From making baby balm to winning R1m

Christine Buchanan and Louiza Rademan of Oh-lief Natural Products, who won R1m.
Christine Buchanan and Louiza Rademan of Oh-lief Natural Products, who won R1m.

Cape Town – The belief that most moms would want the best for their babies has led to two Cape Town-based sisters winning R1m in Standard Bank’s Think Big series for established entrepreneurs needing a boost.

Louiza Rademan and Christine Buchanan’s company, Oh-lief Natural Products, tackled an already flooded baby products market with a balm they felt discerning moms would clamour for.

Little did they think that in four short years their confidence in the original Oh-lief Natural Bum Balm and other natural and organic balms and lotions would be significantly rewarded.

Recognition came not only in steadily growing local and international sales, but also in the form of a R1m cash injection after they won the Standard Bank-supported Think Big - Building Business Champions TV series title.  

While this cash injection will go a long way to help the sisters grow their business dream, uniquely, they have been spared from the financial agonies that cash flow problems can bring to even the best-run small business.

“We have been in business for four years and have never had one bad debt.”

Hidden in this bland statement is the true secret to the sisters’ success. They control all aspects of their business and realise that taking on the world with a niche product requires ingenuity and constant innovation when it comes to marketing.

Fin24's Matthew le Cordeur interviews the winning sisters in this two-part interview.

Watch Part 1:

How they started

Their entrepreneurial journey started when Rademan made an all-natural nappy rash balm for Buchanan’s first baby. The balm was so effective, that soon the sisters started giving the balm to family and friends – and received rave reviews of the product’s efficacy.

The turning point came when they took their product to their first trade show. “We made 100 units for the three-day event, convinced that this would be enough. We sold the entire stock on day one. That night we mixed up another 100 jars. We sold out again the following day, and then repeated the exercise that evening, only to sell out again,” said Buchanan.

And so Oh-lief Natural Products was born. Buchanan and Rademan gave up their jobs, as a property professional and architect respectively, and put their first offering – their organic baby bum balm - on the market.

“After people had made an initial purchase and experienced the quality and effectiveness of the balm they purchased more,” said Rademan. “Women buy by brand, with many using the approach adopted by Tupperware - where sales are based on women selling their product from their homes.  By following a similar model, we were able to increase sales. Oh-lief was often purchased as a gift of love.”  

Although sales were taking off, volumes were still manageable, and Buchanan and Rademan were able to cope with demand while still working out of the kitchens of their homes.

Oh-lief, the hand-made product using olive oil as a base, was on its way to fulfilling its creators’ dreams - the range expanded to include products for adults. As sales to consumers grew, Oh-lief Natural Products became a fixture in speciality stores from health stores and pharmacies to gift shops, through to independent baby stores.

Watch Part 2:

How they grew

The Oh-lief Natural Products story could have ended there, with the sisters taking time out to draw breath and rest on their laurels.

Never shy to tackle new marketing adventures, the sisters realised that to grow meant identifying and taking advantage of all opportunities that came their way. As exhibitors at a European trade show, funded by the Department of Trade and Industry, the wide world of Europe opened up to Oh-lief Natural Products.

While Oh-lief is still made locally in Cape Town, in somewhat larger quantities than was previously the case, the sisters found a distributor in the UK and also entered the Scandinavian market.

Watch the second episode of Think Big, where the sisters introduce what they’re about.


Marketing Oh-Lief

Their main marketing focus to date has been word of mouth, which has been extended via social media. “Exposure on social media may not translate directly into sales, but is essential because it creates brand awareness.

"It provides an opportunity to use high-quality visuals that appeal to the market, and also to communicate directly with a pool of existing and potential customers,” said Buchanan.

This has been reinforced with what is probably the most attractive packaging on the market.  With the addition of the Oh-Lief Natural Products Baby Box, a gift pack that would appeal to any woman, and topping the mix with a high quality product, the equation is complete.

As a quality South African brand, another noteworthy accolade recently came for Oh-lief Natural Products with the announcement that Woolworths South Africa would be stocking their luxury adult range on the shelves of 25 of their leading stores, as a first step in bringing the brand to the wider South African public.  

The Oh-lief Natural Products formula is working, and is one that Buchanan and Rademan are determined to maintain.

R100 000 for six finalists

At the half-way point in the competition, six of the contestants were given R100 000 to take immediate steps to improve their businesses. The use of these funds was monitored by the board who took this into account when deciding on the grand prize winner.

After an exhaustive process, including presentations to the board, reporting on the investment of their R 100 000, and pitting themselves against other worthy entrepreneurs, it was the Oh-lief sisters who impressed with their passion and determination to grow their brand into an international phenomenon.
Praise from Standard Bank

“The Oh-lief story is inspirational. These two dedicated women, who translated their love of pure, organic products into hand-made balms and lotions for babies and adults, are worthy winners of the Think Big 2014 series,” said Ravi Govender, head of small enterprises at Standard Bank. “This was demonstrated through expansive and innovative thinking to take their business to the next level.”

“Uniquely, the show concentrated on the broader SME sector, with the objective of identifying, uplifting and growing SMEs that had already shown that they had what it took to build successful enterprises.”

“This series differed in that it attracted entrepreneurs, who had already achieved some success, but needed a boost to grow their businesses.”

“Adding more value to the programme was the participation of presenters and a board of directors comprised of reputable, experienced businesspeople,” said Govender. “We watched how they assessed and guided all the businesses featured. Moreover, existing and aspiring SME owners, across South Africa, had the opportunity to tune in and tap into hundreds of hours of expert business advice.”

In the final episode of Think Big, the final 4 teams present their final presentations to the Think Big board.


What does the future hold?

The R1m prize from Standard Bank’s Think Big will enable them to broaden their customer base and up their production capabilities. Both sisters are adamant that the Oh-lief values of which quality, purity and the uniqueness of hand-mixing will remain.

“We will be reinforcing the quality of our product by getting it registered and certified by international bodies, as South Africa does not presently have a recognised certification authority. We are also looking at plans to bring Oh-lief to the attention of all South Africans,” said the duo.

While Think Big has concluded on TV screens, episodes can still be viewed online here.

The winners are announced.


- For an array of additional tips and tools on how to start, manage or grow a business, visit BizConnect.

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