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Three-generation success 

Marion Witz

Co-founder and President of Elizabeth Grant International Inc., Toronto

 

Three generations of women - Elizabeth, 91, Marion, 61, and Margot, 29 - run Elizabeth Grant International, a manufacturer of luxury skin-care products with annual revenue of between $15 million and $25 million. The privately held company started selling its skincare products on the Shopping Channel in 1998 and now markets its products on similar channels around the globe. Almost three-quarters of sales are in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia and Asia.

When Elizabeth and I started working together as mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, everyone asked, "How can you work with your mother-in-law?" But it wasn't like a mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship anymore. I was able to look at Elizabeth as a business partner and learn so much from her. She's been a mentor to me, and my best friend. She's been able to look to me to fill in areas she couldn't do. We respected each other, and when Margot came in, I really worked hard to do exactly the same. We're three generations of women with about 30 years between each of us. Those three generations are the strength of the company. We're constantly learning from each other.

 

When families work together, the biggest challenge is always that families take each other for granted. You need to sit back and look at each person as a player in the company, rather than family. When you can do that, you give them respect and allow them to grow to their full potential.

 

We went with the Shopping Channel because Elizabeth used to watch it every single day.

When the Shopping Channel went live, we thought it would be the right place to sell our product. It was the best thing we ever did. One of the key things is that shopping channels offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. That's important, because you can't actually touch the products. When we first went on, our initial order was for 300 units. We had five half-hours to sell them, and we sold out after four. That was the most exciting thing we had ever done. At that stage, we were having it manufactured in small batches, but within two years, we opened up our own factory and started manufacturing the products ourselves.

 

Because we have our own manufacturing and lab, we're able to adjust the products to what women want in different countries. Our biggest account is Germany, and we had to really learn what the German customer wanted. At first, we thought we could just transport what we do here to there - but that doesn't work. We had to find out what they wanted the product to look like and what consistency they wanted in a cream.

 

Our strategy has always been to start small, introducing and growing the brand globally through shopping channels. I've been looking at retail, but it's a whole new division, and I feel I don't have enough knowledge about it yet - plus, it would involve a huge capital injection. Recognizing that, I looked for the next new markets where we could really expand safely. We're going to use QVC [a multinational corporation specializing in televised home shopping] to take us into China and France. For me, it's replicating what I'm doing, but being aware that different countries want different things. So we'll be adapting to their needs.

 

We're taking a different approach for Korea, partnering with a local company to introduce the products - because we don't really know or understand the market there yet. Because we're successful, we're inundated with people asking to be our distributor in a particular country. The most important thing is to research the companies that contact us. I ask about their business plan, who they're affiliated with, and what success they've had with others brands. It's better not to pretend you know everything. When you want to expand globally, look for a good, solid local distributor.

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