When 36-year-old Marice Mercuur’s daughter started developing eczema at only six months old she tried every medicine that her doctor prescribed to her, without success.
Her mother, a rooibos tea farmer, advised Mercuur to bath little Jemma in rooibos tea water hoping that it would make a difference to her skin condition.
“I started doing that, but I was still using the normal baby’s soap. I could see that something was happening, because my daughters skin started to improve, especially in her face,” remembers Mercuur. “That’s when I got the idea to start my rooibos skin products.”
Mercuur grew up on a rooibos farm in Wupperthal in the Western Cape where her parents were both rooibos farmers. However, she never imagined that the indigenous plant would help her daughter’s skin or cultivate a business for her.
The mother of three went to school at Clanwilliam Senior Secondary School where she completed her matric in 2002.
She got a job at the Cederberg municipality as chief financial clerk where she met Nigel the father of her children.
Nigel still works for the municipality, but Mercuur quit her job in 2018 to focus on her business fulltime. She started experimenting with glycerine soap hoping to find a blend that would work for her skin care range.
Finding the perfect recipe
“Glycerine soap is a base soap that you buy and then you can just melt it and combine it with whichever products you want. You can combine it with the rooibos tea that I use, lavender or any other product,” she directs.
She played around with the glycerine soap and rooibos tea until she found the perfect blend. Then she contacted the company she usually bought her materials from to teach her how to make different products so she could start a skin care range.
“The owner helped me with the ingredients for other products like lotions, body butters, shower gel, and that’s when I started my business,” she says.
Today Mercuur has more than ten different products in two ranges listed under her business, Marice Mercuur Pty (Ltd). She distributes her products online, to local spa’s and at farm stores in her hometown of Clanwilliam in the Western Cape.
The first range is a handmade range that consists of the soap, lotion, a shower gel, a hand wash and a body butter.
“Sometimes I will do lip balms as well, but those are the five main products,” she says.
Mercuur indicates that her natural range is completely different from her handmade range.
“My natural range is a safe range that consist of a face wash, toner, moisturiser, shampoo and conditioner. I don’t use the same ingredients for the natural range. My natural range is for retailers and chain stores and the only product that is handmade is the natural butter,” she says.
She reveals that her biggest mistake when starting out was making too many products at the same time.
“In the beginning I had a lot of fragrances and essentials oils, so I had to make labels for all those products that I have. I would say if you want to start something, especially in skin care or in anything that you make by hand, don’t go big at the beginning. It takes a lot of money to buy all the packaging and the labels,” she says.
Mercuur shares that marketing, administration and working alone were also her biggest stumbling blocks when she first started her business, but her situation has improved.
“I have people working for me now, so my situation is better,” she says.
She makes her products in her private studio at home and often does workshops to teach people how to make soap.
“My soap studio is attached to our house. I manufacture the handmade products and I also do workshops, showing people how they can manufacture their own products. I don’t teach my recipes, I only do basic recipes for lotion and soap,” she says.
Getting recognition as entrepreneur
She currently has two people working for her in her soap studio and in the future, she wants to expand as an online shop.
“I wanted to expand and export in all the malls and in different countries, first in South Africa, Africa and then overseas. But after covid-19 everything changed. I would still like to sell in shops but more online and I would like to explore options for exporting,” she says.
The mother of three has already won in the Western Cape Female Entrepreneur Awards presented by the Western Cape department of agriculture and appeared as a guest on kykNET’s popular show, KLOP.
“Winning the Western Cape Female Entrepreneur Awards competition was one of my biggest moments of breakthrough. The award comes with a prize. A lot of people got to know me through that competition. I learned a lot from the other participant,” she says.
‘There are a lot of people who want to start their business, but they are waiting for people to give them money or they are just waiting to have enough money to start a business. Just start.’
Mercuur shares that leaving a legacy for her children is what keep her going.
“After quitting my job two years back there were a lot of times where I questioned myself, wondering whether I had done the right thing. Should I have kept my job and built this into a bigger company?” she says.
“But today I am not regretful if I look at my children and I know that they can take this further. I think they are the ones that keep me going with my endeavours,” she says.
The Wupperthal-born beauty’s advice to young, aspiring entrepreneurs is not to wait for the perfect moment to start their businesses.
“I would say first just start. There are a lot of people who want to start their business, but they are waiting for people to give them money or they are just waiting to have enough money to start a business,” she says.
Her second piece of advice is to take baby steps and get help.
“Start small and get a mentor, someone who is willing to help. A mentor that did this already and was successful. Ask for help, don’t be shy.”