Wolverhampton mum Maxine Laceby created a massively successful beauty business. In her own words, she tells us how she did it – while giving her skin a boost too…
As the chicken carcass and pigs feet bubbled away in a pan on the stove, my two teenage daughters Darcy, now 22, and Margot, now 19, wandered into the kitchen holding their noses, spotted the pan and rolled their eyes… ‘Another crazy idea, Mum?’
It couldn’t have been that mad, because I turned that broth into a multi-million pound business set to turnover £10m this year.
I have no degree, I’m dyslexic and have ADHD and I’ve never worked in business, but I did it.
My last job was when I was 25 working in sales. Then, since having my first daughter, I’d been a stay-at-home mum.
I cooked, cleaned, provided, mum taxi-ed, supported, you name it. Then when my kids went to university, I didn’t feel like they needed me any more.
I was 50 and I could do whatever I wanted. I’d divorced my husband 10 years earlier and was finally on my own.
I’ve always had a bit of a creative streak, so I enrolled in a Fine Art Degree. One of the first projects was exploring bare beauty so I had to strip myself free from make-up and hair products. It was then that I had an epiphany.
That was the first time I stepped into my own skin and I was surprised at how insecure and vulnerable I felt. I’d given so much to my family over the years, I’d lost myself in the process.
I’d lost all my self-confidence. And my diet was terrible. I’d snack all the time or skip meals and eat a packet of biscuits at the end of the day. I needed to nurture myself and that’s when I had started boiling up the broth.
It was a big health craze in America at the time – I’d read about people cooking up animal bones to improve their wellbeing. I’d get the chicken carcass or whatever roast we’d had that weekend and boil it up with 3 litres of water and let it simmer for six hours.
Afterwards, I’d have about 20floz/600ml of stock. Once it had cooled, it turned into a jelly-like mixture. I drank it every day and two weeks later, my bones stopped aching, my skin glowed, my hair went thicker and the whites of my eyes became brighter. That was my lightbulb moment.
My friends would see me and say, ‘What have you done to yourself? You look amazing!’. I knew I was on to something. They became my guinea pigs.
I remortgaged my house and took out £16,000 so I could self-fund turning my broth into a beauty supplement, as no bank would lend me the money. It was a risk I was prepared to take – if it all failed, we’d just have to move. I had a product that worked, I just needed to work out how to mass produce it, package it and sell it.
You can find anything on Google. I read clinical trials, research papers, looked at what competitors were doing – all from my kitchen table.
After some thorough research and speaking to a helpful scientist at Birmingham University and the Food Standards Agency, I decided to use a Type 1 marine collagen (it was more effective than the collagen from the bone broth) and create a ready-mixed, liquid formula I could sell in sachets.
After getting the formula right, I had to source ingredients, find someone to blend them, then organise microbiology testing and sachet packaging… it was endless. And I wanted to sell it direct – I wasn’t having a retailer take a 60% cut!
I had problems along the way. I had to throw away the first batch because I hadn’t sorted out the marketing properly so it didn’t sell. I had to remortgage again and release more money for another batch and then find a digital marketing agency so I could reach the customers through social media.
Over the first nine months, I remortgaged to raise a total of £249,000 of my own money. There was a five-month period where all I was doing was shelling out money.
But I had faith and I think we went from turning over £3k one month, to £7k, to £9k…£12k… £18k. In the first year, we turned over just short of half a million.
I didn’t know how to switch a computer on until I was 50. I don’t do spreadsheets – the figures are all in my head. Everything I know is what I’ve learned from being a mother.
I’m always telling women, ‘You are undoubtedly more capable than you think you are’. A man will go for a job and will say he can do 80%, a woman will say there’s 20% she can’t do.
Lockdown has been a hard time for businesses, but we’ve been so lucky, people have still been buying our products. Maybe because they couldn’t get their usual beauty fixes!
We even launched a new product during lockdown – a collagen-boosting, anti-ageing serum called Maxerum – and sold over 5,000 in the first 14 days. It’s been brilliant.
I’m always trying to be the best version of myself. I’m 53 and I’m 2.5 stone heavier than I’ve ever been, I’ve got short grey hair and I’m happy in my skin… The best moment in my life was when I allowed myself to be myself.
I’m making a lot of money, but I don’t feel any different. You won’t catch me dripping in diamonds or getting into my limo! My life is beautifully uneventful. I fall asleep on the sofa watching TV and I’m up early to start work. I really wouldn’t ask for it any other way…
● If you believe in your idea, then go for it.
But if you’re putting time and money in, and it’s not working, you need to rethink. It happened with my first business idea. I went to China to see a manufacturer to make popper band bracelets for kids. I faffed around and missed the boat. But I learned a lot about trade marketing along the way so I didn’t completely lose out. It was like a rehearsal.
● Don’t cut corners.
Your morals and principles will definitely come through your brand. I like to do things properly. I pay VAT, I pay tax and I’m proud to contribute to the UK economy. I’m teaching my children the same practice. I tell them, ‘When your heads touch the pillow at night, you need to know you’ve done the right thing.’
● If someone is not listening to you, talk to someone else.
I was told I was a ‘nobody in the beauty industry’ and banks didn’t want to hear my business plan. You have to prove yourself and the business to get people interested. In the meantime, keep on knocking until a door opens.
– Absolute Collagen costs £26.99 for a box of 14 daily sachets when bought as a subscription, or £32.99 for non-subscribers. CLICK HERE for information.