How Halifax-based SkinFix is taking its 150-year-old formula global

A chance elevator pitch got Amy Gordinier-Regan’s all-natural skin-care line into 2,000 Target stores. What’s next?

Skinfix CEO Amy Gordinier-Regan

Skinfix CEO Amy Gordinier-Regan. “I had worked in the industry a long time but I had never seen anything really like this before.”

Amy Gordinier-Regan is a beauty industry veteran who became an entrepreneur by circumstance. The native Nova Scotian had started her career in the marketing departments of companies like L’Oréal and Estée Lauder in New York and London. But, when she returned home after a decade away to be closer to family, she found little demand for her professional expertise. She was on the verge of returning to the U.S. when she was introduced to the then owner of SkinFix, an ointment built on a homemade formula from the 1870s. Developed in England, the recipe had been passed down between generations and sold out of the back of pharmacies.

“I was captivated by the formula,” Gordinier-Regan says. “I had worked in the industry a long time but I had never seen anything really like this before.” Gordinier-Regan’s lack of a job contributed to her decision to jump at the opportunity to buy the company, making her “an entrepreneur by necessity.”

Starting out was a challenge; she tossed $90,000 worth of product from her first, subpar production run. But the real trial was turning a century-old product conceived to treat diaper rash into something retailers wanted to put on their shelves in the hyper-competitive skin care aisle. It wasn’t as though retailers hadn’t heard of it. Loblaws had carried SkinFix products for a year before abandoning them due to a lack of marketing support from the company. Her strategy: underscore the product’s effectiveness by getting its entire formula certified under stringent Health Canada guidelines for over-the-counter drugs. The new approval allowed her to claim all four active ingredients helped against eczema, a condition that didn’t have an effective all-natural treatment.

With the new certification and marketing plan in place, Gordinier-Regan went back to Loblaws. They still said no—at least at first—but her persistence resulted in the chain giving SkinFix a second chance. By now, Gordinier-Regan had bigger aspirations for SkinFix outside of Canada. At the urging of her mentor and investor, Canadian billionaire John Risley, she went to a beauty conference in May 2014 to network and explore potential customers in the U.S. Her goal? Land Target. A chance elevator meeting on the final day of the conference with a senior VP from Target gave her that opportunity. “I only had to go two floors, so I had to talk quickly but I happened to mention a few things—over-the-counter, natural, premium—that hit the hot buttons,” she says. “Two weeks later, we were there in a room with buyers.”

Ramping up to serve Target’s 2,000 U.S. locations was a risky move. It not only increased production, but threw the company into a headlong battle with major pharmaceutical and packaged goods companies. Risley even cautioned it might be too much, too soon. But, ultimately, Gordinier-Regan is glad she did it. With the help of the Target deal, SkinFix sales are on track to hit $20 million this year, up from $7 million in 2014.

Her exclusive agreement with Target ends in August. She’s already got a deal in place with another U.S. retailer, and is in talks with more. She initially intended to expand into major U.S. drugstore chains but, based on the feedback from Target, she may adjust that plan. Through Target, SkinFix discovered its products are resonating with younger consumers. What she plans to do with that piece of intelligence is unclear; she’s coy about the retailers she’s negotiating with, but it sounds like she’s now targeting the make-up department, along with the pharmacy.

Building SkinFix’s U.S. business with a staff of 22 in Halifax and scant on-the-ground resources in America is a major challenge, she says. She’s hiring to help manage the growth, but is still learning about her new market. Every time she goes to the States, she visits at least one store; she learns something new each time. And she’s already think- ing about challenging herself again: Gordinier-Regan wants to expand SkinFix into the United Kingdom, and recently bought Sweet Spot Labs, a company that makes an all-natural soap for women. It’s a lot to juggle, but for someone who became an entrepreneur by happenstance, Gordinier-Regan seems to be doing just fine.