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Q&A with Otago alumna Nicky Shore, beauty business entrepreneur

Tuesday 13 November 2018 9:50am

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Nicky Shore, owner of Off & On, says Otago gave her the vital first foot in the door to the beauty business (photo: Anna Kidman).

From working for some of the world’s top beauty brands to setting up her brow bar on the Cook Strait ferry to deal to truck drivers’ monobrows, Otago alumna Nicky Shore has experienced every aspect of the beauty business in her journey to establish her successful Off & On beauty bars.

Nicky graduated with a Master of Commerce in Marketing in 1999 and, from small beginnings in 2008, is now owner of six Off & On wax, laser and brow bars in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, employing nearly 60 staff. She splits her time between the corporate world, and gumboots and chickens on her lifestyle block in Ramarama, near Pukekohe, which she shares with her partner Kelvin Ovington and their two sons Max and Spencer.

question Q  Firstly, can you give us a little background on your childhood and how you came to choose Otago University?

Nicky: My family emigrated from the UK when I was five years old and I grew up on a farm in Clydevale in South Otago. I had an idyllic rural childhood, riding horses, going to the local primary school and the high school in Balclutha. So proximity was some of the reason for choosing Otago, but I knew from an early age I wanted to get into marketing and psychology and through my high school I knew the best place to go was Otago – which serendipitously was just down the road.

question Q  What do you remember about your residential college or flatting experience?

Nicky: I have constant reminders of those days because my friendships with my group of girlfriends here in Auckland were largely forged by our time together at Otago. So my best memories are constantly still around me and we reminisce about our university years often.

I was always quite independent and wanting to go out and make my own way, so moving to university and gaining that independence set the scene for later on and doing my own thing in my career.

question Q  Do you have any particular highlights or favourite memories of your time at Otago?

Nicky: I think I just found myself. I found a calling I really enjoyed, the marketing programme felt like home. And it was balanced with the social side, with my girlfriends and guyfriends and those friendships which will last for life.

Academically I wasn’t the total rock star at high school, but at the tertiary level I found things I was passionate about. I had research papers published, and discovered that when you find that thing you are passionate about you can take it to the next level.

question Q  How did Otago help shape your life and career success?

Nicky: It helped me to find something I really wanted to do. I could see a longer term goal, and the University’s pathway led to my entry into marketing opportunities. The marketing programme gave me independence and confidence in thinking for myself and in tapping into my skills and strengths as opportunities came up.

question Q  What path did your career take after you left University?

Nicky: I went to Sydney off the Otago graduate recruitment programme, to work for Unilever, and rotated through the areas of the business. I’d never have got the interviews without the recruitment programme, it gave me the foot in the door.

From Unilever I went to England with Kelvin, who I met working there, and worked for L’Oréal for several years in brand management.

I came back to New Zealand with L’Oréal, and ironically was rolling out launches I had helped develop earlier in Europe. From that I had the experience of taking a product from the understanding and belief stage to concept development and all the way through to distribution and communication. I wanted to take what I had learnt through education and my corporate career and apply it to my own idea, and spurred on by a wax that didn’t go so well, that’s how Off & On came about.

question Q  Why did you choose the beauty business?

Nicky: Even in my high school leaving book I said I wanted to be a marketing manager, but I’d probably end up an Avon lady! I loved beauty, not the high maintenance side of it, but the power and insights beauty has to be transformative. There’s a lot of psychology in that, I love understanding how people feel and the emotional connection they have to beauty brands.

I wanted to look at beauty from a normal person’s point of view, to do something different and show that beauty is for everyone, and to make it accessible.

question Q  You recently converted a bus and took your business on a road trip around the country, how did that go?

Nicky: When I started the business I joked that if it all went bad I’d end up in a caravan! But after 10 years Off & On is a national brand, so we thought we’d take it to the people, it’s really about who we are and what we stand for. In a way we were animating what we do, the beauty business is usually behind closed doors.

We set up in the largest shopping mall in the country, we waxed a guy from head to toe in Wellington, did a few brows in Bulls, and stopped for a pie and set up on the side of the road just outside of Canterbury. We even did the monobrows of truck drivers on the Cook Strait ferry!

question Q  Tell us about the Petal Charitable Trust you are involved with.

Nicky: We are partners with Ashley Allen, who set up the Trust and created customised lashes for people who have been affected by chemotherapy and alopecia. We want to give back to people a bit of what their illness has taken away. It’s actually very powerful, it’s emotionally as well as physically transformative.

question Q  It’s 10 years since you started your business, what are some of the most important things you have learned?

I’ve learned lots of things mainly from the mistakes I’ve made along the way. You have to have an appetite for risk. Being really clear and taking an all or nothing approach helped us get through the really tough days.

You also have to have a strong point of difference, and stick to your guns and find something that is unique that customers want. Focus on what customers need and work from the bottom up – allow that to drive you as opposed to what the business needs.

question Q  What values are most important to you in your life today?

Nicky: We spent a long time this year distilling and communicating our core values of this business. It’s about people first and foremost, our number one asset is our people and clients. Having appreciation for our team and making sure they are happy means the clients are happy and they come back. When our people love their job then the customers love what they do – it’s a bit of a lovefest!

There’s an increasing awareness about values of empathy, compassion, we call them the little things – conversation, gestures, the soft and tactile side of relationships. When you’re a service business and about people, that’s what it should be.

question Q  What are your goals for the future?

I’m very lucky, I work in a market that constantly keeps working with us. The business is constantly evolving, particularly in terms of technology. We want to keep innovating and grow the business in terms of being smarter and sustainable. It’s about doing something smarter rather than necessarily bigger.