Founder of Synergie Skin products, Terri Vinson began her career as a biological scientist in immunology and microbiology and as a senior science teacher. It wasn’t until her early forties that she took the risk to open her own skincare clinic in Melbourne. The clinic became the catalyst for formulating her own skincare range, which allowed her to marry her love for beauty, science and education.
We spoke to the passionate advocate against animal testing (her brand is also ethically produced, free of any toxic ingredients and 100% Australian made) about her success and how she used her ‘running away’ savings fund to kickstart her business.
Did you ever think you’d have your own skincare brand?
Yes! I believe that my vision to see the bigger picture of ‘Synergie Skin’ is what has driven me so tirelessly on my journey. I sat in a Melbourne café and thought ‘What skincare products do I need that are not available and what would my family and friends need’. I envisioned not just products, but a brand that encapsulated my philosophy, ethics and passion as an educator and a female scientist.
You’ll find that a lot of entrepreneurs create a product based on what they need. What I needed was highly active, safe and ethical products. But I also felt the skincare industry was missing a key component – empowering our customer with a scientific understanding of their products.
Why did you decide to launch your business? How did you first fund the business?
Recognising the gap in the market, I knew it was my calling to give Synergie Skin a life of its own. Shortly after starting my medical marketing business, our family faced serious financial challenges and I knew then that I needed to step up and take the reigns.
I had $40,000 saved and I thought, “I’m going to start up my own skin clinic, run skin consultations and create products that actually work for my clients.” So with my savings (I used to call this my ‘running away money’) I renovated a rental premises in Camberwell and Skin Formation Clinic was born.
I opened my doors with zero customers and I gazed out the window waiting for my first client, I had so many ideas and I was determined to succeed. I hired a qualified beauty therapist to perform treatments and my role was purely consulting clients and formulating. I would have clients bring in their existing skincare products; we’d read the labels together and discuss the effects of ingredients on their skin. The sales quickly began to grow and my little range grew a cult following.
The recession later hit and many of my clients could no longer afford the luxury of treatments. However, they would come back to repurchase my products. I soon realised I was onto something bigger than consulting. Eventually selling the products alone became enough to support the business.
What marketing strategies did you use? Was it word of mouth?
In the beginning it was word-of-mouth. My Skinformation customers would see such a change in their skin they would recommend me to their friends, sisters, mums, kids and many would even bring their partner in!
On the days I didn’t have appointments, I became my own sales rep. I would bundle up my products into a bag, print out my product descriptions, buy a plane ticket to another state (or traipse around Melbourne), walk right into clinics and medi-spas and talk about my brand. It was my passion, knowledge of ingredients and results that converted stockists to come on board and stock Synergie. I believed so strongly in what I had to offer that they became excited about the range too.
The moment I hired more sales reps, the momentum started rolling. More clinics were being introduced to the brand and the orders came in consistently. My brand was born.
What’s the philosophy behind the brand? Why?
As a mother, I have always felt that if I won’t put it on my face, or my children’s face then I won’t put it on my customers’ face. Encompassing this philosophy, I coined the term ‘Clean Science’ meaning all Synergie products are ethically formulated harnessing the synergy of science and nature, without the addition of questionable or potentially harmful ingredients.
Why is it important that your products are 100% Australian made and ethically formulated and certified cruelty free?
Synergie is a 100% vertically integrated company which means that we have complete control over every element of the product – from concept to shipment every level is performed under the same roof in our Melbourne head office. This ensures total control of all aspects so my clients are receiving the highest quality product possible.
Becoming certified cruelty free (CCF) and creating ethical, sustainable products was, and is a major element of my core values. My products are made to do good in the world beyond even the consumer, and should not be sold at the expense of animal or environmental suffering.
China remains a huge market of consumers that I have been unable to reach out to due to existing regulations that require imported cosmetics to undergo mandatory animal testing. It is imperative that I take a stance against animal testing. Producing ethically made skincare is a value that resonates strongly within my personal philosophy and I will not distribute to China until their regulations change.
What have been some of your biggest challenges so far? How did you overcome them?
In 2011, I took a risk and left my boutique skin clinic to take on a warehouse facility. I had outgrown the small clinic and we were essentially bursting at the seams. I had to take action. When I took over my Melbourne warehouse, I basically inherited a huge box – just four simple walls! Within the box I created offices, a training and education area, a production warehouse, and most importantly my laboratory.
I was prepared to take this huge leap and once I had the use of the new facility business really began to grow rapidly.
Relinquishing creative and administrative control has been a steep learning curve for me. Over the past five years I have watched my business grow exponentially – larger than I’d ever imagined – yet the thought of letting go and allowing others to take on tasks filled me with anxiety in the early days.
I knew I had to build a team that would perfectly compliment areas that weren’t in my sphere of expertise – of which there are many! Now, I am able to entirely step back, delegate and allow my team to shine in their roles. I can now fully appreciate the big picture of my business to envision bolder steps to move forward in this exciting journey.
This freedom allows me to invest my energy in growing the business internationally, spending weeks away at a time and still sustaining productivity to the level I worked so hard to reach. Creating a profitable business while I sleep is an incredibly humbling and satisfying entrepreneurial achievement.
What do you think is wrong with the traditional cosmetic/beauty industry in Australia?
The cosmetic industry is probably one of the most fickle industries moving on from one ‘flavour of the month’ ingredient to the next. There is also a lot of hype and misinformation in the beauty industry regarding the latest ‘it’ skin care product or ingredient. Consumers are constantly bombarded by the corporate multinational brands with marketing claims over-promising much and delivering little. I believe in educating and empowering people to make their own choices regarding ingredients they choose to use on their bodies. There really needs to be more transparency and consumer education in the beauty industry to actually demystify the science.
We conduct a number of tours annually of the Synergie lab and production facility for beauty therapy students (Beauty EDU and Victoria University Dermal Therapy students), industry colleagues and media influencers to bring down the walls of secrecy in our industry.
What’s a common misconception about cosmeceuticals you’d like to debunk?
It concerns me that many cosmetic companies tout collagen as being an ‘active’ ingredient in many cosmeceutical products when it will never penetrate the skin. From a scientific perspective any peptide over 10 amino acids is too large to penetrate the skin. Collagen, for example, is a complex protein of around 1000 amino acids. It’s like forcing a football through the eye of a needle!
Opt for Niacinamide, retinol or new small peptide ingredients that trigger your skin cells to produce its own collagen and that will work to reduce the destruction of collagen.
If you are considering investing in cosmeceuticals, visit a qualified skin therapist for a skin analysis. Many clinics offer them complimentary and these professionals are equipped with a profound knowledge of the skin. So many people self-diagnose and end up using products that aren’t suited for their particular skin concern or age and they don’t see results. Skin care is not a one size fits all science.
What do you do in your downtime?
I love oil painting. I manage to get into the zone and lose hours in front of a canvas on weekends. It’s my alternative to yoga and how I get into relaxation mode.
My guilty pleasure is binge-watching Netflix (right now it’s The Crown). I have to admit to watching trashy reality TV if I’ve had a demanding day at the office.
The curious creator in me also comes out in my kitchen. I’m constantly on the hunt for new kitchen gadgets (Harvey Norman knows me by name) and on my days off you’ll find me experimenting with new recipes, whipping up walnut & fruit loaves, frozen yoghurt, sugar free protein balls, soups and smoothies.
What’s next for you and your brand?
Innovation! This year alone I have TEN new products launching! I’m always innovating new formulations or improving current product formulations.
I’m often asked what is my two year, five year and ten year plan and whilst I believe in having goals and a vision, no two days are the same in my business. I have had success in being open and intuitive to opportunities and new products as they appear. Plans provide me with a broad vision but I’m always open to those fork in the road moments of deviation.
Internationally, I want to increase market penetration and I’m currently looking at the European and Middle Eastern market to broaden my business in those areas.
Nationally, I’m working on an exciting project to make Synergie products even more available to my consumers. I can’t say too much – but just quietly next year will be big for us!