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Raunsborg to export old Viking knowledge to China


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When founders are said to represent the ethos of their brands, over time, it can sometimes appear nothing more than an empty marketing message — an attempt to assimilate consumers into a mythology, associating brands with perceived personas that don’t really draw on any concrete assertions of their creators’ true lifestyles or beliefs. This couldn’t be further from the truth, however, with Danish skincare brand Raunsborg. By combining health, wellness and a oneness with nature together with forgotten “magic knowledge” of Nordic plants, herbs and flowers, Raunsborg’s brand is truly an imprint of its creator, Jim Lyngvild, as CEO Charlotte Dinnie Jensen explains.

Launched in 2012 following Jim’s partnership with Plum A/S, a world leading skincare maker for the medical and industrial sectors, Raunsborg’s products strive to offer simplicity, minimalism and affordability to consumers, while tapping into a wider celebration of the Nordic way of life. Yet, its appeal goes much deeper than this and is intimately linked to Jim’s private obsession with Nordic history and culture. The designer, commentator, photographer and author is a celebrated eccentric on the Scandinavian fashion scene known for his crazy styles, creative verve and demanding diligence to achieving visual perfection. While his fashion shows, which often draw on Viking dress and imagery, show glimpses of his passion for the past, Jim’s fascination with his ancestors and the ‘old magic’ are manifest completely in his foray into skincare. In Charlotte’s words:

“Jim’s hunger for the past and nature is genuine. The name Raunsborg is taken from the Viking inspired castle, Ravnsborg, where he lives. He spends much of his spare time living as a Viking would have, and his products rely entirely on natural ingredients referenced in the Flora Danica, a 370-year-old book which documents all herbs and plants found in the Nordic region.” Jim also still believes in the old gods of the Vikings and is currently building a Viking temple, which when finished, will be the first time such a temple has existed for 2,000 years. Charlotte added: “Inspired by the old knowledge, he undoubtedly lives by the values instilled in the Raunsborg brand.”

Charlotte was speaking from castle Ravnsborg, where she and the team were preparing for the visit of around twelve thousand people to a four-day event showcasing Raunsborg as well as other Danish health and wellness offerings. Guests would enjoy a tour of the grounds, as well as the market, which included a “Raunsborg universe” with beauticians offering product demonstrations, as well as salesmen dressed as Vikings. The popularity of this event, held twice a year in summer and again before Christmas, is indicative of Jim’s following, as well as Raunsborg success in Denmark. Present in 600 stores nationally, including Matas and Magasin, the business has achieved year-on-year double digit growth.

Charlotte’s appointment as CEO in December 2016, however, marked a new phase in Raunsborg’s journey as she highlighted: “I was hired to help the business make a quantum leap by moving it from a sales organisation to being more strategic around brand building and distribution, and generally professionalising the operation.” A former Matas, La Prairie and Yves Saint Laurent executive, Charlotte was the ideal person to compliment Jim’s creative flair with operational process and discipline. In six months, she has already made several organisational changes to achieve specific aims including establishing visual and merchandising guidelines, ramping up marketing and PR, and hiring dynamic ambitious sales-orientated people: “Distribution has been successful in raising brand awareness, but we now need consistency in our merchandising across all distributors. The aim is to get better control of the situation and transform Raunsborg into a beauty brand.” 

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Product development at Raunsborg, as Charlotte explains, involves the whole team who start with a selection of formulas from the lab and conduct internal tests, each trying the formulas before providing oral feedback. Necessary changes are made until the team settle on a final version, which they pass to Jim for approval. Any final alterations (texture, smell, etc.) he wishes to include are then added. The business then employs a test group of 100 people — usually sourced through Facebook and segmented by location, age, etc. — who receive a sample, guidelines and a questionnaire and must try the product for two to three weeks before sending back a completed form. Part of the form asks trialists to rate products out of five and Charlotte was adamant that nothing with an average rating below four is ever launched. 

While Charlotte manages the day-to-day business and sets the strategy, all ideas concerning new products, designs and imagery must be agreed by Jim first. Charlotte admits she’d always considered herself a creative person until she met Jim and is happy to draw on his expertise in these areas: “Creatively, he surpasses anyone. He’s so energetic and tends to see things that other people don’t. Any minor divergence from our visual guidelines and he will be on the phone straight away. At the same time, he’s kind and respectful to everyone and trusts those around him, acknowledging and taking their advice in areas where he lacks experience.”

undefinedCharlotte’s particular expertise is needed for Raunsborg’s audacious plan to launch in China by the end of 2017, and she revealed this has been the businesses aim for a while. Again, Jim is the driving force behind this daring adventure which, in many ways, is typical of his desire to always challenge accepted beliefs — in this instance those of western consumer products companies now seeking alternative export markets due to the slowdown in Chinese consumer industry growth. Fresh from her MBA, during which she outlined a strategy for Raunsborg to achieve success in China, Charlotte is optimistic they’ll meet their goals: “Jim has curated several fashion shows in China for Kopenhagen Fur and already has a PR representative there, who secured his appearance on Hey Muse — a TV programme watched by two hundred and fifty million people. Plus, the emerging middle class, which already enjoys significant consumption power, demands non-Chinese products with those from Scandinavia in the top ten most searched for, nationally.”

After studying the market for the last two years, Charlotte is determined to do things properly, act cautiously and not make mistakes. Through her contacts she has secured the services of an experienced adviser — an ex-Danish foreign ministry representative and resident of Shanghai who has helped several brands enter the market — and together they have assessed three hundred potential distributors as they seek the best and most relevant partners. With the broader Shanghai area alone containing twenty-five million people, segmenting the country, Charlotte explained, is essential, where more than one partner is needed to cover different locations. At the time of writing, fifteen distributors are participating in final negotiations and the business hopes to decide soon:

“Even though I came into the role with much of the groundwork done, there’s still a lot of hard work and frustration ahead, and patience required. The final stage is more detailed, and we must carefully consider the pros and cons of each and develop a coherent strategy. Mistakes are common in China — companies often rush in, form partnerships that don’t provide the right support and then fail fast. We’re seeking financial backbone and capability to grow Raunsborg in China, as well as brand knowledge and a passion for the brand. It’s vital the brand identity is right at the beginning.”

It’s a tough challenge, but it’s one Charlotte is relishing. Having spent most her career working for big companies where it was difficult to influence the direction of the brands, at Raunsborg she admitted stamping her footprint on the product and building the business up with Jim and her team is “extremely satisfying.” Not content with launching in China, Charlotte has also set herself several other difficult objectives including achieving double-digit growth in Denmark in 2017, while readying three new products for launch, as well as at least one other market (likely European) lined up for expansion, in 2018.

She concluded: “Raunsborg is just getting started; we’re constantly looking for ways to expand our universe, being small means that we can move quickly and with Jim’s unique appeal and his determination to achieve the best and highest standards in all aspects of the product and the brand, we’re certain to succeed.” 

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