Indie Corner: NEOM Organics

With wellbeing on the forefront of people's minds now more than ever thanks to Covid-19, NEOM Organics co-founder Oliver Mennell sits down with us to discuss creating the business and the importance of believing in your brand.

Oliver Mennell sits down
Pictured: Oliver Mennell.

The idea for NEOM Organics was initially formed when Nicola Elliott, then entertainment editor at Glamour Magazine, was searching for ways to help support her wellbeing within her fast-paced and stressful lifestyle.

In 2005 Elliot and Oliver Mennell teamed up and combined their initials to create NEOM.

Mennell told Retail Gazette that Elliot had been blending products for family and friends for some time, using natural ingredients to support their wellbeing in the areas they needed it most.

This was when the pair realised that there was a genuine gap in the market for natural, functional products that supported customers’ wellbeing in this way.

Initially, NEOM launched with a focus on improving people’s wellbeing through products including candles and home fragrances. Since then, the brand has successfully expanded into new categories including bath, body and skincare, taking a 360 degree approach to enhancing wellbeing.

“In terms of previous experience, neither of us had founded companies before,” said Mennell.

“I worked in private equity and Nic was a journalist. We were both in our early 20s when we founded NEOM. The seed money for starting the business came from Nic selling her car and some savings I won on a Chris Evans game show!”

When asked why it was so important for the company to use organic, naturally-derived ingredients in all the products, Mendell explained that is NEOM’s USP.

“We incorporate the purest possible aromatherapy blends which are rigorously tested and put through consumer trials to really make a difference to our customers’ wellbeing,” he added.

“This is non-negotiable for us, and forms the foundation of every product we create.

“We were well ahead of our time with the concept of a natural wellbeing brand in a market that was, and to a large extent still is, otherwise dominated by synthetic formulas and fragrances.”

“There’s no-one like us in the UK or our other target markets”

He explained that other brands can find it hard to switch to natural when fragrances have been 100% synthetic, because they cannot get close to the smells and textures their customers are accustomed to.

“We are a disruptive brand – our innovative products are often industry firsts, a reflection of the significant investment we make each year into new product development.

“We harness the power of aromatherapy and functional ingredients to maximise efficacy and best support our customers’ lifestyles. We are a digital-first business, on a mission to supercharge wellbeing.”

With so many wellness brands on the market, all catering to help people redress their own personal balance, Mennell believes “there’s no-one like us in the UK or our other target markets including the US; that’s what makes us special.”

“We incorporate the purest aromatherapeutic ingredients, to really make a difference to our customers’ wellbeing while also being able to create fragrances and products which truly look, feel and smell amazing,” he said.

“Our fragrances are 100% natural and where possible our ingredients are natural and organic too.”

Mennell also stated that, most importantly, the business is on a mission that is greater than the products alone.

“We want to help people improve their wellbeing over the longer term, building small manageable steps into their routines every day,” he explained.

Alongside this, NEOM is now B Corp pending and is venturing on the journey to become climate positive and zero waste by 2025 because, “being carbon neutral simply isn’t enough.”

Like most businesses, NEOM wasn’t an overnight success. Mennell explained that the main challenge in the early days of building the business centred around the fact that the wellbeing market was in its infancy.

“Wellbeing does not fit into a neat box, and we had to educate the market and consumers on why it’s important to look after their wellbeing, breaking it down into small manageable steps, and take a cross-category approach to provide a more holistic view to people,” he told Retail Gazette.

“It’s difficult to imagine it now, but consumers’ understanding of wellbeing has grown exponentially over the past decade, or even the past five years. We’re proud to have played our part in that.”

NEOM Organics is a wellbeing winner as sales shoot up 84% in a year

Alongside the challenges that being in the wellbeing market posed, Mennell explained that start-ups often give away large chunks of their business when looking for cash injections.

“Having a small amount of start-up capital, ideally from savings, means you have to be very resourceful and creative and make your money go a long way,” he added.

“In the early days Nic and I did every job ourselves, which was hard but made us really learn our business and what makes it tick. With very little money we got a website launched, the products made and we attended a B2B trade fair and built from there. By the time we raised money the business was a decent size so we didn’t have to give up much equity.”

Since launching, there have been countless standout moments from NEOM. In 2017, Piper private equity took a minority stake in the business.

“This was huge for Nic and I, as it showed their clear support and investment in our story and helped us in delivering rapid growth over recent years, driven by our digital and D2C channels.”

Mennell said that despite having run the business for over a decade, every new product launch or range is still a big deal.

“Every new product launch or range is a big moment for us”

“We take our time and fully invest to make sure it is exactly right and what our customers need and are looking for.”

Launching in the US last year was another key moment. The business now operates there through partnerships with Nordstrom and Amazon Beauty Prestige.

“We are now looking to other key international markets, namely Europe and Asia, as well as continuing our growth expansion ambitions in the US,” explained Mennell.

With an impressive sales record since launching, Mennell said that the secret to success is a combination of factors, from the products themselves, right down to customer service.

“We are really proud of the community first approach we take at NEOM, which is all about helping customers take small steps to better wellbeing. We do a lot, and share a lot of free content, tools and interactive sessions to enhance our proposition,” he added.

“It all comes from a place of wanting to supercharge people’s wellbeing as a whole; we place huge value on the privileged position we’re in to support people on this journey.”

As 2022 approaches, there are a lot of exciting new projects in the pipeline.

“We will continue to grow the business in line with our long-term strategy, both in the UK and our target markets,” he revealed. “China is next on our list for international expansion.”

NEOM expects to launch there in 2022, following a period of testing which is currently taking place.

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