I love to share the stories of inspirational business women. Today I am sharing an interview with Rebecca Saunders who is the founder of Seekology. Seekology is a carefully curated website featuring remarkable beauty and wellbeing brands. By shopping at Seekology, you vote with your wallet: you choose to support creativity, independent business and entrepreneurship.
Tell us a little about your childhood and teenager years
I grew up in Bath and was always obsessed with little business ideas. As a child I wrote and edited a family newspaper – which I charged for, although every issue came with a free sweet – and created “museums” to showcase my holiday souvenirs (again, accessible to friends and family for a small fee). I also loved shopping; not just the act of buying things but also trying to understand why a retailer chose certain products and displayed them in a particular way.
And one of my earliest memories was a school trip to the local Sainsburys, where we got to put the jam into the doughnuts! So I think a career in retail was beckoning for a long time, although it took me a while to work that out.
What was your first job? What did you learn from this?
My first job was working on the Christmas decorations department at Jolly’s, the House of Fraser in Bath. I loved being part of a department store at Christmas time – it was always busy. Most of our customers were lovely, and I learnt the importance of building relationships with our regular customers, as well as treating everybody with kindness and respect, even for those that didn’t return the sentiment!
I learnt a lot about the practical aspects of retail, such as pricing, stock management and visual merchandising, and usually came away each day covered in glitter having touched so many Christmas products. I also realised how hard it can be at the “coal face” of retail, especially when you are on your feet all day and juggling a million things at once. I also learnt that I don’t really like Christmas music, having heard the same hour-long tape on repeat for weeks on end!
What led to you setting up your business?
After a brief career in the City, I realised that retail was my true passion and I spent many years working in corporate roles for retailers such as John Lewis and Argos in the UK and J.Crew and Tiffany in the US. Then, after a stint at notonthehighstreet, I realised that my true passion lay in working with smaller brands and helping them to grow their sales and reach new customers.
Having been the beauty buyer for John Lewis, I realised that customers in this category are often looking for inspiration and education, and many find traditional beauty halls quite intimidating. At the same time, there is a huge amount of innovation in beauty + wellbeing from entrepreneurs, and it’s not always easy for them to access traditional retail routes. Hence the idea for Seekology was born.
What are your services?
Seekology is a way to discover independent brands in beauty + wellbeing. Initially I had a store in Richmond in SW London, and 70 brands rotated through the space over a four month period. We held some really inspirational events covering everything from “how to set up a beauty brand” to “Veganuary” to guided meditation and I hired beauty experts who were passionate about telling the story of each brand to our customers.
Of course, everything has changed now and we have pivoted to a purely online platform. We still focus on the amazing stories of the brand founders we work with and we help them to sell to our customers. Our products range from organic skincare to leggings made from recycled plastic bottles, from plastic free solid shampoo to essential oil infused necklaces. It’s really exciting discovering new brands and being able to share them with a wider audience.
What makes your business special?
We are different to other retailers as we only stock independent, British brands. During these difficult times it makes a real difference to every one of our entrepreneurs each time someone places an order – customers can directly contribute to the success of a small business. So as well as buying innovative, unique products (perfect for gifts), customers can feel good about their purchases.
What tip would you give to someone who wants to set up a business but lacks self-belief?
“Fake it till you make it” – it took me a long time to realise that everyone is winging it to some extent. Of course, you can learn about your industry and business model before you start but nothing really beats jumping in and learning on the job. Everyone makes mistakes, so as long as you learn from them and move on that’s just part of the process.
How do you ensure you look after yourself properly? What do you do for self-care?
It’s definitely hard work looking after a business and two children – especially these days with no childcare! Different people need different things, but what is really important for me is time on my own to think. There’s always more to do on the business (or to tidy up the house) so putting the laptop away is key. What I find works best at the moment is going for a walk in the evening when it’s nice and peaceful outside, or having a bath with some luxurious products (from Seekology, of course).
Who supported you as you set up your business?
Friends and family, especially my husband. I’m also lucky to have a network of friends who have also set up their own businesses and it’s been invaluable to have them at the end of the phone to ask various questions and provide moral support.
What things would you like to see change about the position of women in society?
Where to start?! If I were to pick one thing it would be childcare. More choices, more flexible hours and additional subsidies would make a huge difference to the way both women and men could plan out their careers alongside family life. It’s hard to think of any good things about the current situation, but potentially a change in attitudes towards flexible working and/or working from home for all could be a lasting, positive shift.
If you could recommend ONE book to women what would it be and why?
I loved reading Jo Malone’s autobiography – she is such an inspirational entrepreneur and has bounced back from some really tough times along the way, through her childhood, difficult professional decisions and a recovery from cancer. I love working with entrepreneurs and she seems like one who has been hugely successful whilst remaining humble and grateful.
If you could recommend ONE website (to women, what would it be and why?
Apart from Seekology, you mean? I love reading amodelrecommends by Ruth Crilly – whilst Ruth is a beauty industry insider she also gives a very honest account of being a mother of two and juggling career amongst the family chaos!