When New Brunswicker Alicia Sharp’s oldest son was born in 2016, she was taken back by the lack of transparency from major corporations when it came to exactly what was in the baby products stocked on store shelves.
Driven by the desire to keep products as simple and natural as possible, Sharp launched UpFront Cosmetics, a line of hair care bars that are free of sulphates, parabens and synthetic fragrance.
Sharp spoke with Excellence NB about her product line, why she loves New Brunswick’s entrepreneurial landscape and the importance of standing out in a sea of competition.
What inspired you to get into business?
My business started when my oldest son Eli was a baby. I couldn’t find products I was comfortable using on him as I found there was a real lack of transparency about exactly what is in the products. There’s no regulation behind the use of the word “natural,” yet so many mass-produced products tout the fact they’re natural. The first product I made was a dandelion-Vaseline based diaper cream.
What do you like about this business, and, conversely, what don’t you like?
The thing I’ve liked the most is how empowering it has been to go into business for myself as I found it’s given me the opportunity to identify myself as something other than being a mom. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mother. Finding something that has come to mean so much to both me and my family has been a great experience.
As for something I’m not particularly fond of would be the business side of things. Business basics were never really my strong suit, but thanks to my participation in UNB’s Summer Institute Business Accelerator Program, I’ve learned an incredible amount.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced or are currently facing?
The biggest challenge has definitely been finding the time necessary to dedicate to the business. When I started out, I admittedly had an idealistic view of staying home with the kids and being able to make the business work. But then I realized that wearing the various hats of being a business owner – sourcing ingredients, labelling and delivering the products among others – was going to be a difficult task while having the kids at home. I’ve had a hard time delegating out jobs and tasks to others, but there’s a time coming where I’m going to have to do just that.
What would you consider the biggest challenge in operating a business in New Brunswick?
I came to realize just how oversaturated the market is with homemade bath and body products. Getting my foot in the door with retailers was initially tough because there was already so much similar product in the marketplace. That’s in part what has driven my push to move into hair care; it wasn’t anything I had initially planned but am happy I made the move.
What is it about your work that inspires you?
I love helping people. Before starting up my business, I was working in the human services fields with adults and children with special needs. Now with this business, I’m in a position where I can hire other moms that might not be able to go back to work due to the cost of daycare or other factors. I want to empower them in the same way I felt when I started.
Can you think of an example of how you support local?
One of the biggest ways I support local businesses is directing customers to purchase my products from local retailers instead of online. I’m a big believer in karma and hope that if I help direct my customers to local business, the businesses will in turn help promote my products.
Do you have any advice for others looking to start a business?
I think anybody can start a business but success isn’t going to come if you don’t believe in yourself. Chances are almost every idea you’ll come up with is already being done by someone else, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Identify how and why you’d be different because that, along with products the public needs, is ultimately what will set your business apart from others.
There is a negative stigma that some people associate with New Brunswick. As an entrepreneur, what would you say to others asking why you choose to live here and operate a business?
The entrepreneurship ecosystem in New Brunswick is amazing. It seems as though everybody wants to help. It’s a supportive, collaborative atmosphere, and not as competitive as some might believe it to be.
But also, people want to support local businesses in the province, especially when the product is as good or better than what’s carried in a big box retail store. They understand that by doing so they are reinvesting in the province’s economy.