“There’s a lot of ‘synergies’ that go hand in hand with my brand name,” declared Terri Vinson, Cosmetic Chemist & Founder of Synergie Skin. Her brand resonates with her philosophy of clean science, where she takes the best from science and the best from nature and harnesses them together in synergy without questionable and potentially harmful ingredients.
For Terri, synergy is not just a buzzword, but a platform for producing effective products and treatments for her clientele. She expounded on the science behind how everything should work together in harmony. “There’s a synergy between skincare and makeup that has to work together. If you use the very best skin care and put pore-clogging makeup over the top of it for the next ten hours, then you’re negating all the benefits of great skin care. So, your makeup has to be in synergy with your skin care. Secondly, skin care and makeup have to work in synergy with your skin. If it’s not working in synergy, that’s when some ingredients can lead to breakouts and reactions. Thirdly, the ingredients of the product themselves must work in synergy. A lot of people don’t understand that formulating isn’t just about throwing a bunch of ingredients into a pot and calling it a product. It’s a science, and you have to understand how those ingredients work together in synergy to get the best results.”
She regards herself as a scientist and inventor, who creates products that can make a difference. “I love what I do and what I love is creating. I’m like an artist with ingredients as my media. Sure, I create products. I know how they work together and I understand the science of them. But behind that is a drive to make people feel amazing about themselves,” she added.
As a child, Terri has experienced herself how it was to have a lack of self-confidence because of her appearance. She was teased a bit when she was a chubby little kid. “I was somewhat a misfit. When I was a teenager, I transformed myself over one Christmas with very basic skincare and knowledge from a magazine called ‘Dolly’. I changed my hair, lost the puppy fat and gave myself a mini-transformation. To my surprise, people treated me differently. All of a sudden, I was no longer a misfit, and I thought, ‘This is ridiculous. I’m the same person that you teased. Just because I’ve changed my appearance, you treat me differently.’ But I realised it wasn’t just my physical appearance that made the difference. It was my perception of myself and the confidence I generated because I felt better about myself,” recalled Terri.
At the age of 12, she found out, by accident, that she was adopted. Although she still had a good relationship with her mum and dad, she felt a void with no real roots and genetic links. “Also, the fact that I was adopted, it gave me a strong drive to ‘make my mark on this earth’ because as an adoptee, I often feel a little misplaced in the world,” she shared.
Terri also has a deep passion for science, particularly chemistry and biology. This passion was fuelled by her biology teacher whose belief in her gave her the confidence to excel. Her father also taught her not to compete with others but to use her ability as a benchmark against herself. She quipped, “I became fascinated with the field of biochemistry, as well as in understanding how cells interact in perfect synergy to bring balance to the body.”
All these ‘forks in the road’ moments led her to do what she is most passionate about, through helping others find their inner confidence, partly due to the results that her products give. “For me, formulating products that interact with skin cells and create a positive change is my ultimate goal. The beauty industry is dynamic, with new ingredients created constantly. I need to be on the coal face of technology to maintain my innovative edge. It requires incessant research and development.”
When she completed her science degree and post-grad qualification for teaching senior science, Terri worked as a teacher for a short period but soon decided this was not her calling. She then gained commercial experience at Colgate-Palmolive as an account executive, where she learned more about business and negotiation. After having her two wonderful children, she devoted the next decade to be a mum. Several years after, she re-entered the workforce and began part-time work formulating and educating medical skin specialists for an Australian skin care company. When her family suffered financial hardship, she opened a small skin care clinic in Camberwell, Melbourne called ‘Skinformation’ with the $40,000 she saved from her previous jobs. “It was then that I began formulating my products. My first product was a sunscreen moisturiser, followed by a Vitamin B serum. These two products have evolved over the years, but they are still my top two products. My role in the clinic was formulating new products and providing skin consultation to my clients. I had no beauty therapy qualifications, so I employed a therapist. My skill set was making products and understanding the needs of my clients,” she said.
She started small and operated only within her capacity and resources. With earnings from her treatments and product sales, she gradually increased the quantity of the products she was selling to grow her venture organically. In the early years, she performed every aspect of the business herself. It gave her a good vantage point to see her business in its entirety. “Back in the day, I was the sales rep, the bookkeeper, the graphic designer, the order taker, the concept developer and the formulator. I never paid myself a salary and put most of the profit back into my business. Before I opened my lab, I had to my products made in a sterile environment at a compounding chemist who is a friend to this day. My client base continued to grow, and I continued to invest back into my business. I also negotiated prepaid terms with my clients so cash flow was always positive and I remained debt free. I simply grew organically and avoided placing my business under financial pressure or risk,” Terri remarked.
Events took a bit of a downturn when the GFC hit in 2008. Clients were no longer having treatments, yet the product sales of her formulations continued to grow. It appeared that her products were recession-proof. Realising that she should focus on her skill set, she then regrouped and consolidated, concentrating on producing effective skincare and functional makeup products. She closed shop, gave her client database to a local beauty salon, sold her laser machine, and found an empty warehouse to rent in Burwood, Melbourne. She described, “Literally, it was a box with just four walls and a massive two-story-high ceiling. I created a laboratory, a pick-and-pack area, an office and a reception area. From that moment, everything started to head north, and I was on my way to creating a vertically integrated business.”
Synergie Skin has made great strides since its inception, emerging as a homegrown Australian business to become an international presence in Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the USA. From one warehouse, they have now expanded to three warehouses. The company has also grown from two team members in 2006 to almost 35 team members today, which Terri regards as a family.
She managed to get from point A, the time when she opened her skin care clinic, to point B, where she is right now, as she strived to be better by following her P-A-T-H to success. “P is for Passion. If you don’t have the passion for what you’re doing, and if it doesn’t drive every fibre of your being to make amazing products or make a difference, then you shouldn’t be doing it. Passion will drive you even in your darkest hours. Second is A for Ability. If you do not work on your strength, then you will probably fail. I know that my strength is in formulating products and relating to people. The third is Tenacity. I never give up if I believe in my cause. I’m very tenacious. I believe that problems are simply solutions waiting to happen. The fourth and probably the most important one is Hard work. There are no shortcuts to success, and I certainly don’t believe in get-rich-quick schemes. I’ve worked my butt off for over fifteen years, and I still love it! So, that’s what I call the P-A-T-H to success.”
Although Terri didn’t have any mentor or formal training on running a business, she learned everything through experience and invaluable mistakes. She also found her fellow EO Melbourne members as a fantastic peer group where she can exchange and bounce ideas off with fellow business owners. Her forum group has been a great support to her. She is also grateful to have gathered an incredible team that fills in her own ability ‘gaps’. However, she relies mostly on her common sense and moral compass, which guided her in treating others with respect, standing by her ethics and making logical decisions.
Centred on her core values, Terri has a different approach when it comes to marketing her business. The lectures I make at medical conferences, as well as my blogs and videos, are often based on skincare concepts, with no reference to my brand or specific products. I want to provide education and products that work to my customers,” she remarked.
When it comes to ingredients in products, many companies may simply add a whiff of an active ingredient in their products for marketing claims and not efficacy. Terri stays true to the formulas using clinical data and the maximum dosage of ingredients in her products for efficacy and not just for the claim. Her brand of clean science ensures that the ingredients are safe and non-toxic. “I don’t use artificial colours, artificial fragrance, paraben preservatives, PEG’s, phthalates or anything that is deemed questionable or toxic. What I leave out of products often as important as what I put in. But I am not necessarily organic or natural. I use safe laboratory-made active ingredients and combine them with equally safe botanicals to create clean science products,” explained Terri.
To remain nimble and dynamic with the times and the changing needs of the market, Terri created a vertically integrated business. Terri is the formulator and the concept developer. From her original inception of the product to manufacturing to filling to labelling to dispatch and to overseeing the marketing and sales teams, everything happens under the same roof with virtually no outsourcing.
When it comes to the rest of her entrepreneurial journey, Terri is flexible to the shifting landscape and future of the industry. “Ingredients, technology and consumer demands are changing so rapidly, almost daily, so our plans need to be malleable. Rigid planning can be a noose around your neck if you strictly follow a five-year plan. Generally, I’m looking at expanding my international presence in the next five years. I hope to remain relevant to the needs of my customers and make a difference in their skin health and confidence. It is also important that my team continues to have fun, remains cohesive and continually adheres to our values.”
Terri admitted that she’s currently going through rough times on the personal front. But she finds comfort from her son’s words, who said, ‘Mum, you’re a creator, and the greatest art comes from the darkest times.’ The brave entrepreneur declared, “When I look at it, these challenging times are going to give me that kick to jumpstart again like that twelve-year-old who found out that she was adopted. She had to get on with her life, and so should the grown-up version. That’s what entrepreneurs do. We pick ourselves up and keep on going.”
If she looks at her entire journey, there’s one word that comes to her mind – grittiness. “I am resilient. I don’t fall in a heap, and I refuse to look back at my life without any regrets. Everything that’s happened in my life has brought me to this point. I’m good with who I am and what I have achieved. I have two incredible adult children, a successful business with a team who makes it a privilege to work with them, and a few great friends who have travelled the roller coaster with me. I do think that the greatest joys come from the highs and the lows, not from the trivial stuff in between.”
“One of the other characteristics of entrepreneurs, apart from resilience, is fearlessness, wherein we take risks. I’m terrified of heights, so I’ll never jump out of a plane or bungee jump. Physical fearlessness is not me. But for some reason, I always backed myself. I have never felt scared when it comes to my business. I don’t have a business partner to answer to, so if I mess up, I own it and change direction without fear.” she imparted.
Terri has found confidence in what she’s doing. She’s on a mission of helping others find theirs with the help of her business. She quipped, “What I try to do with Synergie is create an amazing product, not to change people physically but to make them feel better about themselves. That inner glow generates so much more than just what the products do. When I get an email or Facebook message from somebody whom I’ve positively changed the way they perceive themselves, I know I’m doing the right thing.”