Ep12: Wellbeing in the Workplace

Hannah May, The Cornish Seaweed Bath Company

Hannah May, co-founder of The Cornish Seaweed Bath Company, talks about the importance of wellbeing in the workplace

From organic handmade skincare products to elegant spas and distinctive yoga classes, the importance of including self-care and wellbeing in the workplace, as well as our daily lives, continues to grow. 

Here in Cornwall, the robust community of beauty, wellbeing and self-care businesses is expanding across the county, as more people introduce wellness into their routines and their businesses, both for themselves as employers and their employees.

Hannah May, co-founder of The Cornish Seaweed Bath Company, talks about how it all started on a beach in West Cornwall, successfully growing their business, incorporating wellbeing in the workplace and why downtime is important.

Listen online using the player below or search ‘Outset Podcast’ in your favourite podcast app.

Find out more about The Cornish Seaweed Bath Company at https://www.cornishseaweedbath.co.uk

We hope you enjoy this episode. Get in touch for more information on how we can support your business start-up journey.

Read the full transcript here

Voiceover (00:01):

Welcome to the Outset Podcast, the business startup podcast from Outset Cornwall, for support and inspiration to start, run and grow your business. Here’s your host, Rich Gunton.

Rich Gunton (00:15):

Welcome to the Outset Podcast and our series on wellbeing and self-care and trying to incorporate that into your business day. So from organic handmade skincare products to elegant beauty parlours, and distinctive yoga classes, there is a strong community of beauty wellbeing, and self-care businesses starting up across Cornwall. And the trend is growing. We speak to some of the founders in this series of podcasts of these businesses about harnessing the growing trend and introducing wellness into your business and your daily life. So we’re talking today to Hannah May from The Cornish Seaweed Bath Company and cornishseaweedbath.co.uk is her website. Established in 2018, Hannah, Richard and Coco met in the furthest west Cornwall on a beach, and they combined Richard’s knowledge of traditional Oriental medicine – he has a degree in traditional Chinese medicine and is a practicing acupuncturist, always have trouble pronouncing that word – and their love of the Cornish sea and it’s amazing seaweeds. From this, they decided to create unique skin and body care for everyone to enjoy. So it all started on a beach on one misty day in February, a conversation, and then you started your whole business from that. Hannah May joins us. Welcome to the Outset Podcast.

Hannah May (01:40):

Hello there. Hi.

Rich Gunton (01:42):

See, you gotta tell us more then about that day in February on the beach.

Hannah May (01:46):

Yeah, well actually that all started back in 2013 actually, the meeting in February. It was actually Richard who met a chap on the beach. who was picking handfuls of seaweed. Richard was going for a February surf and he asked this guy what he was doing. And he said, oh, well, I’m picking seaweed because my wife likes to bathe with it. So Richard thought, “okay, weird, but I’ll give it a go”. So he basically came back to me with a bucket full of seaweed and said right upstairs, run a bath, put that in and in you get, and I thought he was absolutely insane! If you think I’m getting in a bath of seaweed, that’s just not happening! But I did, realized that actually it felt incredible. It, it felt amazing on my skin and just felt super relaxed. And obviously a bath is relaxing anyway, but this is like, this is like a bath with bells on really.

Hannah May (02:41):

We sort of looked into it a bit, never heard of seaweed bathing and realized that this actually was a thing. And it’s been practiced for generations in both Brittany and Ireland. And we thought this is so amazing, let’s see if we can create this into a product so that people who can’t just go down to the beach to grab handfuls of seaweed, they can actually experience this too. So that’s what we did. We spent ages. Richard was, at the time, he was practicing as a full-time acupuncturist. I’m a trained silversmith and was caring for my mother at the time as well. It wasn’t really anything very serious at that point. It was just, you know, we were sort of playing with it. We then had a, a sort of chance meeting with the spa manager of the Scarlet at a Christmas party. It turned out that they were doing seaweed bars, but they were having to buy them in from Ireland, which wasn’t great for their eco credentials really. They were really keen for us to provide them with seaweed bars. That was our first customer, really the Scarlet Hotel who we still work with. We have a really good working relationship with them. Yeah. Ever since then, it’s just grown.

Rich Gunton (03:49):

That’s really interesting, because when had the information through for the podcast and I had a look on your website. I would actually think, so we’re recording this in mid-July, exactly two weeks ago today, Katie, my better half,  and I were in the Bedruthan Hotel, which is obviously sister to the Scarlet, having our feet soaked in in your seaweed no doubt.

Hannah May (04:12):

Yeah. We still work with them. But since actually the pandemic Richard’s now given up acupuncture, he’s stopped doing it and I’m no longer a silversmith. We’re both, full-time doing this and it’s just gone from strength to strength. We now have someone else as well that comes in and works for us. So it’s going really well.

Rich Gunton (04:32):

Two questions, I suppose. Do you spend most of your life on the beach collecting seaweed or how does that work or can you set up fishing nets or whatever? And secondly, why seaweed? You know, what, what is it about seaweed that makes you feel so good?

Hannah May (04:44):

No, don’t spend most of my time on the beach collecting seaweed, I spend most of my time in an office and for the seaweed that we harvest, we only collect once every couple of weeks on a low spring tide. Anyone can go and collect it themselves, but if you’re collecting seaweed, harvesting it for a commercial purpose, then you can’t collect it anywhere because most of the coast of Cornwall is under a Marine Conservation zone. So we’ve got one little cove where we’ve been given permission to harvest. And we literally just go down with scissors and we hand cut just the tips of the seaweed so that it regenerates . Really important to us it regenerates, but more importantly, environmentally it’s really important that we don’t totally decimate the coastline. I mean it’s an absolutely amazing plant and ingredient for skincare that has sort of become a bit of a, a bit of a buzz word in the sort of health industry anyway, in terms of food supplements.

Hannah May (05:40):

But it’s also for skin because it’s packed with amino acids, which can help to boost collagen production. So it’s great for anti-aging it’s also has anti-inflammatory properties, it’s incredibly moisturizing and hydrating, calming. It reduces redness in skin and so it’s great for eczema, psoriasis, acne, any skin problems. It just does feel incredible on the skin. It really is a sort of a powerhouse of nutrients that can have up to 10 times more nutrients than any land plant. They use it in hospital dressings as well to help with healing. It, it really is, is an incredible plant. Don’t get me talking about seaweed too much because I could go on for a long time and bore you senseless.

Rich Gunton (06:22):

No, no, not at all. Not at all. And our dear listener, listening to the Outset Podcast I’m sure is intrigued. And I, I suppose one of my questions is, you know, obviously I totally take your point and I’m sure you’re not going to tell us where you go and harvest and you do it on a fortnightly basis and you need to take the, the tips. So like you say, it can, it can regenerate and, and grow. I suppose there’s a number of different types of seaweed. Does it continually regrow or is it, you know, how does it work?

Hannah May (06:47):

It definitely does regenerate. Unlike land plants that obviously have a root system that go into the ground and take all their nutrients from the ground, the seaweed just attaches itself to rocks and it’s obviously not getting nutrients from the rock, it’s just gaining all its nutrients from the sea. Where we harvest, the waters are tested regularly, so we know it’s really clean and it regenerates fairly quickly. It has growing phases like all plants, we’re constantly seeing new little plants sprouting up.

Rich Gunton (07:18):

Is there, you know, one main type of seaweed then? Or is there a whole family you know, like you, you mentioned about, you know, flowers and plants growing in the garden or whatever, and the root systems. Is it the same for seaweed, you know, hundreds of different sorts?

Hannah May (07:31):

There’s different varieties in different groups as well, so you’ve got the green seaweeds, red seaweeds and olive brown seaweeds. And they tend to grow at different levels on the coast as well. So the green seaweeds, they tend to be very, they’re very delicate, like sea lettuce is the classic green and it’s very, very, almost like tissue paper. And that grows higher up on the tidal line because it’s very delicate. And then it goes through to the red seaweed and then the olive brown seaweeds tend to grow at deeper levels. They’re much more robust and those are actually the seaweeds we use, the olive brown ones.

Rich Gunton (08:09):

Obviously you’ve got the hotel sort of market for the, the bathing or as we, as we had a, a foot soak. I went off the next morning and ran down through the beach for about, you know, a 10, 12 mile run, so it obviously worked! As a business then, what does it look like today, then? What’s your average day? You, you, you say that you don’t unfortunately spend it all day on the beach. You only do that every couple of weeks. What, how does it sort of work? What does it look like?

Hannah May (08:33):

Well, I used to work from home. I was sort of making products, literally from my kitchen table. Richard, he was a full-time acupuncturist, so he was doing bits when he could. He deals with everything technical, so he built our website, he does everything internet and website based. And I really am in charge of formulating the products. About 18 months ago, we moved into the premises. We don’t have a shop, but it’s where we manufacture and where we pack all the orders. It suddenly got to the point where it was not possible to work from home. I think the first time I realized that was when we had a delivery that turned up, it was with PalletForce on a massive pallet. And I thought, no, this can’t happen at home anymore, we need a proper work premises. Every day, we’re in here five days a week. We, we did start where we were sort of doing six days a week in our premises, but we’ve pulled that back to five days a week now, although we do spend weekends working as well, working from home, although we try really hard not to do that so much. And to just try and have a bit of a break because cause it is all consuming.

Rich Gunton (09:45):

So this is the Outset Podcast, we’re talking to Hannah May, The Cornish Seaweed Bath Company co-Founder. So you’ve, I guess you founded it with Richard, your husband, did you?

Hannah May (09:53):

Yeah, we started it together, definitely. And it’s just been the two of us that have done it all.

Rich Gunton (09:58):

And so you moved out of home into a premises, so you are in Penzance somewhere, is that right?

Hannah May (10:04):

Yes, that’s right.

Rich Gunton (10:04):

And the hope and desire of, of a work life balance, like you say, it’s all consuming and you know, the majority of us that set up and grow and develop a business do so because we, you know, we just genuinely love it as, as much as anything else. How do you kind of try to get that clear level of separation or is it still work in progress?

Hannah May (10:24):

It’s still very much a work in progress. I think, I think we’ve just got those sorts of minds, really. We’re both really enjoying the challenge, seeing where it’s going. We do really try, at the weekend at least, to go, okay, we can do a couple of hours work on the Saturday and then we’ve got to stop. We’re going to take the dog out for a walk or rich is going to go for a surf or we’re going to do those sorts of things. You know, we do try to take some time out.

Rich Gunton (10:49):

You’ve harnessed this sort of, you know, space of health and wellbeing and looking after ourselves and the rise of, you know, the spa-type hotels and those types of things. And again, I’m having a look at your website in terms of the fact that you ship worldwide and there’s even a dog shampoo soap bar out I see. So you’ve obviously harnessed that kind of area of, of a spend, I suppose, from your customers to take care of themselves. I mean, has that been something that’s grown year on year?

Hannah May (11:18):

It feels like everything with the pandemic has been a bit like year one and everything going forward from that. You can’t, or I feel we can’t really base anything on anything previous because that just changed everything that pandemic; it changed everyone’s shopping behaviors, obviously. So, you know, we used to do quite a bit of wholesale. We don’t do that so much now. So we are very much an e-commerce store now and that’s down to people’s shopping behaviors. But absolutely I think people are obviously, you know, they are definitely very mindful of sustainability and ethical products and ethical production and plastic free and all that sort of stuff I think has become hugely important to people. The consumer is really aware of that now, whereas before they weren’t really, I don’t think. So, yeah, that’s really important for us to tick those boxes.

Rich Gunton (12:11):

I mean, in terms of your own Cornish based business, how have you started off with, you know, I can see your logo, believe me, I know a logo is not the full brand, but where did you start with your own journey in terms of how you came up with your, your business name and, and where you market and advertise?

Hannah May (12:30):

So our starting point, I think classically, we went about it in completely the wrong way, which is where now, because we started with an ingredient which was seaweed, as opposed to starting with a customer and a customer’s, you know, what they want, who they are, what problem they’re looking to solve, et cetera. So I think in some ways we made it more difficult for ourselves. So yeah, it literally grew from seaweed. We, we now have, we do know who our customer is a customer type, but it’s been a bit of a back to front journey really for us. Our advertising comes through Facebook and Instagram advert sand also Google ads as well. That’s our advertising avenue.

Rich Gunton (13:10):

In another podcast, I spoke to Cornwall Air Ambulance, talking about how they sort of engage with their customers and historically about, you know, advertising on the petrol pump and on the back of car parking tickets and billboards and, and whatever. And you know, we’re recording this in mid-July 2021. So we are, you know, hopefully on our way out of the pandemic. And like you say, it’s moved buying habits online. It’s moved the way that we interact and engage with buying a product or a service as well, online on our smart phones or, or whatever. It’s always been there, but perhaps been rocket fueled in the last sort of 12, 18 months, I suppose.

Hannah May (13:48):

Yeah, absolutely. Most customers are buying from their mobile, not even their desktops. So even thinking about that in terms of when we’re building our website and making sure that that works on a mobile because you build it on a desktop and then you need to think, oh, how’s that going to work on mobile? Because most people are looking on mobile. So yeah, that’s been huge. I mean, all our customers are obviously coming from, from our paid for advertising and on Facebook and then repeat customers. So we do targeting through emailing as well.

Rich Gunton (14:19):

Perhaps personally speaking then for you guys in terms of the business and the, and the enjoyment that it can bring, but also perhaps the, the stress levels as well. Have you had any, you know, ups and downs along the way, have you, have you found something that works well for you at all?

Hannah May (14:37):

Yeah. It’s a total rollercoaster. It’s very, very up and down and we are literally from one minute going, oh my God, this is amazing to, oh my God, this is a complete disaster. What the hell are we doing? So, yes, it’s a fully up and down journey, but actually the sort of big graph is that it’s actually going up. It’s just lots and lots of bumps along the way.

Rich Gunton (14:57):

I guess, in terms of time management and those types of things, how do you manage that roller coaster then?

Hannah May (15:03):

Richard surfs; because he’s an acupuncturist he’s very good at looking after himself that way. Mine is more walking Coco the dog. So definitely she’s a complete godsend to me because I have to walk her every day. So it doesn’t matter how stressed I am, I’ve got to take the dog out and that’s my downtime, complete bliss. Yoga as well, I practice yoga as well. Richard’s into meditation as well. So both things are really important to us, both.

Rich Gunton (15:30):

It’s so easy to forget really that we’re, and so many of us, whether we’re employed or, or self-employed and running our own businesses have kind of worked from home over the, the last sort of year or so. And it’s so easy to kind of get stuck and forget that there’s a whole world outside the window and you should probably be getting out there and getting some fresh air, you know?

Hannah May (15:48):

Yeah. We’ve all been much more screen based haven’t we? I think everyone has been and it doesn’t do you any good at all really. Yeah. Just taking time out and literally immersing yourself in nature is hugely important, massively important to me anyway. Just time to stop and breathe and yeah. And just, just be really, and not just be that totally screen -focused existence.

Rich Gunton (16:15):

Yoga then, do you do that from home or do you go somewhere or do you do it outside?

Hannah May (16:20):

I used to, pre pandemic,  I was going to regular classes. I’d go to two or three classes a week. So yeah, that was, was absolutely my time out as well. Since pandemic, I haven’t gone to any classes, I’ve done some zoom yoga with some of my teachers or just doing it myself at home. I don’t do it outside cause I’m too embarrassed.

Rich Gunton (16:42):

Yeah. But I love it when you see people on the beach doing it and I just think, gosh, and they’re prepared as well, you know, they’ve obviously remembered to take their mat with them and whatever else.

Hannah May (16:54):

Yeah (laughs).

Rich Gunton (16:54):

You know, personally speaking as well, I, I used to live in New Zealand and I was you know, really quite keen on Bikram yoga, which is like the hot yoga.

Hannah May (17:03):


Rich Gunton (17:03):

And then when I came back and I lived in Truro for a number of years and they do a hot yoga in, in Truro and now I’m in Plymouth and fortunately not long ago, someone started up a warm and a hot yoga studios here as well. And I think certainly maybe potentially from a male point of view, people would think, oh, well, what are you doing yoga for? But just having something that you can find where you sort of almost center yourself, you breathe, you clear your mind, and your mind has to be clear, otherwise you can’t really practice your yoga properly. I, I think that is such a, an invaluable, you know, recipe for success as well, isn’t it?

Hannah May (17:35):

Exactly. It’s about just being in your body more rather than just in your head and in your mind. Because that’s exhausting actually, being just mind focused all the time. So yeah, just being a bit more body focused and breath focused definitely is hugely important I think. It’s really easy to just get caught up with the day to day and just kind of, you know, being on that treadmill, I’m doing this, these things I do every day just to keep this business going, that’s what I have to do. And you could very quickly find yourself in a situation I think, where you’re just thinking, well, this is it, I’m just going to be on this treadmill until I die. So yes, I think for us, it’s really important to, for us to have that idea of, okay, what’s the end goal of this business. And then working back from that, it’s just like another layer of structure over the business for us that gives us some focus outside of that daily treadmill if that makes sense.

Rich Gunton (18:30):

Certainly does. And I, and I do think, you know, I’m a huge fan of setting goals and writing things down and, you know, working towards specific achievable, you know, ones and, and it’s, it is fascinating to see how then they start to unfold.

Hannah May (18:44):

And literally plotting it. So, you know, we do various product launches. So setting the date that we want the product storage to happen. And then literally either on a long strip of paper or on a wall planner or whatever, working backwards and literally plotting the different things that have got to happen at the different times to get to that point. And if we didn’t do that well it would just go on forever, we’d just be so caught up in the day to day. So those little things really helps us manage our working day better and allow us to then have some more head space, because it’s just putting it down and plotting it as opposed to just being caught up in it.

Rich Gunton (19:20):

And so what does your, what does your average day look like then? So we’re recording this just after sort of a, a lunch time, you’ve obviously had a morning and you’ve got an afternoon to look forward to what, what does your average day look like?

Hannah May (19:32):

It starts with bookkeeping and answering any emails that have come in, customer questions, et cetera. We also generally start some point during the morning, sort of a bit of a plan as to what we both want to achieve during the day or what’s going to happen. Then it’ll be packing orders as well. That can sometimes take up, depending on what’s gone on, like if we’ve had a product launch, actually sometimes the whole day is packing orders. About half the day anyway is involved in me packing orders. Richard will be creating new adverts, doing adverts for product launches. Then either one of us or sometimes both of us will be making products as well. So when we make soap, that’s a thing that we do together. We’ve got quite big molds and just needs two of us really. As I’m speaking, Rich is downstairs making products at the moment. And then sometimes part of the day will be in formulating and developing new products as we’re working on creating a new shampoo and conditioner at the moment. So then there’s always stock taking, making sure that we’ve got enough boxes, stickers, bottles, boxes, ingredients, and then we’re also trying to put that onto a different a stock system, so it’s going to be a bit more automated.

Rich Gunton (20:46):

It is interesting, isn’t it listening to your day? And we almost just finished on it there and having something that goes into some level of automation and maybe you get someone to pick and pack, or maybe you’ve got someone else to do the marketing and the creative. So I think that’s an interesting thought, isn’t it? In terms of when you look at all the activities and the, the stuff that takes your time each day and structuring it well I think it’s yeah, it’s an interesting sort of thought.

Hannah May (21:10):

Yeah. So that’s really important; we are working towards getting a fulfillment center to pack our orders for us at the moment, because that does take up an awful lot of our time, so definitely outsourcing that part. We have someone who comes in now and she sort of put stickers on things and things in boxes that need doing , because there’s a lot of the working day that is crucial to the business, obviously, but it’s not where mine and Rich’s time is best well spent. So it’s trying to filter out those things that other people can do. And certainly like, you know, this stock taking program that we’re in the process of setting up, that’s going to take off a whole load of work for us. It’s a lot of work to get it set up, but it will save one hell of a lot of time as well. So yeah, that’s all part of our day very much as well is trying to put things in place. Richard’s brilliant at that, that kind of problem solving and coming up with quick solutions and other software or whatever that can make things easier. Just been a really fast learning curve on getting our heads around all that stuff.

Rich Gunton (22:06):

So then any final words of wisdom then for fellow entrepreneurs in Cornwall, listening to the Outset Podcast and they’re sitting there going right, okay. You know, they may well be thinking, right, I just want to start something up for myself or they might be six months into it thinking, ah, I don’t know what I’m doing. Any kind of brief words of wisdom at all?

Hannah May (22:26):

Think of what you’re actually wanting to achieve. So what your sort of end goal is really in terms of, even if it’s just a, a small business that you just want to do as a bit of a sideline, that’s still a goal. So thinking about that, being customer focused first, if you’re, because they’re the buyers. Really think about your customer, who they are, where they are, what they want, what problem they’re looking to solve and what your end game is really, where you want to get to. I think those are really important. Just having some kind of structure to it before you get into it in some ways, because you can just get, I think you can end up getting just a bit lost and it can feel so overwhelming. So structure is so important, I think.

Rich Gunton (23:10):

Hannah May from The Cornish Seaweed Bath Company and we can visit your website, cornishseaweedbath.co.uk. Thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure to have you on the Outset Podcast.

Voice over (23:22):

Thanks for listening to the Outset Podcast brought to you by the Outset Cornwall programme, which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, HM Government and the Outset Foundation, supporting people to become self-employed and start their own business. For more information, visit outset.org/cornwall.