Tori: Hi Leanne! Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?
Leanne: Sure! My name is Leanne Haning and I'm the co-founder and creative director of Urban Rituelle. I started the business 22 years ago with my partner, Scott. I’m really passionate about health & wellness, as well as the environment and travel. I’m definitely a family [oriented] person and love adventure.
T: If you could describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be and why?
L: I'm creative because I love to make and create everything, from marketing to content. I'm determined because I just always want to get stuff done! I’d also describe myself as authentic as I'm very honest.
T: Were there specific places you travelled to that inspired your products?
L: [My husband] Scott and I met in Turkey, and we traveled a lot through Southeast Asia, India and the middle east. Rituals are very strong in those places, both religious and cultural, so I started to think about the idea of rituals and the role they perform in our everyday lives. That’s where we had a think of the really simple things that make your everyday rituals special. We started off with the idea of having nice soaps in the shower, and then it took off from there. We started selling Urban Rituelle at Sydney markets and the rest is history!
T: Your product offering started with just soaps and everyday basics. How did you expand your product range from there?
L: It really came from listening to our customers. In the beginning we trialled lots of different products alongside the soap, however [the soap] is what our customers really loved and kept them coming back to our store. Our customers would then ask us if we could make other things, like candles, hand creams and body lotions.They would also give us feedback like requesting a gift line and packaging updates, so it was really just about gathering information about what they wanted and listening.
T: Who is responsible for innovation within your business?
L: It’s definitely a combination of listening to our customers and working closely with our customer care team. The team is always telling us what our customers are looking for.
T: What are some of your biggest learnings throughout the last 22 years of business?
L: The biggest lesson I've learned is to surround yourself with people that know more than you. I love going to those experts whether it be a digital marketing expert or an accounting expert, and just bounce ideas off each other. We’re lucky to have this support network where we can freely share information and knowledge. Another one is being brave enough to make the tough decisions sometimes. It’s something that I've found hard to learn and it's not easy, but sometimes you just have to be brave enough to make the tough calls that you know are the right decisions for the business.
T: Would you ever consider manufacturing your products offshore to save costs or speed up production timelines?
L: Simple answer? No. Being Australian-made has been integral to our brand from the very beginning. In 1995, [Scott and i] were bringing beads from India and cushions from Thailand into Australia and it was exciting, however it was when we discovered more Australian products that we thought, ‘hold on, this is what we want to do!’ Ever since then, we've been super passionate about our products being manufactured in Australia. Scott is also really passionate about manufacturing, so he's investing in new ways to improve that [process] all the time. We’ve also employed a local team in our manufacturing and production facility in Sydney. Finally, the quality of the ingredients that we have here is second to none.
T: How and why did you decide that sustainability was going to be a key component in your business?
L: We’ve been in business for over 20 years and obviously a lot's happened in the world during that time. In the 1990’s [when we founded Urban Rituelle], pollution wasn’t as big of a problem as it is today. However, back then I was wondering what my impact and my product’s impact was on the world. I questioned how I could solve this problem or at least make a difference, using my own expertise. However, I’m not a scientist or a researcher, I make bath and body products! I thought I could make a difference in that area, and like-minded people who were also interested [in sustainability] would relate to our brand.
T: How much do costs impact your decision to make a product and its packaging more sustainable?
L: When discussing product development [and the costs associated with sustainable options] I just say it’s the way it has to be. If it costs more [for a sustainable option] then that's what we have to do, there simply is no other option. The biggest [problem] we have is that sometimes we have ideas that aren't yet in production. For example, we might want a lotion pump made from 100% recycled materials, but that isn’t possible. The problem for us is that sometimes the ideas are there before the technology.
T: What are some specific sustainable initiatives and packaging innovations that Urban Rituelle has implemented?
L: For packaging, we've just started to experiment with removing the Silicon ring out of one of the candles. We understood the fact that the candle’s have a luxurious feel to them so removing the silicon ring can impact the product experience, however we thought there has to be another way [to be more sustainable]. It took a lot more time and money to implement, however now we have a cardboard ring that goes around the lid to ensure they don't break in transit. We did have a couple of customers call up and ask why we got rid of the plastic ring and we replied ’so they don’t go around seals’ and turtles’ necks!’
We also made sure our packaging boxes no longer have a laminate coating on them [as this is also plastic], but also received customer feedback that the boxes weren't as nice as they used to be without that element. So you do get some people that pushback because you’re changing.
[A sustainable initiative we implemented was] a machine that shreds any extra boxes that we have. So we have our own printed boxes that we have for shipping out goods, but any boxes that we have that are excess, an irregular shape or a bit damaged, go through that machine and become the shredding that's used [for packing orders].We don't bring in bubble wrap, foam, or plastic packaging into the business.
T: Being an official stockist in the Australian Olympic Village for the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games is a huge coup for Urban Rituelle, how did that opportunity come about?
L: It’s a funny story! The Australian Olympic committee who organised the event over there called us and asked if we would be happy for our products to be in the Australian Olympic village to help make the athletes feel relaxed and at home when they're not competing. That’s literally how it happened! It was such a thrill and an honour, and definitely a career highlight for me.
T: What advice would you have to other people who work with their partners or with family in a family run business?
L: Separating family and businesses is really hard, so the advice that I have is don't hold a grudge. When [Scott and I] have disagreements, they're usually pretty small. Sometimes you're going to disagree, but just take a breath and move on. As far as work-life balance, it's challenging because a lot of our conversations are held around the kitchen table or while cleaning our teeth in the morning. However, on the weekend we’re pretty good with switching off and spending time together away from work.
T: How do you balance work and life in your business?
L: When I started Urban Rituelle, one of the things I wanted was to create a business that could give me the lifestyle I wanted. Some of the questions that I was asked early on, was if I wanted Urban Rituelle to be a global brand and i didn't. I just wanted to have a brand that created beautiful products, but also gave us and our team the lifestyle that aligned with our values that suited our work-life balance. So that was actually one of the most important things, to create a business that allowed us to have a lifestyle.
That being said, I usually work until seven o'clock and I only stop work when people start screaming at me that they're hungry! So through the week, I'm quite work aligned, but on the weekend, I'm very family and ‘personal’ aligned.
One of the things I've implemented is that I take one week away during every ‘school holidays’ with the kids. So that means that every 10 to 12 weeks, I know that I've got that time where I can really be with them and focus on them. I also try to never work on the weekends and prioritise them for family. Personally, I'm very big on making sure I take care of my health. I like to walk every day if I can, as I consider my health non-negotiable. I work hard, but I'm not going to kill myself doing it.
T: What makes an effective leader?
L: I’d describe an effective leader as somebody who wants to learn all the time. Good leaders are also willing to listen, be authentic and be empathetic. I mean, I ask questions all the time, because no one knows everything. I ask my team all the time, ‘what do you guys think? What do you think about that?’ because I want to learn.
T: If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing or give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
L: Be brave enough to make some of the difficult decisions. As a leader, one of the things I struggled with the most was always wanting everything to be a “good time”. I found sometimes problems would linger for longer because I wasn't addressing them because they were hard. If I could go back, i would say to my younger self “if you make the hard decision now, you can move on quickly and better times will come”.
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