Janine Matchitt is clearly a minimalist. When you walk into her office/manufacturing laboratory, you know the bells and whistles are not what are important here. If anything, it is the exact opposite.
The room is sterile and clean, and tucked away in one corner is a desktop computer and a simplistic system where orders are taken by phone, email or online, and added to a bulldog clip pile of the day’s deliveries to pack.
Nothing here is over the top or added for embellishment. Janine speaks of her business Viola Organics the same way.
Viola Organics was one of New Zealand’s few Certified organic skin care ranges (2003 – 2021). Recently, the company celebrated its first international franchise agreement, which sees the expansion of the Viola brand into Canada. But the decision to create a franchise agreement offshore did not come easy, Janine says.
“When most businesses are working hard to grow their stockists, grow their ranges, add more to everything they do, I am very careful to ensure that expansion does not water down the work that we are doing here. I don’t want to grow rapidly and expand to a huge number of markets. For me, the franchise was about finding someone as passionate about the Viola formulations as we are, and not about mass-producing something of a sub-standard quality,” she says.
And Janine should know – the company was formed in 1986 by her mother Pamela after a cancer diagnosis resulted in an organic, clean lifestyle becoming more than just a way of life, but a way to ensure she was doing everything she could to heal her body.
Thankfully the cancer went away, but the business idea was well and truly formed.
Janine still has the original catalogue her mother would produce each season for her loyal customers – hand-typed and stapled with a faded blue cover. At that stage the catalogue included organic herbs and spices too, as in the late 80s sourcing organic products in Whangarei and throughout the North Island was a little hard to come by.
“I look at this catalogue that mum has created and the hours it must have taken her. Each product she created would be made only in small batches to retain purity and quality. Then she would fill jars with it, and for a finishing touch, glue a dried viola flower to the top of the lid. It really was quite sweet,” Janine recalls.
There were no online sales back then, so market [stalls] were the way to go. Popularity for the organic, natural products rose and soon the catalogue was being posted around the country for eager new customers. Fast forward to 2003, and Janine was looking for a new challenge after selling another small business she had built up to glory and sold at its prime.
“I was looking for a new challenge and mum was looking to retire, so it became a natural step that I would take over Viola,” she says. “I didn’t just get given it, though – there were many, many hours of training from mum. I had to make sure I could perfect the proven product formulations, and had to learn every step for every formulation before I was allowed the reins.”
Janine took over as managing director of the company and had a few ideas of what was needed to happen to bring it into the new age. Firstly, all records had been kept by hand, with not a computer in sight. “I had to load every file, every customer name, every database, and bring the business online. A website was created so we would make it easier for our customers who want to shop from the Internet, and I researched becoming Organic certified.”
The Organic certification process is stringent, with continuous audit processes part of the ongoing work with the organisation to ensure the company is worthy of using the title. Expansion has always been part of Janine’s plan since taking over the reins – however, not in the traditional format that many people might assume. Firstly, she swears her products will never be mass produced or sold through big name stockists, and she doesn’t like the idea of a factory or machines creating the products Viola has become known for.
“It sounds old-fashioned or antiquated but I will not apologise for that. Having someone make the formulations to license doesn’t sit well with me. I can’t check everything before it goes out”.
“It is about maintaining my ethical stance, and that comes from how Viola was created and founded in the first place. It was through a need for something that was natural, pure, healthy for the inside rather than just being a large company trying to sell as much as possible.” The new Canada operation shares the same thoughts.
“While I would not rule out more franchise agreements, it would have to be with the right person, in the right country.”