Welcome to Behind the Hive: a short series of blog posts giving you a sneak peek into what goes on behind the scenes when running a small business!
The first topic we would like to share with you is probably the most important one: finding the right lab to partner with to develop your products. This was the very first step we took in our quest to produce the best natural hair oil out there, as none of us have a chemistry background. The regulation around the sale of cosmetics in the European Union is quite strict, so if you are looking to create and sell your own cosmetics, you will have two main options. Either you set up your own ‘atelier’ which needs to comply with the Good Manufacturing Processes outlined by the EU, or you partner with a lab.
We often get asked how we found the lab. The answer is: we googled – a lot. We reached out to 10-15 different ‘co-packaging companies’ (that is how they are called) in Belgium, France and Germany before finding the right lab to collaborate with.
It turns out that these companies will take care of everything for you, depending on your needs and the size of your wallet. The only thing you need to provide is a marketing concept and an idea regarding the type of product you wish to sell, and they will take care of absolutely everything for you from formulation, to production, to packaging. As you will soon find out, we decided to go for a much more hands on approach – but more on this later.
In summary you have 3 options to create a cosmetics product:
Build an in-house atelier to formulate and manufacture your products yourself
Partner with a lab to support you with the formulation, testing and production
Partner with a co-packaging company which offers off-the-shelf products to which you can apply your own packaging
As expected, each of these options bring advantages and disadvantages. Here is a short overview of what those are in our opinion:
Building an in-house atelier
Advantages: you are more flexible when it comes to developing and manufacturing new batches, as you can produce them yourself and at your own pace. You are also more in control of costs and therefore are likely to achieve a lower production cost compared to the other options.
Disadvantages: you are legally responsible for ensuring that your atelier and formulas comply with the required manufacturing and Health & Safety regulation in the EU. You therefore expose yourself to more risk from that perspective. All products sold on the EU market also need to pass regulatory tests before they can be sold, even if they are being created and manufactured by your own atelier. So you will need to find a lab that can perform these tests for you.
Developing your formula hand in hand with a lab
Advantages: you have full control over the formula and get help from a lab's expertise. The lab is responsible for the testing and ensuring that proper manufacturing practices are followed.
Disadvantages: there are costs related to each formula you develop, test and manufacture with the lab. You are also constraint by its manufacturing schedule and the area of expertise of the lab. Developing a formula in collaboration with a lab will likely take longer than if you were to do so in-house.
Buying an off-the-shelf formula
Advantages: your time to market will be much shorter as the R&D and the testing of the formula have already been completed. This is probably the cheapest way to manufacture a product if you do not want to build your own atelier and if you're in a hurry.
Disadvantages: your formula will not be unique and you will not be the owner of it. Many other brands may use the exact same formula, with a different packaging.
In our case, we decided to go for option two. This meant that the process of creation, from the initial idea to the product being ready to be sold on the market took quite some time. In our case, it took us 8 months to finalise the formula, and 3 months to get it tested and approved for sale on the European market.
Tip: every lab has a slightly different way of working, so make sure to understand their processes thoroughly before making your final pick.
That's it! We hope you found this helpful and that it gave you a sneak peek into the steps we had followed to develop our ecofriendly natural hair oil.