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Published 27 September 2012 04:52, Updated 01 October 2012 05:03
Austrian-born Barb de Corti, pictured, was working as a fitness instructor in Perth in 1993 when she found a range of cleaning products she thought would be more sensitive to her son’s asthma.
Enjo was an Austrian brand that relied on textured wipes, mitts and cloths rather than heavy chemicals and provided an alternative to the harsh chemicals traditionally used for household chores.
With the chemicals out of her home, her son’s asthma improved so she tipped $40,000 of her savings into importing the products, which were being sold through private parties. De Corti says she was reluctant initially to adopt the home party strategy. “It was a real mental stumbling block for me,” she said at the time. “I was not one of those people who could make a party of a home demonstration.”
She endured some tough years but by 1997, the company was doubling sales each year. By 2003, when she made the BRW Young Rich with a fortune of $60 million, she was running the company with her husband and son. She had a goal to have Enjo products in 30 to 40 per cent of homes by the end of the decade.
A decade on, De Corti is still knee-deep in the day to day running of Enjo. Her products are stocked in 10 per cent of homes but the management of the company has changed.
She and her husband and business partner Hans divorced in 2005. He chose to exit the company, leaving ownership and management solely to Barb. “It was unsettling for the company,” she says. “It affected a lot of people, more so than [it affected] my husband and myself … there was this thought [among staff] ‘Will the company go on?’”
But De Corti never doubted her ability to run the company by herself and many original team members remain.
“I had always made sure to surround myself with an awesome team,” she says. “It wasn’t like I was left sitting there by myself.”
Even so, it took two years for her staff to regain their sense of stability. “It doesn’t take much to shake people’s confidence in the company and it took a little bit for people to get used to.”
The rise of online retail has been De Corti’s biggest challenge. “We’ve gone from faxes to online ordering,” she says. “The way we communicate with the public is a huge change and everything has to be faster.”
Enjo’s products are still sold through the party model by representatives called Enjo-preneurs but the company has plans to open an online shop on October 1.
De Corti refuses to distribute through supermarkets as a matter of principle. “We believe in old-fashion customer service,” she says. “We don’t just believe in cleaning. It’s about the value and the best way to clean.”
Enjo home demonstrations show new consumers the best ways to use the products. The cleaners are also designed to be long lasting, so it is not the sort of article that needs to be bought every month.
The fluctuations in public concern for the environment have affected the business in a surprising way.
“The recession set in,” she says, “and everyone just went, ‘OK, the environment isn’t so important any more because people are losing their jobs’.”
But “[the recession] made people focus on the value of the product … they were looking for value for money and they weren’t a throwaway society any more.
“It helped our business.”
And how does she spend the proceeds? “I have the nice big house,” she says. “But apart from that, there are no major investments.”
Her weakness? “Nice handbags and shoes,” she says.