By Mario Toneguzzi
The essential oils business has become a booming industry in Canada and for more than 25 years Saje Natural Wellness has been at the forefront introducing Canadians to products to make them feel better, naturally.
The company, based in Vancouver, has seen its footprint expand quite significantly since it opened its first store in 1992 and more expansion is planned for both in Canada and in the United States, where it opened its first store in the fall of 2016 in Malibu, California.
“We like to look at each community as an individual community and look at where are they best served from a shopping perspective. So there is no I would say preference for us,” said Kate Ross LeBlanc, co-founder and CEO of Saje, about the company’s philosophy of where it opens stores - either in shopping malls or streetfront locations.
“It’s really where that community is comfortable. Where do they like to gather? Where are there other retailers where they’re also getting their shopping experience? And we like to co-locate there.”
The company currently has 57 locations in Canada and 19 in the United States. The typical store size in Canada ranges from 800 square feet to 1,200 square feet and the company uses internal resources for its real estate needs.
Stores feature natural finishes in wood and metal to reflect the brand’s positioning. Vancouver-based Peregrine was involved in building 37 locations in Canada and the United States, including fabricating fixtures as well as store facades.
Ross LeBlanc said the company opened six stores in 2018 in the Canadian market.
“Our original goal was to get to 50 stores within Canada,” she said. “We’re now above that store count. So we’ve really opened in the major markets and the major centres across Canada and now are infilling in the smaller markets where we can tell from our digital business that we have a community that can support a store. It’s been very exciting for some of the locations that we’re opening.
“In a couple of months, we’ll be opening in Aberdeen Mall in Kamloops (British Columbia). Five locations in Canada we’re going to be opening. That will bring our end of the year store count up to 62 locations within Canada.”
Ross LeBlanc said the store count within Canada will probably not go much beyond 70 locations in the future. But the company will also look at existing locations to see if there are more advantageous locations to either locate or expand stores.
“That’s our work ahead. To make sure that in each of these communities where we’ve established ourselves that we are in the optimum locations within Canada,” she said.
No new stores have been opened in the U.S. in the past 12 months but Ross LeBlanc said the company has plans for growth south of the border. No details though at this time.
The Saje story begins years ago with Kate Ross LeBlanc’s husband Jean-Pierre LeBlanc who after a car accident had a number of health challenges including chronic pain. He had a background in chemistry and made his own essential oil blends to help in his recovery.
“He had a real health crisis going on at the time I met him,” said Ross LeBlanc.
It was the spark that launched Saje - bringing Canadians the healing power of natural, plant-derived alternatives to pharmaceutical medicine.
Ross LeBlanc also has a retail background as she grew up up in her mom's retail business in a small Ontario town. She had a romantic passion about retail having spent so much time in her mother’s fabric store on main street. It was a place that was always a hub of activity and community.
“The story of Saje began I guess with two passions that came together. In my case it was a passion and in the case of (Jean-Pierre) it was a need,” she said.
“We moved to Vancouver. Jean-Pierre in search of a more natural lifestyle and he started to learn about essential oils and developed actually our very first product being Peppermint Halo which is still our best seller today. And my love of retail. Those two things came together. In the first 15 years that’s what we were doing with a very small group of stores. Here in B.C. we were pioneering the product lines. We were learning more and more about the healing powers of essential oils. We were working with Health Canada to develop regulations for the essential oil industry. We became poised for growth in around 2011 and at that point I think we grew over the next five years from about 12 stores to 50 within Canada.”
Ross LeBlanc said there is a growing segment of the population that is interested in all-things natural, in eating healthy and in taking responsibility for their own wellness.
“They’re looking outside the traditional pharmacopeia to stay well and also turning to things that are natural as they become unwell and also to supplement other modalities,” she said.
Those customers come from a wide range of demographics and the brand, said Ross LeBlanc, also resonates across many different geographies from farming communities to downtown Toronto.
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: email@example.com.