How HR helps drive innovation & customer success at Sapphire Group

There are three keys to the success of Sapphire Group, according to its co-founder and creative director, Nicole Eckels

There are three keys to the success of Sapphire Group, according to its co-founder and creative director, Nicole Eckels, who explained that HR plays a critical role in enabling and driving each of these critical elements across the business.

Established in 2006, Sapphire Group has become a market leader in scented candles, fragrance diffusers and body products through its brands Glasshouse Fragrances and Circa Home.

With more than 100 employees and $50 million in revenue, Sapphire Group now controls more than 25 per cent of the $200 million fragrant candle market in Australia.

Eckels believes acquiring top talent with a proven track record helped her business grow at 50 per cent for the first five years running, and Sapphire Group’s HR team has been integral to this process.

“Our HR team is incredible; they work with our executive team on the business strategy and goals for the business.

“They’re part of the entire business and not just off on the side doing something with managing people problems.

“They play a critical role in growth plans to make sure that the people strategy is integrated with these.

“They make sure we have the right people, the right capacity, the right structure and the right environment so that we can achieve our goals for the future.

“They help promote cross-functional support and collaboration and our business is about people working well together so they achieve the results for the company, and we strive to make sure we get that balance right.”

“Our HR team is incredible; they work with our executive team on the business strategy and goals for the business”

Eckels acknowledges that more broadly, the right people are critical to the success of Sapphire Group.

“The biggest asset we have is our people. They are really dedicated to the brand, and our products being the best,” she said.

“I have always been very clear that if you are going to spend most of your life at work, you need to really enjoy it.

“From a hiring point of view, we hire for culture and make sure people are the right fit.

“We hire for skill certainly, but we also hire for cultural fit because we want to have a good family environment as that’s the kind of business we are,” she said.

Eckels acknowledged that people are “the most challenging part of a business” and said that as the Sapphire Group business got bigger, it was important to align everyone with the direction of the business.

A challenge associated with fast growth is managing change within peoples’ roles, and Eckels said this has led to a number of issues.

“Because we’ve been growing so fast for such a long time, you might hire someone that’s right for a job – and then two years later they’re no longer right.

“That has been very, very challenging because I’m a very loyal person from an ethical and moral point of view,” she said.

“There are some people who have been here seven or eight years, yet their job role has changed eight or nine times.

“Every time this happens, they have to go through this change, so you need someone in HR who can walk them through this and give them clarity.

“Because we’ve been growing so fast for such a long time, you might hire someone that’s right for a job – and then two years later they’re no longer right”

Another key to the success of Sapphire Group has been a keen focus on innovation, and the business has a dedicated innovation department which is responsible for new categories, products and fragrances.

“The home fragrance category is growing fast, however, it’s still in its infancy relative to other markets,” said Eckels.

“There are many things we can do, and we’re deliberately focused on this – but it has been difficult because we’re wholesalers first and foremost.

“Retailer’s shelves aren’t elastic; you have to look at which products are required by the market at the right time.

“As we grow and the brand, product and the category matures, we’ll probably stretch more into some real innovation,” said Eckels, who plays a foundational role in creating of creating new products.

When the business started Eckels was responsible for this process, but as Sapphire Group has grown she said a different approach was needed.

“We had a team looking after this, but over time our fragrance palettes, our olfactory senses, have become overly sophisticated.

“It’s difficult for us now to choose fragrances on our own which are primed for pleasing lots of customers.

“So we have something like a brain’s trust, in which we rely on our customers to help us choose which fragrances that they would like next.”

Similarly, Eckels said a keen focus on the customer has been a key to the success of Sapphire Group – “whether it be the end consumer, or the people buying our products like the retailer because we’re mostly wholesale.

“We built our business on customer satisfaction and service, to the point where we bend over backwards in an attempt to please the customer,” she said.

Image source: Hayden Brotchie