Back in 1997, Nicolas Van Beek, an economist by trade, had the opportunity to work at the French Embassy in Uzbekistan. During his time in Central Asia, he spotted a business opportunity: there was a real lack of good quality cosmetics and healthcare products in the region. The seed for JNS LABS was planted.
Photo: Nicolas Van Beek, Co-founder and Director of JNS LABS / Credits © JNS LABS
The idea ended up being parked for a number of years but in 2017, JNS LABS launched their first cosmetics production facility in Uzbekistan. The team now counts over 70 employees spread across Luxembourg, France and Uzbekistan. Nicolas Van Beek, Co-Founder and Director of JNS LABS tells us more about his unique cosmetics company.
Can you briefly explain what JNS LABS is?
JNS LABS is a cosmetics and personal care company headquartered in Luxembourg. Our mission is to provide natural, high-quality cosmetics at affordable prices (1 EUR) so these products can become affordable for consumers in low-income countries.
We produce hair care, skin care, deodorants and shaving foam and our products are currently available in a number of Central Asian countries including Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
High quality, at a low price – that sounds very appealing. How are you able to do this?
Our concept involves developing our products in our laboratory in France and then setting up plug-and-produce factories in growing markets, where our products are being distributed.
Developing our formulas in France helps us achieve high quality because that’s where the best experts are. Since the beginning, we have also been committed to only using natural and vegan ingredients in our products. Surprisingly, using natural ingredients as opposed to chemicals only increases the production cost by about 10%.
The main way in which we’ve been able reduce production cost is by developing a ‘plug-n-produce’ factory concept. This allows us to reduce transports, custom and distribution costs enables us to offer our products at a lower price while still remaining profitable.
“Our mission is to provide natural, high-quality cosmetics at 1Euro so that these types of products can become affordable for consumers in low income countries.”
When you opened the JNS LABS production facility in Uzbekistan in 2017, you were the first European company to set up a cosmetics factory in Central Asia. Did you face any challenges associated with being ‘the first’?
Yes definitely. We’ve had challenges at all levels including complicated customs declarations, taxes and VAT on imported ingredients, currency devaluation and lack of local expertise. But to be honest, I consider these to be ‘business-as-usual’ when you launch something new or innovative.
We have also been working with the Uzbek government and the Chamber of Commerce to report any challenges we’re facing and try to come up with ways to address them quickly. This quick turn-around helps us of course, but it also facilitates the development of the industry and will ultimately help Uzbekistan attract more foreign investments. So, I’d say it’s a win-win.
What has been your strategy for marketing JNS LABS products in Central Asia?
Offering the best quality products at a very low price gives us a strong competitive advantage because price is everything in low-income countries. We also bring the ‘French touch’ to our products which is appealing to our consumers because people in the region consider French cosmetics to be the best in the world.
In terms of marketing tactics, what has worked really well has been short TV ads that emphasize the ‘French touch’ aspect as well as the affordability of our products. We have also had good response to banner ads on cars and Instagram.
You mentioned at the beginning that JNS LABS is headquartered in Luxembourg. What have been the advantages of having your headquarters in the Grand Duchy?
I’ve lived in Luxembourg for over 20 years and have started a number of businesses here in the past. So when we started JNS LABS, establishing our headquarters in Luxembourg was the obvious choice.
Luxembourg is an ideal country when it comes to hosting intellectual property and securing funding. The financial stability and reputation of the country give a lot of reassurance to potential investors.
Another advantage is the level of support companies receive here. For example, we’re getting a support from the Chamber of Commerce and the House of Entrepreneurship regarding exports. The AWEX local teams have also helped us identify distributors.
With your team spread across Luxembourg, France and Uzbekistan, you must be an expert in remote team management. Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs in a similar situation?
We’ve completely digitalised our sales process. All of our sales reps have Tablets. This makes it very easy for us to track sales data remotely.
In terms of communication, we barely use emails because we have found that it isn’t a very effective tool for group conversations. Instead, we communicate primarily using Telegram which is similar WhatsApp. The other advantage of Telegram is that it works even with a poor internet connection, which is often the case in Central Asia. We also use Google Drive and a tool called Trello to keep track of our projects and marketing campaigns.
How do you address sustainability at JNS LABS?
We have integrated our company values with the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. Some of our sustainability initiatives include employing at least 50% women, making sure that there are no salary differences between men and women and supporting small businesses in countries where our products are being distributed.
In terms of environmental sustainability, we’re always looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been committed to using biodegradable materials and vegan ingredients in our products. This is having a positive impact on the environment but it is also a real pleasure for us to know that we are bringing more comfort to our customers.
What’s in the pipeline for 2020 in terms of growth projects?
Our main goal for this year is to launch our Healthcare division. To support this, we are currently preparing a round of funding which will include a crowdfunding campaign.
We also want to build a factory and start offering our products in at least one new country in Middle East or Africa.
And personally, I want to continue to support women entrepreneurs in Central Asia.
What’s the best place to find out more about JNS LABS?
This article was written before the COVID-19 crisis erupted. In the meantime, Nicolas Van Beek and the team at JNS LABS have transformed all their production lines to produce antiseptic products and disinfectants.
The implementation of the new production plan and hygiene measures took place more than 6,000 kilometres away between the founder based in Luxembourg and the 60 employees based in Uzbekistan. Remote work was far from easy with the frequent internet and electricity cuts. Moreover, it didn’t help that production involved manual steps including sticking labels by hand, etc.
A huge stress and challenge that the JNS Labs team took up in the span of ten days to supply the Uzbek market and the countries of Asia and Central Asia as far as the open or re-opened borders are concerned. Nicolas is one of those entrepreneurs who have more than one string to their bow, teeming with ideas, projects and desires. We hope this story has fascinated you.