15 October 2020

Innovation and investment build on success for Pai Skincare

They say that necessity is the mother of invention and, in the case of Pai Skincare, its response to the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way it does business and led to some transformational innovation.


Launched in 2007 in response to founder Sarah Brown’s own skincare issues, Pai Skincare has built on that passion for producing its own products and grown into a business with a global presence employing around 60 people in a custom-built production unit in London.

In contrast to many companies in the sector, Pai Skincare has scaled and maintained development and production in-house, supporting the brand’s values of sustainability and traceability. It was something that proved a key strength when the pandemic first hit.

“We were in an incredible position to maintain our supply chain because we had everything under one roof,” says Sarah. “The whole team pulled together and our culture of problem-solving really kicked in.”

Our ability to launch the new product so quickly acted as a jumping off point for Pai Labs, our new innovation centre.

Ed Saper, Director of Strategy at Pai Skincare.

Kick-starting innovation

Anticipating demand, the team set to work to formulate a hand sanitiser in early March. A process of new product development that would normally take 18 months, was completed in just two weeks, with the company creating a buy one, donate one scheme with recipients ranging from shelters to food banks.

As demand for hand sanitiser grew, the company prioritised deliveries to care homes, schools and local businesses. “We named the product ‘Acton Spirit’, because it exemplified the spirit we saw in our own team and the local community all pulling together,” says Sarah. “Over the seven months since launch, we’ve donated around 20,000 units.”

As well as creating a sense of wellbeing, the process gave Pai Skincare the impetus to turn ideas into action. “Our ability to launch the new product so quickly acted as a jumping off point for Pai Labs, our new innovation centre,” says Ed Saper, Director of Strategy at Pai Skincare. “It had a galvanising impact on the business and showed us that where previously we’d put things off, we really should be innovating more, switching to a real bias for action.”

Investing in technology

The innovation hub has already been a huge success and combined with Pai’s ability to manufacture small batches of products, is enabling the company to test and learn as well as listen and respond to customer demand. The pandemic also led to a further change that has brought with it long-term potential.

“We’ve really seen the pandemic as a watershed. We closed our offices in early March, and we knew that we would be returning to a very different world,” says Ed. “Taking our cue from the Spanish flu and its subsequent waves, we took steps to prepare. Those included reimagining our production facilities in the light of social distancing and the impact that would have as sales grew.”

The company invested in robotic ‘cobots’, which not only enable social distancing, but improve efficiency across the production line. This ability to plan and prepare has been crucial to Pai emerging from the pandemic with sales up around 25% year on year. “The uncertainty, especially at the start of the pandemic and lockdown was a huge challenge,” says Sarah. “Seventy percent of our sales were through bricks and mortar shops and we had no idea whether those sales would drop off a cliff, whether stores would honour historic bills and how that would affect our cash flow.”

Businesses that have adapted have survived and even flourished. Those that sat back and waited for things to return to normal have struggled, because that normal no longer exists.

Sarah Brown, Founder, Pai Skincare.

Adapting to a new world

However, online sales both through the company’s own website and through its wholesale markets picked up and the changes the business has made, which have included refocusing on its core markets particularly in the UK, as well as on new product development and operational efficiency have borne fruit.

“We mapped out every possible scenario,” explains Sarah. “We knew we had to make changes and we knew we had to make them stick and carry people with us into this new world. Businesses that have adapted have survived and even flourished. Those that sat back and waited for things to return to normal have struggled, because that normal no longer exists.”

The support of HSBC has been important throughout the business’ development and never more so than during the difficult days of the pandemic. Alongside a CBILS facility, HSBC has supported Pai’s investment in its cobots and provided a £1.4m supplier finance line. “HSBC has supported us through our evolution and every step of our scaling up,” remarks Sarah. “They have allowed us to pursue our dream. Their understanding of our business and the day to day challenges we face meant they were on the phone offering us a helping hand right through the pandemic, when things felt very acute. Our relationship manager, Raj, has been a real hero.”

Being bold, not being afraid to pivot and the adaptability, stamina and resilience of the entire team, means that Pai Skincare has used the experience of the pandemic to demonstrate real industry leadership and a focus on the future.

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