Success Story

California Wellness Company Sees the Beauty in Exporting

La Canada Ventures, based in San Mateo, California, is a minority-owned manufacturer and exporter of personal care products and nutraceuticals for hair, lash, and skin. Founded by a Taiwanese-American physician, Susan Lin, the firm has expanded its international reach to more than 20 markets through perseverance and export assistance provided by the State of California and the U.S. Commercial Service. Dr. Lin, the company CEO and founder, discusses her firm’s exporting journey below.  

Q: Could you give some background on your company, how did you get started?

Skin and nutraceutical products from MD Factor

As a practicing physician for 33 years in women’s health, aesthetics and anti-aging medicine, I understood the need for effective solution-based personal care products. Being an entrepreneur and scientist at heart, I founded LCV in 2006 after developing patented personal care and wellness products, including lash and hair regeneration technology which are among our best selling products.

Q: Did you have any initial reservations about exporting - if so, what were they and how did you overcome them?

I didn’t have any reservations, as it was a logical move to grow internationally. We had been receiving international inquiries wanting our products, so I was very confident of our export potential. As a next step, I traveled to the countries to meet the company decision-makers and to learn the needs of the companies. Getting these insights and their product preferences firsthand was tremendously helpful. Our goal was to develop a proactive export strategy rather than just wait for incoming orders, and it’s worked out well for us.

Q: What was the biggest challenge you faced in the global marketplace, and how did you overcome it?

Getting started in exporting and finding suitable international partners in our markets of interest. Trying to make those connections on our own was taking a lot of time and resources. While participating in international trade show circuits we were introduced to key state and federal export resources and actively sought their assistance.

Q: What federal or state export promotion services have been particularly valuable in your global sales success?

We leveraged export assistance from the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz), and the U.S. Commercial Service in San Francisco. We also obtained a California State Trade Expansion Program (STEP grant) which helped us to participate in events that led to successful sales.

Altogether this export assistance helped us build a successful export strategy. For example, we received insights in market intelligence, trademark protection, and participated in U.S. Commercial Service trade events and missions. We also took advantage of the Gold Key Service program which arranges pre-screened business appointments with potential foreign partners abroad, bringing me face-to-face with decision-makers which led to new partnerships and sales to India, China, Brazil, Russia, Costa Rica and Mexico beginning a few years ago.

Most recently, we did a virtual international partner search in Burma and eCommerce webinar leading to new sales to that country. In China, the Commercial Service was instrumental in getting us exposure on the China Flagship eCommerce Storefront, and our sales to that country continue to be robust.

Our participation in Commercial Service partner trade shows such as Cosmoprof and Natural Products Expo West led to matchmaking meetings and new partnerships and sales to Brazil and Ghana respectively. 

While trade shows are very helpful, I’ve found that one-on-one direct contact with a trade expert can even be more cost-effective and efficient. To be successful internationally, one must understand the culture, market demand, and regulations and most importantly meet the right partners, and that’s the value of the Commercial Service. I appreciate the unbiased, honest answers about the market opportunities which have helped me - I feel that I’m not alone, and that’s important because I’m not a large company.

Q: What percent of overall sales do exports account for, and do you see this percentage growing in the future?

We started out early on with a large focus on the BRICs countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - and continue to expand beyond into additional markets. Currently, exports account for 50% of our overall sales with a projected export growth of 100% within the next two years.

Q: Describe some lessons learned that impacted your business operations and resulted in increased international sales?

In addition to developing innovative products, learning to support distribution partners to build long-term business relationships. We also initially price our products the same in every market and let the distributors determine any necessary changes in local labeling, pricing, etc.

Q. What are some of your sales channels, eCommerce, web, etc? 

Our sales channels include eCommerce Brand Store, Amazon, pharmacies, aesthetic medical centers, spas, and television. In general, we’ve found the eCommerce channel profit margin is much better than the stores.

Q. What about your export experience has been most surprising or unexpected? 

Continued consumer demand for personal care products despite hardship from the economy and pandemic lockdowns. People want to look good and feel good, and our businesses remained stable and actually grew during the pandemic. Also, while 60-70% percent of our sales are to women, we’re seeing an increase in the number of men buying our products.

Q. What has exporting meant to you personally? 

Doing business globally has no boundaries for growth and can be great person-to-person diplomacy. On a personal level, it has allowed me the opportunity to travel internationally and learn that despite the perceived cultural differences we are all very similar, and you will be pleasantly surprised as well. I have greatly enjoyed exportation as it expands one’s horizon and view of the world.

Q. What’s your advice to those businesses that might be sitting on the “export fence?

The world is a great big market and to survive and grow your business, you have to diversify your customer base. Many times overseas markets may be less saturated for your product than the U.S. domestic market which can mean a less competitive realm. Made in the USA products and services carry a good worldwide reputation. So, just do it and stop making excuses. Also, contact the U.S. Commercial Service early on in the export process. Without their help, I’d be kissing a lot of frogs and it would be much harder to find the prince. 

Learn more about La Canada Ventures by visiting their website.