The $35m idea that started in a home office
A COUPLE who used their garage as an office has turned a small idea into a $35 million empire.
Zina Richter and her husband Pynith Char started out in their humble home in Bella Vista in Sydney's northwest.
They both had an idea to create a hand cream that was not just for beauty purposes, but for people with medical issues, tradies, doctors and people who had hands-on jobs.
Mr Char was an accountant and Ms Richter worked in the nutrition department of a hospital, but they threw it all in to take a huge risk.
Ms Richter first got the idea for the skincare products after she saw patients in the dietetics department of the hospital where she worked.
A number of diabetics were suffering from skin conditions but there was nothing on the market they could buy from their local chemist.
"I saw a lot of patients who tried all products on the market and there was nothing available," she said.
Ms Richter and Mr Char have a long-time friend who is a formulator and could help them develop their creams from their garage.
The couple would give him a list of ingredients and he would create the product.
"It was a long, hard slog," Ms Richter said.
The DU'IT skincare products were established in 2001, and the couple began a long five-year journey of trying to get somebody to pay attention to their product.
Their parents and children helped them call retail stores and hospitals until finally they got their big break.
Their products were recognised, and pharmacies like Priceline and Chemist Warehouse began stocking it on a trial basis.
But the products sold well, so the pharmacies kept it on the shelves.
Major supermarkets like Woolworths also began stocking the brand, but never did the couple expect their business to take off even further.
Ms Richter told news.com.au they grew to create a larger company, Orbis Australasia, with the purpose of pushing their brands internationally. The company is now worth about $35 million.
The company focused their strategy, and looked at ways they could tap into a growing demand for skincare products in China.
"We started our growth in China a couple of years ago through Daigou, a community of (Australian based) shopping agents who buy things for Chinese mainland residents," Ms Richter said.
"Then a couple of years ago there was a really cold snap in China and more people started using our Tough Hands treatment hand cream and found it effective and it just went viral on WeChat, which is like a Chinese Facebook.
"That's how we became well known."
Ms Richter and her partner then set up their own shop on Alibaba's Tmall website, an online Chinese business to consumer store.
The couple have since moved out of their garage and built a warehouse and offices seven minutes down the road. In addition to China, they are now exporting their products to New Zealand, the US, Canada, the UK, Turkey, Kuwait, Barhain, South Korea and Brunei.
"Since we've got into the Chinese market we've grown somewhere between 300 and 500 per cent," Ms Richter said.
Their business isn't limited to the Alibaba store either. After being noticed online, physical stores started stocking the product, with online now only 12 to 15 per cent of the business they do in China.
"We always wanted to go into the Chinese market because we knew the potential. We want to establish ourselves as a trusted household name in China.
"Basically the Chinese love anything from Australia and New Zealand because of the quality. We have very strict standards in Australia and because of all the issues in China contaminated with baby formula contaminated in egg shells, they don't trust anything from China and are looking for products from Australia and New Zealand."
Ms Richter said her and her husband's life had completely changed since they gave up on their careers to follow their passion almost 20 years ago.
Her children have now joined the company which she said was rewarding to share the business with them.
"People say it was an overnight success but it took 18 years. There were a lot of times we thought we were going to throw in the towel but we just had the passion and when you are passionate about a product you want to see it work."