We love shouting out some of our favourite mums in business and this post is all about Clare Anderson - creator of our favourite heated eye masks - Sensory Retreats...amongst other things. And....news just in, she won the Health & Beauty Entrepreneur Award at this week's Great British Entrepreneur Awards where there was some SERIOUS competition!! Whoop whoop!
We sat down with Clare and dug deep in to what makes her tick and why, why she's passionate about wellbeing, her journey, what's coming next and a whole load more. Grab a cuppa and get comfy, we talked...a lot!
OM - We love your heated eye masks - they're the best!! How did you go from being a beauty therapist to creating heated eye masks?
Firstly - thanks! It’s always lovely to receive such positive feedback about our well-being product range, encouraging me to keep going. I’m passionate about product development, and having the opportunity to be creative and innovative is something I find hugely rewarding.
It certainly wasn’t an overnight transition, but it was a natural one.
I’ve always been driven by helping people to feel good, delivering immersive wellbeing experiences with holistic results. It’s why I entered the beauty and spa industry in the first place. It’s hard to believe that was over 30 years ago now! I want all our products and treatments to make someone feel amazing, whether they are enjoying a treatment in a spa or at home, creating their own little magic pampering moment.
I am incredibly fortunate that before I started my own business I worked, for many years, in 5-star spas, on cruise ships and in high-end department stores, which gave me a huge amount of insight and experience in the beauty industry as a whole.
I started my career as a beauty therapist with Champneys Health Resort, moving into more senior roles over the years working for companies such as Clarins and Decleor eventually becoming the Sales Director of professional skincare brand Gerards.
It was whilst on a family holiday in Turks and Caicos where I first discovered Lava Shells and saw the opportunity to launch professional treatments to the spa industry in the UK. The rest isn’t quite a history. It’s been 13 years of hard graft to get to this point, but Lava Shells ignited a spark in me for product development and put me on the “self-heating” journey.
Lava Shells are the world's first self-heating massage tool and can deliver an hour of seamless massage and touch. Their huge success made me appreciate that people love the combination of heat and touch and had me think about other applications for this technology.
Within a year, our product became the most wanted heated massage in the spa industry, and I’m proud to say that 13 years on, Lava Shells are now available in over 2,000 spas, salons and by mobile beauty therapists. A few of the well-known spas you could visit for a Lava Shells massage include Champneys, Centre Parks, and Bannatyne.
But jumping back to how a beauty therapist created a self-heating eye mask range…..
Back in 2020, the spa industry literally closed overnight and my core business disappeared before my eyes. I had to pivot my business….and fast!
I had recently lauched a sister company to Shared Beauty Secrets called Sensory Retreats with the plan to build a consumer focused range of products, initially selling our professional massage oils and to develop other home use products. With salons and spas closed my only option was to fast-track a product idea that had been bubbling away on the back burner for a while, using self-heating technology but applied to an eye mask. I wanted to reach a wider, more diverse market and bring affordable luxury to everyone, anywhere they might be – home or away. It also gave a lifeline to our professional customers giving them a product to promote to their clients who were missing their regular massages.
As part of a larger portfolio of wellbeing consumer products under the Sensory Retreats umbrella, our eye masks have garnered a huge fan base and have been featured on ITV’s This Morning, as well as winning numerous prestigious awards, including a coveted 2022 ASOS Beauty Award.
OM - Wow, that's a lot, you've been busy! What do you love most about your brand(s) and business?
I love that my products bring wellbeing benefits to so many people. Nothing is more rewarding than helping people feel good, helping them sleep better and tapping into their senses so they can escape and unwind.
I am grateful and blessed that the right people have come into my life at the right time to join me on this journey. I count myself fortunate to have been involved in some incredible collaborations and to have met and worked with some amazing individuals and brands too. I put my heart, soul, and 100% conviction into everything I do and leave no stone unturned or contact untapped in my pursuit to ensure that my business is successful.
I’ve not been gifted any of my success, and the road certainly hasn’t been easy. I’ve had my setbacks, disappointments and failures. But I always dust myself off, get up and come back stronger than ever. I trust my instinct, and I have faith that everything will ultimately come good but only if you put yourself out there in the first place. I’m not afraid to feel uncomfortable, and I do think that’s important. I love the fact that despite the challenges, my business are still growing and evolving.
OM - How do you manage being a mum and the mental load that brings as well as running a business.
As you mentioned, I’m a mum of an 11-year old and family is super important to me. My daughter and my husband are what keep me grounded and focused, but they’re also the source of my drive, passion and inspiration to keep moving my business forwards.
I juggle running three businesses and enjoying an active lifestyle that involves them all.
My husband and I want to instil in our young daughter the importance of hard work and creativity. How it’s important to have dreams (no matter how big they might be) and to be open to all of life’s experiences.
My daughter is already showing signs of entrepreneurial flair and creativity and that excites me to see. It’s been hugely rewarding working together on the launch of Elf Eyes and, indeed the entire ElflandUK concept, which has been highly influenced by Siena.
As a busy business woman and mum, I know that it’s difficult to schedule in “me-time” and to give yourself permission to relax and discover those rare moments of calm within the day.
That’s one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about the self-heating technology that is present across my professional line and retail range of products. Nothing feels more relaxing than gentle warmth applied to the skin.
Whether that comes from a massage with a touch of heated bliss, slipping on a self-heated eye mask at the end of a hectic day, or just enjoying the contact of a physical hug with your family. I find that surrendering to your senses allows you to embrace that moment of calm.
It’s a theme that runs through my business and indeed, Surrender To Your Senses and more recently, Surrender To Your Inner Elf, are marketing messages that we regularly use.
OM - Elf Land sounds like every kids dream! Now, how do you take time out for yourself and look after your wellbeing/self-care?
As a family, we love long dog walks, riding our bikes, spending time with friends and family, movies nights, theathre shows, city breaks and most of all creating magical experiences and memories on holidays.
Family time keeps me centred and is essential to my own self-care.
Whether we’re travelling home or abroad, our little unit and the bond we have is what ultimately keeps me calm and grounded. I think it’s so important to create moments together as a family. I might always have my phone to deal with business enquiries day and night, but I always try to find time to appreciate being together.
I can’t pretend that I have the perfect balance everyday, but I do always commit to taking the time to be present and in the moment, and I will always be grateful for my family and the time we spend together.
OM - So, what's next for you?
That’s a question the team keep asking me too lol!
The challenge and goal for 2022 and beyond is to cement Sensory Retreats as the leading supplier of multi-sensory, self-curated experiences that can be enjoyed both in a spa and home setting.
I want to continue to support and bring innovative, luxurious, affordable products to the industry I love so much, which can be used to enhance their clients in spa experiences and create an incremental revenue stream for their business through a range of home-care products.
2020 cemented the importance of being kind to your body and mind. I was delighted that our range could help our corporate clients and their customers achieve these two important objectives.
Throughout 2022 we have continued to work on these well-being pillars, cementing our place in the luxury yet affordable retail market. At the same time, I’ve continued supporting and nurturing all our professional customers and while developing wellbeing products that both adults and children can use.
2022 has also been an incredibly exciting time for me, creating my newest venture, ElflandUK. Our first step into the wellness market for children.
ElflandUK is the new online portal for kids bursting with wonderful well-being gift ideas, featuring a range of sensory-based products that ignite but also recharge children’s delicate senses, especially beneficial in the run-up to the hectic festive season.
The range includes perfect stocking filler gift ideas like our award-winning self-heating eye masks, wish wands, and plush soft toys, as well as woodland adventures and outdoor activity days based in Evenely Woods (what we like to think of as the physical home of Elfland UK) to help children surrender to their inner spirit elf.
Our first-ever children’s storybook, The Lost Wish, is at the heart of the product range, inspired by my young daughter, Siena, and a group of talented people who came together to bring this vision to life.
OM - Congrats on the book! Tell us all about it. How did that come about?
It all started with my daughter Siena, always one of my biggest inspirations and the reason why I am so passionate and driven about supporting children’s wellbeing.
We’d been on a wonderful family visit to Lapland, UK, and Siena came up with an idea about what the elves did when they weren’t making presents and bringing the magic of Christmas to life. She thought it would make a wonderful story about how elves relax and unwind, and what might they get up to? Did they like to hang out with their friends and make magic or mischief?
It certainly got us both thinking and using our imaginations. Siena and I both started to explore the imaginary concept of an ‘Elf Land’. We thought about what a visit there might look like, what characters we might meet along the way and the adventures that could unfold.
Our creativity was on fire! It was December 2021 when we started to write down our ideas. We reached out to author Emily Jacobs to help bring our vision and story to life in early 2022. Three months later, The Lost Wish book, was written.
We then worked with illustrator, Emma Kurran who bought our charchters to colourful life as well as local teacher, Sim Crowther, who’s help we enlisted to edit the book. This enabled us to bring a strong educational angle to The Lost Wish, tapping into Sim’s knowledge of the school curriculum. But he also honored and ensured the themes of kindness and wellbeing remained woven throughout the story.
It’s been a challening year, year running Shared Beauty Secrets, Sensory Retreats while developing a new busiess Elfland UK. I wanted to target getting the book ready to launch for Septemer this year, in time for the busy Christams sales period, which meant working over the summer. Now that I can see all the incredible reviews on Amazon being uploaded, alongside the wonderful feedback we’ve received from the childen using the products, it makes all the hard work worth it! Seeing The Lost Wish for sale in some of our leading spa accounts is amazing. We’re also about to launch in Waterstones and and WHSmith’s which has made juggling busy work schedules and home life with stress and lots of late nights, ultimately worth while.
I’d describe The Lost Wish as an enchanting and magical children’s fantasy adventure book. It’s a story that encourages limitless imagination and where pure adventure awaits. It’s a tale guaranteed to excite and inspire young readers and their families aged 5+ everywhere and has been written in the perfect bite-sized chapters, ideal for bedtime reading. Used in conjunction with an Elf Eyes self-heating mask, it will help create the perfect relaxing bedtime routine.
The limited edition paperback version features bonus daily positive affirmations, well-wishes, and a character traits glossary for easy reference, all of which feature beautiful bespoke illustrations.
The Lost Wish is also a hugely inspiring one that supports children’s literacy and has core messaging interwoven throughout the book, reinforcing the importance of friendship, wellbeing, enjoying outdoor activities, and promoting sleep.
These are all things that, as a company, we feel extremely passionate about endorsing.
OM - What's your biggest pinch me moment then?
I had a few with Shared Beauty Secrets, for example being featured on ‘The Apprentice’, being dubbed “the new hot stones’ by Vogue for our Lava Shells product when it launched back in 2009. Then seeing that treatment go on to successfully launch in over 2000 leading salons and spas, incuding the prestigious Soho House Group. We’ve also been lucky enough to be invited back stage with Lava Shells and many events such as the National TV Awards, MTV Awards , X Factor and two of my favourite events hosted by Capital FM, the Summer and Jingle Bell Balls. As a result of being at those events we’ve been able to build relationships with Little Mix and Rita Ora . In fact, we’ve since been on tour with with Rita and regularly massage Perrie Edwards with our Lava Shells at her home.
As a mum these experinces have allowed me to win some serious brownie proints with my daughter, as Siena has been lucky enough to accompany me and meet Perrie on several occasions. Perrie has always been incredibly kind, so much so, that when we came to naming characters in The Lost Wish, Siena asked if we could name the magical Pixie, Perrie. Most of the characters in the book are in some way connected to people we know in real life. Being involved in bringing the vision for The Lost Wish to life has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. While it’s brought me well and truly out of my comfort zone, it’s also enabled me to spend precious time with Siena. Together we chose people that have inspired us to be part of the story including family, friends, our dog and even Siena’s teacher.
I’m blown away when I sit down and think about everything we’ve achieved in such a short time! I’ve so many favourite parts!
Being approached last year by Vanity Fair as one of their brands to watch was a pinch-me moment. I realised that people were beginning to acknowledge and recognise the journey we’ve been on.
Being nominated for (and winning) numerous prestigious awards, including an ASOS 2022 beauty award, is also up there in terms of achievements I’m super proud of. I’ve also just been short-listed for the Great British Entrepreneur Award, which is mind-blowing.
Actually, seeing Dermot and Alison wearing one of our eye masks live on ITV’s This Morning was also pretty special.
But honestly, holding a copy of The Lost Wish in my hand for the first time, especially as someone who was never academically successful and still struggles with dyslexia, was an overwhelmingly emotional experience.
Thinking about it, I’ve had more pinch-me moments than I ever thought possible!
OM - So many moments when you look back! Would you change anything about your journey in business?
Over the last few years, I've been forced to think very much on my feet and act quickly. I’ve been fortunate to have the support and trust of my clients and partners (not to mention family and friends), who have ultimately shown their confidence in and trust in me and my brand, along with support and backing from the industry that I love so much.
I feel so grateful to have such support, respect and trust from the people around me. This support helps me remain positive, passionate and driven towards innovation, even when circumstances such as Covid and now the cost of living crisis throw curveballs at us all!
I’m not sure that I would change anything as such. All the challenges that I’ve faced in the past have helped forge the journey that I’ve been on. Perhaps more financial security would be something that I’d change as, just like many businesses, financial restraints are perhaps the biggest challenge I’ve faced, but somehow always overcome.
OM - Any small business you want to shout out or have discovered lately?
I have worked with many small businesses over the years and actively seek out companies, who like me, are SME’s and I love to support small, local, new and emerging brands.
Most recently I have had the pleasure of collaborating with Evenley Wood Garden in Northamptonshire to bring our ElflandUK experience to life and it is truly the most magical place.
Working with outdoor activity Leader Jo Aspley, we are hosting our childrens activity days promoting interaction with nature, enjoyment of the great outdoors, creative play encouraging children to reconnect with the world around them, using the healing power of kindness, mindfulness and nature to simultaneously relax but also recharge over-stimulated bodies and minds. I can’t wait for more children to get off their screens and enjoy an Elfland Adventure in the wonderful settin of these local woods.
OM - And finally.... What do you wish you knew before you became a mum?
In the early days I wasn’t prepared for the sleep deprivation but also how much joy the smallest things could bring me.
I suppose, subconsciously, the lack of sleep in the early days probably inspired me to further develop my wellbeing treatments and products. But it was quite overwhelming to discover how things that I felt were important before could pale into insignificance compared to a giggle or a first word and how much joy and happiness those small moments could bring.
What I have learnt from becoming a mum is I can still be successful but by working smarter not harder.
Before Siena I would regularly work really long hours, and setting up my own business I thought it was necessary. Now I look back and see I can achieve just as much in less time, probably because I have to! It’s amazing what you can achieve in short space of time with the motivation to get home for more cuddles!
I also learnt that success isn’t the be all and end all, nowadays my family are the most important thing to me and the business, whilst still very important, comes second to family life and that’s okay. My businesses are still growing and developing and last year had our most successful year ever so striking a work life balance can be done.
OM - Actually, finally finally, what are you glad you didn't know before you became a mum?
I am sure many of us may not have become parents if we really knew how it totally takes over every moment of your life! That said it is worth every second but without a shadow of a doubt, it changes your life more than you could ever imagine.
It can be hard at times juggling a business and family life but I am lucky that I love what I do, and believe I have a good balance as previously mentioned. However, there are occasions where I have deadlines and it’s not possisble to delegate the task so have to work late.
It is not unusual for me to work through the night to ensure I can reach a deadline and still attend a school assembly or event. I am also so much more sensitive than I used to be. I have always been quite tough and driven in business but after becoming a mum I deffinetly found my maternal side and I genuinely care much more about everyone and everything. In hindsight I think becoming a mum has probably helped evolve my brands in a positive way and given me more understanding and empathy. It’s certainly cemented my love of helping those around me to improve their own wellbeing.