Taking a homegrown brand international: The Koh story
How eco-friendly cleaning solution, Koh, earned a loyal fan base on social media and is now building its international market.
Video: A tall man stands in a stylish open plan office. A range of white containers labelled 'Koh' are displayed on a desk.
Text: Adam Lindsay, Koh-Founder.
ADAM LINDSAY: Hi there. My name's Adam. I'm the co-founder of Koh. We're a home eco-cleaning system.
Video: Photos show Adam and a bearded man posing near piles of labelled boxes and holding Koh bottles. A toddler sits in Adam's car. Holding a baby, Adam vacuums and cleans a mirror. He sprays and cleans a range hood.
ADAM LINDSAY: Koh was born in Bondi. I was a work-from-home dad that was also looking after a number of the domestic duties, which included the cleaning, so I kind of had a very strong motivation to want to find something that was effective and safe for us in the family.
Video: The green 'Koh' logo is emblazoned on an office window. People work in the open plan office. The bearded man sits talking with Adam. He's interviewed.
Text: Justin Alexander, Koh-Founder.
JUSTIN ALEXANDER: I'm Justin Alexander, co-founder of Koh. I've known Adam for many years. He showed me this product and I was suitably wowed by it and I was very keen to come on board and join him on his mission. As the formulation was finalised, we launched the business from there.
Video: Adam is interviewed in the office. In a market stall, he demonstrates a cleaning product. Adam and Justin talk to customers.
ADAM LINDSAY: We started off in a very traditional environment, which were the farmers' markets. And that was, for us was really a critical thing, was just to be able to look people in the eye and ask them about the product, what was important to them, you know, and also having our customers coming back and feeding back to us what they liked, what they didn't like.
Video: Phone video of Koh products plays on a computer screen. Justin and a woman discuss the video.
JUSTIN ALEXANDER: The transition from the farmers' markets to online was quite a seamless one for us, really, because we basically took those learnings and that kind of presentation that we were doing at the farmers' markets and created a video and took that onto social media.
Video: On a Facebook page videos show Adam cleaning, checking his phone, and showing a woman a box of products. Many videos are listed on the page.
ADAM LINDSAY: Facebook has provided us with the medium of video to be able to explain our story and to be able to tell our, you know, customers around the product, how-to videos and the whole thing. The other thing that Facebook has given us is the ability to communicate directly with our customers in a very real-time manner.
Video: A video of Adam demonstrating the product is edited. Justin works with the editor.
JUSTIN ALEXANDER: Presenting our online demonstrations, with Adam at front of camera there, it's really all about showing the efficacy of the product and the authenticity of it.
Video: The open plan office where Adam is interviewed is decorated with large pot plants.
ADAM LINDSAY: Just the fact that we were just using the resources that we had to hand, and not to worry too much, I guess, about, you know, getting it absolutely right and it being perfect.
Video: In a kitchen, Adam is filmed holding a cleaning product. The video appears on a Facebook page.
ADAM LINDSAY: Three and two, um...one. Hi, everyone. It's Adam here from Koh.
Video: Justin talks with a colleague while staff members work on videos.
JUSTIN ALEXANDER: We obviously track all of our marketing content and actually, for us, the longer-form content performs much better than the shorter-form content. And that goes against everything you'll hear from any advertiser or marketing agency or Facebook themselves. But that's where you've got to just understand your own product and your own market and your own customers.
Video: Around the office staff work at computers. Adam works with a young man.
ADAM LINDSAY: We've launched into the UK. We've taken, I guess, a lot of what we've learnt here in Australia and been able to deploy that into the UK.
Video: In a lounge area, Justin has a meeting with three people. Marketing images are adjusted on a computer.
JUSTIN ALEXANDER: As we expand into new markets, our marketing needs to ensure that we're able to target those new countries. We actually approach it differently. We have a centralised marketing team here in Australia that produces the marketing content for, you know, all of the markets.
Video: Adam and his family eat with Justin and others at an outdoor burger restaurant.
ADAM LINDSAY: The business is very demanding. I like to say I have two kids at home plus I've got this one here, which is the business. And it is like another child. So I'm always very conscious that, you know, family needs time. You've just got to keep a balance on all these things, or at least try.
Video: Justin and staff enter the open plan office. Staff work at standing and sitting desks. Adam and Justin talk together.
ADAM LINDSAY: I kind of liken the business to a rocket ship. And when, you know, the rocket ship launches, it requires an extra amount of energy. You know, and once you sort of start to get momentum, you start to get more staff, you start to get more resources, then, you know, it starts to ease off. We have a couple of new products in the pipeline. The big one would be the launch into a...into a third country. There's plenty of work to be done.
Video: The red Australia Post logo appears on a white background.
It all started when Koh’s founder, Adam Lindsay took on the household duties. The more he used regular cleaning products, the more aware and concerned he became about the chemicals in them. He then questioned why he hadn't come across an all-in-one, eco-friendly cleaning solution for every surface which was also cheap and effective.
Adam approached a local Sydney university’s chemistry team to help him develop a formula for this cleaning solution he envisioned. The team spent time formulating and testing solutions on naturally occurring minerals and within a few months, they had a minimal viable product in hand.
A thrilled Adam spread the word about his new product, prompting a fellow work-from-home dad, neighbour and friend, Justin Alexander to come on board as a co-founder. Together, they grew Koh from a local Bondi business at farmers’ markets to one that has now getting ready to expand internationally.
“We always had a vision to become an international brand,” says Adam. “We just had to first prove our hypothesis that the Australian public would embrace a fragrance-free, all-in-one cleaning system.”
Marketing on social media
Koh’s early marketing strategy involved pitching up at two or three farmers’ markets every weekend for six months. This face-to-face time with their customers gave them a chance to collect direct feedback and understand their cleaning pain points. They then launched Koh on social media to a ready and enthusiastic audience.
“Our social media marketing strategy was to be as authentic as we were at the farmers’ markets so we turned the demonstration we did at the markets into a social media video,” says Justin. “Traditional cleaning products are generally sold using CGI animations of germs running away from sprays. We wanted to keep our demonstrations real to build trust.”
The strategy worked. Koh’s down-to-earth online demonstrations resonated with customers by showing the efficacy of the products without the bells and whistles. Some of those videos have surpassed one million views on Facebook.
“Everyone tells you that short form video works because of people’s short attention span,” says Justin. “But what actually works for us is longer form video. It gives us an opportunity to demonstrate the product and also get our core pillars of value, efficacy, safety and being environmentally-friendly across to our customers.”
Adam adds that social media has given Koh the ability to communicate directly and in real time with its customers – from answering their questions to hearing their feedback on existing products and what new products they would like.
“It has also given us social validation, especially since this is a new way of cleaning for many people, and helped spread our message. This would never have happened in the way it has if we were a bricks and mortar store.”
Staying local; going global
A long-time customer of Australia Post, Koh has recently launched in the UK and will soon be available in the US. The process however, was far from straightforward.
“There was a lot of complexity in trying to manage a business in Australia and also setting up a branch overseas,” Adam says.
“Cash flow was a big challenge. We also had to get the right local certifications, find suppliers and set up a production facility. To do all that remotely and in a different time zone was hard!”
His advice for small businesses looking to expand overseas?
- Do your market research. “Don’t presume that the new market will demand exactly the same thing and want the exact solutions that you’re offering your current market. Things can be very different.
- Make sure you have buffer for both stock and cash flow. “The unexpected will happen so I recommend having a buffer of at least 20% to protect you from any surprises.”
- Make sure your business is ready. “Moving into the UK meant doing things remotely and working to a different time zone. We had a skeleton team there but the bulk of our resources and knowledge were here in Australia so getting it all set up was a challenge. Also make sure your processes can handle fundamental change to the business and test this before moving ahead with your strategy.”
- Weigh up your priorities. “How are you going to continue delivering good customer service to your existing market while also supplying resources to opening up a new one?”
Creating an empathetic and stress-free customer experience
Putting the customer first at Koh goes beyond creating and selling quality products. It also involves a deep commitment to delivering the best customer experience in every single interaction.
“Good customer service starts with genuine intent and ours is to always to make sure our customers are happy,” Adam says. “If we have an unhappy customer, we work with them to either find a solution to their issue or failing that, provide a stress-free and easy refund process.”
“I constantly emphasise to our Care Team that we must be grateful to anyone who has spent their hard-earned cash on Koh. Luckily for us, the majority seem to love the product but for those who decide it’s not for them, the best way for us to thank them for trying out Koh is to honour our money-back guarantee.”
He recalls an incident last year where a warehouse error impacted several thousand customers whose orders were significantly delayed. The team worked around the clock to make sure every affected customer received their orders, a refund or in really severe cases, both.
“If I had to sum up our customer service approach in one word, it would be "empathic," Adam says. “You can't offer really great customer service without being truly empathic to your customers’ needs and issues.”
This level of commitment helped Koh win the 2018 ORIAs People’s Choice Award for Best Small Retailer.
“We never entered a competition before, so we didn’t really have any expectations,” Adam says. “But when customers kept letting us know they had voted for us, we realised we might be in with a chance. As a small online business, winning this award felt incredibly validating and humbling.”