Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Covering babies' Butz, GLOBALLY

She's already conquered Canada; now local creator of diaper-rash cream is being courted by China, India and Korea

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She's already won over some of Canada's leading grocery and pharmacy chains, and now the local creator of a diaper-rash cream is being courted by distributors from some of the world's largest overseas markets.

Madja Ficko, who still runs her Olen Cosmetics Corporation out of her East St. Paul home, said four distributors are vying for the exclusive rights to distribute her chemical-free, Baby Butz cream in the massive Chinese market.

And lined up behind them are baby-product distributors from India, Australia and Korea, who want exclusive rights to distribute the cream in those countries.

"And we're not talking about a couple of boxes," Ficko said. "We're talking shipping containers full. They don't do small-time. It's big (time) or forget it."

She said the international distributors approached her after seeing her booth at a giant baby-products trade show last month in Chicago. As soon as they saw she was from Canada and she had a natural-product licence from Health Canada, they were clamouring to set up a meeting.

She said Canadian-made, all-natural baby products are in high demand among middle- and upper-class consumers in China.

"These people will pay top dollar for these products... because our (product-safety) controls are 100 times more strict than their controls," she explained. "They consider (them)... to be like gold."

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Ficko said she and her lawyers are now doing their due diligence to determine which Chinese distributor she should partner with. She hopes to make her decision early in the new year and to have her cream in Chinese stores by next summer.

Once she has a deal with a Chinese distributor, she can use that as a blueprint for negotiating deals with distributors in the other three countries. Ficko said she hopes to have her cream in stores in the other three countries before the end of next year.

Closer to home, Ficko said Loblaw Companies also plans to start carrying her cream in 200 of its Real Canadian Superstore outlets within the next few weeks.

"They're putting us in 200 stores for now, and they'll track it and see how well we do. If we do, we'll get them all -- 800 to 1,000 (Loblaw) stores across Canada."

She said Winners Canada and the Metro Inc. grocery store chain, which has close to 200 stores in Ontario, also plan to start carrying her product. And she's in ongoing talks with two large U.S. retail chains, although she couldn't reveal which ones.

Canada Safeway was the first major retail chain to pick up her cream. Others now carrying the product include Sobeys, Shoppers Drug Mart, Rexall Pharmacy and Pharmasave.

Nathan Greidanus, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship with the University of Manitoba's Asper School of Business, said it's quite an accomplishment for a smaller player like Ficko to get her product picked up by some of the major retail chains.

He said the competition for shelf space in the chain stores is fierce, with the large manufacturers usually winning out.

"So that's good for her."

Greidanus said he tells his students one of the keys to becoming a successful entrepreneur is to identify new consumer trends and find a way to exploit them. And one of the hottest trends these days is the growing demand for all-natural products, so Ficko deserves kudos for coming up with a chemical-free baby product.

Ficko first made local headlines last year when her cream was featured in celebrity gifting lounges at two major Hollywood award shows -- the Golden Globes and the Oscars.

Ficko and a local chemist developed Baby Butz in 2004 for Ficko's son, Demitri, who was born with a rare disorder that requires him to be tube-fed and in diapers 24 hours a day. A local doctor persuaded her to make it available to the public, but it took roughly three years to obtain a natural-products licence from Health Canada.

Ficko said she's discovered the cream is also effective in healing other types of skin conditions, including children's eczema, dry, cracked heels, bed sores and heat rashes.

She and her chemist have also developed two other chemical-free, skin-care products -- a sunscreen lotion and a baby wipe -- that the international distributors are interested in. They've also developed a formula for a chemical-free mosquito lotion.

"So that (a distribution deal for the Baby Butz cream) is going to open the door for all of my other products, too," she added.

A local manufacturing firm -- she's not allowed to say which one -- produces the diaper-rash cream for the Canadian market. The labels and packaging are also sourced locally, and a Toronto firm fills the orders and ships the product for her.

Ficko said she's lined up a large Toronto manufacturer to produce the cream for the export markets because it would be too much for the local manufacturer to handle.

She admits that with so much happening, it can get a little overwhelming at times.

"It feels like I've gone from zero to 60 in less than two years."

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 9, 2013 B6

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