Like many women of her generation, Veronica Devine’s first job was as a secretary.
She managed a switchboard and was the first point of contact for queries, compliments and complaints, and she started developing an insight into customer expectations.
This gave her a unique perspective when she moved to sales, and she was soon a top earner for her company – which did not relate to her salary.
“I asked why I was earning less than my male counterparts when my sales were higher, and I was told I was earning a lot for a woman. I’d never thought of myself as a feminist, but I realised something that day: I needed to create my own destiny and help other women in the process. I left there and then.”
Planting the seed
With a sales background firmly in hand, Devine became a counter sales person for Estée Lauder, which had just launched in South Africa.
“I wasn’t built to stand behind a counter, so it didn’t last long, but it did get me thinking. Eloff Street at the time was incredibly fashionable, but where did ordinary women like myself buy their cosmetics? Were there even brands that catered to that market?”
With this idea brewing, Devine joined a cosmetics manufacturer in a marketing capacity and began learning the trade.
“In those days, cosmetics companies contracted out. A chemist would manufacture according to different recipes for different clients. I asked him a lot of questions, and he started creating samples for me. I gave him feedback, and we adjusted what we were creating.
“Those were the early seeds of Justine.”
A born entrepreneur, it didn’t take Devine long before she approached the chemist with a business proposition. “I believed we should do this for ourselves.
If he created the products, I’d sell them. We had no start-up capital, so we approached the owner of the company and offered him a partnership. We needed his manufacturing plant to make the business work. He laughed at us, but he agreed.
“I think he was intrigued to see if we could do it. He gave us the materials at cost upfront, and we would pay him back through sales.”
“We kept our product range simple: Six core products. Armed with samples I chose the direct selling model.
“We would only manufacture as orders came in. I registered the company, named it Justine and hit the streets.
“For two years my partner continued to work full-time and did Justine’s manufacturing after hours, until the company was big enough to support us both full-time.”
While the product range would grow from six to 30 products, Justine’s niche was skin care.
“We didn’t look at other cosmetics. We had created a 100% natural product range designed for South African conditions. It worked for us, so we stuck with it. At the time, the marketing rule was to segment your market. I disagreed.
“I would sell to anyone; but we had segmented our product. Keeping niche meant we were becoming the brand in affordable skin care.”
And then tragedy struck. After six years, Devine’s partner had a fatal heart attack.
“The tragedy had a huge impact on me personally, but even more so on the business. There were no development chemists in South Africa, and I had to recruit oversees to replace him.
“We had a team of direct sellers who relied on us for their livelihood, and I couldn’t let them down. I needed to ensure the business survived. It was an incredibly tough lesson to learn in risk management.
“Who are your key personnel? And what happens to the business if something happens to them? You always need a contingency plan.”
“Justine was my way of taking control of my own destiny, and I wanted it to be the same for other women.
“I met a woman who hosted Tupperware parties and realised the direct selling model was exactly what I was looking for. She taught me how the model worked and, between that and my own sales experience and acumen, I began training other women.
“By the time we sold to Avon in 2001 we had 15 000 direct sellers on our books. I’m still very proud of the job creation we achieved. That was my passion: Motivating and supporting our sales force, and helping women to become independent.”
- The brand: Justine
- The founder: Veronica Devine
Where is she now?
Veronica Devine founded Justine 40 years ago, and sold to Avon in 2001.
Today she has combined her love for sales and managing and motivating people with a new business partner, HR expert Tiny Maisela, to form Maisela Devine Consulting.