Pip Summerville, who also heads up Base Agency, a boutique creative agency on the Gold Coast, spoke to Dynamic Business about being in business with her father, the strategies that have fuelled Tonik‘s early success and plans for the company’s future growth.
DB: How did you and your father come to partner on Tonik?
PS: Tonik was born out of my desire to make natural health supplements easier and more convenient for health and beauty conscious individuals. I’d been drinking coconut oil and apple cider vinegar as a means of enhancing my health and wellness… but struggled not to gag due to the oily and acidic after tastes.
Wanting to create a no nonsense approach to natural health care, I founded Tonik in 2016. About six months into the business, I approached my dad Glenn – a semi-retired pharmacist who’s had ownership interests in three large NZ-based pharmacies – and he helped me develop gel-filled capsules containing my favourite supplements – organic coconut oil (Tonik #1), organic apple cider (Tonik #2) and organic turmeric (Tonik #3).
DB: How would you sum up your working dynamic?
PS: My dad and I work incredibly well together due to our complementary skills, our very strong focus on work/life balance and our willingness to roll up our sleeves and give anything a go. There’s trust too, as well as family pride…and it doesn’t hurt that we’re both competitive people!
In terms of day-to-day business, dad focuses his energy on product development, governmental compliance, certification and the business aspects of Tonik. Meanwhile, I oversee the warehousing and distribution of Tonik products as well as our marketing and social media.
Honestly, I’m very fortunate to be working with my dad. I’ve always admired the commitment he demonstrated with his own businesses, and my own work ethic and business acumen have very much been informed by him. Plus, his knowledge of – and passion for – the pharmaceutical, natural health and clinical industries, developed over four decades, is priceless.
DB: What success have you achieved with Tonik?
PS: In less than 18 months, we’ve gone from operating out of a kitchen to operating from a commercial warehouse and office space totalling 250 square metres. Moreover, we’ve enjoyed sales growth of 250% (balanced between direct website sales and bricks-and-mortar) and our range is currently stocked in Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Hong Kong, including by international heavy weights Free People, Urban Outfitters and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop. Being approached by Goop was, of course, a huge confidence boost and business model validation. Ultimately, we believe that success breeds success.
DB: What strategies have fuelled your early success?
PS: I attribute our strong sales to a combination of strong word of mouth and a hip, funky and almost tongue-in-cheek approach to social media and website marketing, which has set us to apart from mainstream supplements. We’ve also occasionally turned to PR companies and influencers. In this way, Tonik has been informed by my background in marketing, including work I performed as a marketing manager for the likes of Billabong, Quicksilver and Hi Smile, who I was contracted to in the early days of their business growth.
In addition, our strategy has been to align with health and wellness-focused businesses (e.g. beauty clinics, spas, salons and fitness centres) who FIT our aspirations, NOT mainstream retail outlets – we don’t want to be at the mercy of sales assistants who have many brands to sell. We’re currently in discussion with potential stockists in South Eastern and Central Asian countries and in the UK, so it’s very exciting times for us.
DB: How do you manage to run two businesses?
PS: Tonik and the Base Agency are very complementary in that being across social media and digital marketing trends, as they happen, is vital for the success of both. In fact, being exposed to different sectors and industries through Base Agency has helped my teams and I implement a diverse marketing strategy with Tonik.
DB: How do you plan to capitalise on your early success?
PS: We see that it is essential to gain Therapeutic Goods Authority (TGA) accreditation for our Tonik products. Currently, our products are classified as food supplements and governmental regulations prohibit us from making any health claims at all or even including links in any of our marketing to the many international websites detailing the beneficial health effects that may be attained after taking similar ingredients.
Yes, obtaining TGA accreditation is a time-consuming and expensive process but it will ultimately give us more credibility in the marketplace and allow us to make well-researched and documented health claims across our labelling, advertising and marketing.
TGA accreditation aside, we will continue to take a truly global approach to our sales and distribution. In the months ahead, we will expand our range with Tonik #4 – watch this space!