"A Melbourne mum put everything on the line – selling the family home – when the pandemic threatened to derail her business." – Featured in news.com.au
When Pearl Chan’s business couldn’t source any packaging for almost a year after the Covid-19 pandemic hit, she nearly gave it all up, but with a newly adopted son at home, she felt the need to keep fighting for his future.
The 46-year-old is the founder of Resparkle, selling a range of environmentally friendly cleaning products. But when Covid almost became the business’s death knell, Ms Chan took the drastic step of selling her house to help her non-toxic cleaning range survive.
“I was looking at products people use every day and stumbled across cleaning products. I was really horrified about the chemicals used in them – but eight years ago no one cared about sustainability,” she told news.com.au.
“I created a 100 per cent natural formula that is non-toxic. I have bad sensitive skin and as a child I had bad asthma and when I found out how bad cleaning chemicals are I put two and two together. I grew up in Singapore and it’s all about being clean and bleaching everything, so that’s the reason why I was such a sickly child.”
Long process to come up with an affordable product
She faced a huge challenge though with creating a product that didn’t contain chemicals but was still effective and affordable.
“When it comes to cleaning, people are not willing to pay $30 for spray cleaner as I was competing with a $4 product in supermarkets,” she said.
It was a two-year process to come up with the formula, with affordability the hardest part.
“Natural ingredients are a lot more expensive than chemicals, so the solution was I sold them as concentrates and people could dilute them with their own tap water,” she said.
“If the concentrates are 10 per cent of a 500ml bottle, for example, I saved on packaging and transport and I was able to sell cleaning concentrates close to $5, so it’s not more expensive than what people buy at supermarkets.”
The base ingredient she found was a coconut-based disinfectant and then essential oils were used to fragrance the products.
Starting as a side hustle with two cleaning products launched at a Melbourne farmer’s market, Ms Chan admits Resparkle’s self-funded journey was a slow burn.
But she built up a loyal customer base, turning it into a full-time gig two years ago.
When the Covid pandemic hit Australia, it created a “really stressful” situation.
“It wiped out all my stock. I didn’t have any cleaning products to sell for the whole of last year because with supply chain disruption I couldn’t secure any packaging. It gave me the opportunity where I had the option to buy plastic or rebuild the business and innovate further,” she said.
“That’s what I did … but it was really expensive. I had to buy new machines, new materials and reformulate and the only way to do it was to sell the house, obviously with the blessing of my husband who really believes in the business. I think he believes in it more than I did, but it was a ride or die innovation.”
It was a huge gamble as they didn’t own the house outright, so after the sale, which went through for just under $1 million, they moved into a rental and put their $250,000 equity into Resparkle.
Overhaul of products
Ms Chan created a signature powder, which comes in individual compostable sachets made from plant materials, where people just add water to use it as a cleaner. The patented powder includes a probiotic bacteria derived from soy beans that is effective in cleaning tough stains and killing germs, she said. A powdered hand wash is also available. Both products last around two months, depending on how much people use them.
Resparkle also offers the option to buy reusable glass and silicone bottles.
Customers usually buy the starter kit for $25 to $30, which comes with a reusable bottle. One refill sachet is priced between $3.70 to $4.00.
The gamble has paid off in a big way too. Ms Chan has seen huge success and said she is on tareting a turnover of $1 million this year.
“Seventy per cent of people who buy our products come back. When I launched the new powder, customers hadn’t heard from us for almost a year and I thought they had forgotten about us but when we released the new format it was so encouraging as we hit 10,000 sales within a day, so I took that as a really good sign to keep going,” she said.
Doing it for her son’s future
But the Melbourne mum admits she almost gave up.
“It was horrible. Honestly I was on the brink of just giving up. At the time, I had just adopted a baby boy and I am a first-time mum so I thought it would so much easier to put the business aside and focus on bringing him up,” she said.
“I was very tempted to give up but my son is also the reason I picked myself up. I have so much knowledge with what is happening with the environment, climate change and the plastic problem and with all that information in my head I felt I couldn’t sit back and not do anything.
“We are talking about the future of my son and this next generation. In 2050 … he’s only going to 30 years old, and we don’t know what the Earth is going to be like then. So I felt I had to do something. That’s why we pivoted and sold the house to back my idea.”
Currently, she is working on a personal care range due out soon.
“I see so much potential for a plastic-free alternative in personal care and we will be hopefully launching by August,” she revealed.
“I believe it will be Australia’s first plastic-free personal care range in powder format.”