 products is sold in more than 3,500 stores and retail channels throughout Australasia, Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, the United Kingdom Ireland, United States and Trilogy is recognised as one of the pioneers of the natural and organic skincare category. Trilogy products have been celebrated in the world’s most prestigious beauty magazines and journals around the world including Green Beauty Bible, Elle, Marie Claire, Tatler, Vogue and Womans Wear Daily.

Catherine shares some of her experiences with www.motherswhowork.co.uk.

What work did you do before you set up your company?

I worked in a myriad of differing roles. I studied journalism in New Zealand and then worked as a magazine journalist and food and fashion editor before taking off overseas for a couple of years in Europe.

I worked as a live-in help for Prince and Princess Michael of Kent at their beautiful country residence in Gloucestershire and as a chalet chef in the French restore of Avoriaz before returning home. Once back in New Zealand I resumed my career as a food writer, opened a café, and then a design store, before joining my sister Sarah Gibbs to create Trilogy.

How did you fund the business?

We funded the business ourselves with NZ$25,000 (about £11,600) to cover our first production run, design, packaging and launch of the products in Australasia. It’s fair to say we didn’t pay ourselves much for the first couple of years, preferring to put everything back into the business to fund growth.

How much profit did you make in first year?

We were profitable in our first year and have continued to grow rapidly since. We have been featured in the Deliotte list of New Zealand’s fasted growing companies for three years running.

What was the motivating factor for staring your own business?

Both our parents are entrepreneurial and we grew up observing this style of working. I guess our parents encourage us to believe that we could do anything if we set goals and set our mind to it and were prepared to preserve through a little risk.

What do you enjoy most about running your own business?

Seeing an idea grow and mature with its own legs. Sarah recently sat down in a restaurant next to a table of women out for lunch together. One of them pulled a jar of Trilogy Vital Moisturising Cream out of her handbag and proceeded to give a glowing review of it’s performance to all her friends. Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool and it makes us proud to know that the products are performing so well that women feel motivated to share the products with their peers.

Running a business can be a mixed bag sometimes. What have been you highs and lows so far?

Yes – it’s a rollercoaster ride. The best part is the reward you get when you see the products well received by customers, staff and the media. There are very few lows. We always try to see the positives and the opportunities in situations that at first appear o be negatives and find that if you live by the rule of treating others as you would like to be treated yourself then business life is good.

How have you managed to stay on top of your career with the demands of motherhood while running a business?

The early days were hard owing to the usual affects of sleep deprivation but as soon as Johanna started sleeping right through the night I found my focus again.

I do believe my productivity levels have increased since having Johanna as I need to fit more into my part time working week. I have the greatest respect for working mothers, our National Sales Manager juggles her full time career with raising three children and I now have a deeper understanding of just how challenging that is for her and that has influenced our management style at Trilogy.

How has running your business impacted on your relationship with your partner and children?

I’m incredibly lucky to have a husband who is fully involved in every aspect of our baby’s life. My father once even rather cheekily suggested that Marco was a better mother than I was!

My husband looks after Johanna two days a week and we have an amazing nanny for another two days. This means that I have complete flexibility around work and can jump on a plane at an hours notice if required. I’m also blessed to have my parents nearby. I love the contrast between work and home and the fact that during the course of one day I could be at lunch with the media, in the laboratory or attending a board meeting and rolling around on the nursery floor with my daughter singing row row row your boat!

Any tips for expectant mums, or mothers who feel that you can’t have a successful career and a happy family life at the same time?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but what works best for me is an attitude of thankfulness. I firmly believe that it’s not what you’ve achieved in your life or what you are aiming to achieve but what you have Right Now that matters. I find that if I live feeling grateful for everything I have in my life, especially my friends and family and the very fact that I have the opportunity to work, happiness is never far away.

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