We are back doing our special features here at The Grassroots Gazette, and we are super excited to start interviewing businesses and founders again in the coming weeks and months ahead.
Today we have a cracker for you. To set the scene… Shane was recently as the National Equine Show with Equitas and had the pleasure of meeting Sean Cooney from Botanica. One of only a couple of Irish brands at the event in Birmingham. They had a chat about Sean’s journey and the incredible growth the Botanica brand is going through and now we are here, with this special feature on Botanica International. It is an amazing story so let’s jump right in.
What inspired the founding of Botanica International Ltd?
Came about by a series of accidents, too many accidents to be an accident. It started originally with an athlete’s foot problem. A husband and wife were both Pharmacists, and one of the guys had really bad feet. He had it in his head “you guy’s have the task of fixing this problem,” and he became a pain. The couple asked me for advice and an off-the-cuff remark I made was “let’s go back to nature.” The took me up on that so I put a concoction together and it worked. So they said “wow, that’s a miracle to keep this guy quiet” because it seemed nothing would satisfy him. Then one of my kids had a pony with a wound, we put the cream on that, it healed well so we thought “we have something here.” We took it further and developed the range.
Tell us a little about yourself and your team Sean.
I’m a farmer’s son grew up in Wexford studied Agricultural Science it’s something I love doing. Actually, I won a scholarship to College and I often describe it as reading a good book you don’t want to leave down and reading a bad book you don’t want to pick up. For me with nature I grew up with it and I learned at college the power of nature. In the 1970s we found that everything was mass produced. The further we deviated from nature, the higher the mortality rate. So a very simple conclusion was this nature business cannot be beaten. It’s to work with it as best as we can. However, the big Pharma and the Drug Dealers do not like nature because they cannot patent it. In fact, they would ban grass if they could. But they would sell you a synthetic version where they can make loads of money.
What is the company’s philosophy when it comes to utilising natural ingredients?
Our Philosophy is Nature has the answer to everything, so we work with the plant. I believe we were given everything except a map or a GPS, you have to go and find the darn thing yourself so to me it was pretty much a no brainer to go the natural way.
How does Botanica International source its natural ingredients?
We are very strict with our supplier selection. They have to behave with integrity, the finest quality, totally natural and organic in most cases. Value for money for our customer’s is of course important too and we achieve that by buying the raw ingredients in huge quantities.
Can you provide an overview of the multi-award winning product range?
The range started off with just a wash and an herbal cream. Then we had an anti- itch cream which was basically for sweet itch otherwise known as summer eczema. Then we took on grooming spray then next wash fly spray. Next we did a small animal care cream inspired by the little West Highland Terriers (Westies.) Theses are known as the “Vets best friends” because they are always requiring treatments. They usually die from kidney or liver failure because they are always getting cortisone treatments for the liver and the skin and this usually causes the kidney and liver failure. Our small animal cream is developed to use instead of cortisone and again we get results where all others fail. We do a human range we do eye cream, we do face cream. But all our herbal creams and washes are all suitable for human use, as they contain all the ingredients us humans have been using for thousands of years. So it’s all naturals. Its anti -fungal, anti-septic, anti -bacterial, anti- histamine, anti -inflammatory. So the range pretty much covers all skin conditions. We get results where all others have failed.
What makes Botanica International’s products different from other natural skincare products on the market? The reason our products are different and unique is because we use the finest ingredients, we use amounts that actually work and it’s my recipe. You can give everyone in Ireland or UK the ingredients for example a cake, and how many are going to get the recipe correct? The fact too is that we are the only Westerners selling herbal Medicine to China and The Chinese have “World’s Nr 1” on my packaging. Actually, with the rubbish that is on the market, it is not hard to be the best.
What are some of the most popular products in the Botanica International range?
The Botanica Products are very popular. We would get a 96-97% repeat business. So I feel obliged now to give these people a friendly warning that these products are addictive. For all the right reasons. All the products are great sellers as a wound spray as a grooming spray etc. You don’t have to have an injury to use the wash for example. Use it to wash the animal down. A lot of it is prevention. The racehorses for example, the herbal cream ensures no cracked heels. Prevention again is paramount and all the products are very popular.
How has the company’s product range evolved over the years?
The Botanica range of products evolved quite naturally. It was mainly because people came back to me saying “hey can you do this that and the other.” I’m always getting asked can you help with various issues. It evolved through popular demand. Of course my customers were also my teachers along the way.
What inspired the use of “magical” to describe the natural ingredients in Botanica International’s products?
The word magical evolved through the results we were getting. People coming back saying “hey this stuff is magical, in fact I had one testimonial from a writer in the UK and she described it as having “Jesus in a tub.” Maybe that would qualify it to be called magic!
What kind of feedback have you received from customers about Botanica International’s products?
The feedback we get is pretty much 100% plus percent all the time. If you look at our five star reviews off Facebook and Google Reviews. That’s what kept me going in the early days as it certainly wasn’t money, it was difficult to pay a bill back then. I had mums for example telling me about kids who were teething, calling me first thing in the morning saying I had saved their lives. One mother saying she would be in the mental home if it wasn’t for Botanica as she couldn’t get two hours sleep overnight. The Botanica made all the difference to the child, and the difference was night and day. So it was stuff like that which kept me going.
Can you share some of the challenges the company has faced over the years and how it has overcome them?
Many many challenges pretty much from the word go. The biggest difficulty in the early days was getting people to believe you. They couldn’t believe a simple plant could do all of these things and the product they thought was too good to be true, and I was seen as stone mad with two heads! The product evolved because in the early days it was seen as a last resort, but as a last resort we came up trumps and did the job. That is basically how Botanica came about. Then the challenges came about because people got to know you and see that you don’t have a huge bank roll behind you and they try to buy you, bribe you, trick you, then will try to take your good name and your good character. We have had to be very strong in holding our own. I work on total honesty in all my dealings and that’s my rock. I don’t care what anybody says or does or whatever I know I’m proud of what I’ve done. I haven’t done anything to anyone I wouldn’t like done to myself. In fact, I haven’t done anything to anybody I wouldn’t love done to myself.
What is the company’s vision for the future of Botanica International?
Well, our vision for the future is to keep going and as we have the best product in the world, why not make it the world’s number 1 best seller?
Does Botanica International have any plans to expand its product range in the future?
Yes we will definitely expand the product range possibly a lot more on the human side as well but I have an awful lot of things I have inside my head that I need to get out of my head and into a container and put a label on it.
How does Botanica International work with retailers and distributors to bring its products to market?
We found that as we didn’t have a huge marketing budget; we had to get out there and do the legwork ourselves. Meeting shows, trade shows, explaining the product, doing a little bit of sponsorship and basically doing it the hard way but the organic way.
How does Botanica International engage with its customers and community?
We have 24-hour phone service. When the office closes, the phones are diverted to my mobile. We engage with all email enquiries, we are forever answering questions such as “what do I do my dog has this, my horse has that, what do we do etc” so we are continuously answering questions. We have Facebook we have Instagram and a new account on TikTok. We are always answering questions over Social Media and my phone is available 24/7.
What advice would you give to someone interested in starting their own business whilst facing big pushback due to a lack of understanding?
The common mistake people make is they think they can start their own business and they have it made. That’s why it’s probably 96-98% fail in the first two years. You have to have passion, if you are just doing it for the money, then forget it. If you are just doing it for the money, then you are not going to go to the top. I often say if you are not prepared to die for it, don’t bother with it. If you have that attitude, then you’ll go places. If you have an attitude of 85%/ 95 or even 99% you are not going to do it. We work with excellence in all our dealings. We don’t do 99% we do a minimum of 101% plus so you have to go at it all or nothing. It’s pretty much 24/7 because even when you are asleep you are dreaming about the business. If you are not prepared to give it your all full stop, then don’t start.
Where can people buy the range of products Botanica has?
The products can be bought from Veterinarians, from good Tack Shops, some Health Shops, some Pharmacies, if people want Botanica products in the past they went to their local shops like these and asked for them, through demand, these shops became stockists. Local people would say to the shops “why don’t you sell something that works instead of selling rubbish that doesn’t work?” So that’s basically how we did that.
What an incredible read from Sean, Leanne and the team. Going through the answers and piecing this together you can feel the effort and energy that had to go in and continues to go in to scaling Botanica. Through hard graft and step by step, it has continued to grow. Such a wonderful story of how it came about but it is surreal to see the effects their products are having.
Hats off to Sean for his unwavering belief and relentless commitment that deliver what was needed to build a beautiful and powerful brand like Botanica International.