Retailer Goes All In on Meeting Customers ‘Where They Are’
*This is part of my series on what I call ‘C.E.’Oms featuring C.E.O.s, Executives and Entrepreneurs who lead with Mindfulness.
Kate Ross LeBlanc and her husband Jean-Pierre LeBlanc Co-Founded Saje Wellness over 25 years ago before online shopping was at our fingertips. So, you might imagine that in order for growth over the past 5 years to be at 1,017%, that it would be due to the expansion of online shopping. Quite the opposite in fact. Kate LeBlanc is all about connecting with people. It’s the connecting in real life that drives her, her husband and their daughter to continue to build stores, listen to customers and help them feel happy and well. Saje Wellness is based in Vancouver with 71 locations across North America, 1,200 team members and plans for retail expansion.
Kate Ross LeBlanc’s Lifelong Journey
Kate’s entrepreneurial journey began as a young girl in her mom’s fabric store in small town Ontario on the real ‘Main Street.’ Kate nostalgically says, “I loved being a part of this community that she built. Connection was her innate way of being. I was enthralled by the combination of companionship and community along with the beauty of the fabrics and the variety of textures. This is all very much alive inside of Saje Wellness now too. We bring in natural elements, layering textures and creating spaces where people feel inspired and connected to nature.”
Utilizing Nature is Key for Wholistic Products
Nature plays a key role in the brand which ignited when Kate’s husband and Co-Founder, Jean-Pierre LeBlanc used to formulate his own natural remedies for rehabilitation to alleviate chronic pain from a serious car accident. His blends worked better than myriad methods he tried during recovery. The combination of his plant based science and her love for a life of connectedness through retail and passion for customer service were a recipe for success.
Kate says, “Our products create a connection like a superhighway to nature. When we return to nature, we return to truth about who we are. Creating that experience is job one so that people can discover ways to take care of themselves and their family naturally.” They’ve stuck with the founding pillars they began with; creating 100% natural products and outrageous customer service.
Kate says, “Just like nature, you absorb everything: the good and the bad. Natural ingredients move through your body, help you heal and create wellness. Synthetic ingredients build up in the body and this exacerbates toxins in our minds and reduces the level of consciousness for making healthy food choices too. Natural ingredients are the catalyst towards making better decisions and being cleaner in our thoughts and bodies and how we approach our relationships and decision making. Any one of those things can be a tipping point for people.”
Company Culture Began Day 1
Kate says, “One of our natural human desires is to have our lives witnessed. That’s important for me to do anywhere, and as a retail company we have an opportunity to not just witness lives, but make a difference in someones wellness through our stores. We can look our community members in the eye and ask them meaningful questions about their lives and their wellness. They can be heard.”
The two founding pillars of Saje Wellness are 1) 100 % natural products and 2) Outrageous community member experiences. Kate says that they work all the time to bring this to life both in store and now digitally as well. They have innovated with the times but her focus is still to expand on the street, in real life and continue to make a difference. “Now, that we have this additional wonderful dimension of online business that we didn’t have in the beginning, it’s another way to reach people. Our driving force will always be about connection, really seeing people and creating a space where community members can feel like they are part of something bigger; inspiring people to be the best version of themselves.”
Kate was introduced to Deepak Chopra 25 yrs. ago at a natural products expo and this was one of her first experiences with introspection. She then spent a year immersed a ‘Course of Miracles’ (a spiritual transformation book) practitioners group. She says that it has informed the way she approaches the world ever since. “Empowered by that deep knowledge and understanding that we are all writing our own stories, my interaction with both community and my team members is intentional and mindful. I know I can always shift my mindset, learn from something, see it on a different dimension as opposed to getting jostled around.”
While she has her own unique ways of tapping into her spirituality every day, she doesn’t have a formulaic daily practice. She prefers the spontaneity of working it in when it comes to her. She explains that, “I’ve developed my own breathing and visualization techniques for any situation where I feel my emotions in a non-supportive way. I take time to close my eyes, breathe, visualize what it is that I want to manifest. Within thirty seconds or a minute, I shift and have a connection with my higher self. For example, before I go into an interaction that may be uncomfortable, I will visualize myself leaving that meeting after hugging that person. Then I go into the meeting with this positive feeling. Bringing that feeling into a live interaction shifts the energy. I don’t even realize that I do it any longer, my breath, visualization and energy managing is naturally part of what I do as as I move through the day.”
Kate has a huge toolbox that she can access anytime she needs to go from negative to positive. One of her favorite practices is the Hawaiian Forgiveness Practice called Ho’oponopono. She says, “If I feel stuck about something, I go to the Hawaiian forgiveness practice.” It’s a mantra made up of these four sentences: ‘I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.’ She adds, “It’s a way of bringing a sense of innocence to an issue, it energetically clears out my system. When something is going on in my life that I feel I can’t get around, I focus on this mantra and within a 2–3 days, my energy will completely shift.”
She shared an anecdote about she had been holding onto a twenty year old experience that was keeping her separate from someone and it was painful. She said she focused on the forgiveness mantra and within two weeks that person reached out to her, out of the blue and apologized…after twenty years!
Kate is all about these simple and incredibly powerful tools that are part of her ‘wonderful repertoire to stay grounded, sane and in a way that creates positivity in the world.’
Kate’s Advice for Others to Tap Into Their Best Energy:
Make a Date with Yourself. Weekly if possible. When I’m in Vancouver, Tuesdays are my date night with myself. My favorite ave thing is to do is a SoulCycle class followed by a 90 min Yin yoga (restorative type) class.
Don’t Just Read, Activate! When people are interested in personal growth there comes a time where the only thing that can happen is that we change our mind and take action, that happens in an instant. We don’t need to read a million books and go to workshops, if you are really intent on changing your state of being, it’s an instant. Give up that mistaken belief, let go of a grudge, shift out of victim mode, it happens in a moment.
Enjoy Your Favorite Outdoor Places: I love to ‘talk to the waves.’ When I listen to the ocean, I get amazing messages and then moments before I go into a meetings, I can close my eyes and take myself back to that place and bring the beauty of nature with me. Nature helps to shift your energy.
Leading With Mindfulness at the Office
At Saje Wellness HQ, Kate has implemented check-ins every morning where the team shares their vision for the day, a wellness goal and they have little celebrations to support each other. “It’s part of our DNA to know where people are at and support them.”
Last year they introduced ‘Fresh Air Fridays.’ Kate says, “Team members can work from home, or a coffee shop or mountain top! Wherever they feel inspired. It nurtures people’s sense of grounded-ness.”
Surrounded by Family
Counted as one of her biggest blessings in life is working alongside both her husband and daughter. The new addition of her daughter, Kiara (VP Creative & Branding) is deeply rewarding for Kate. She says, “We have a unique bond. I feel really lucky to be her mother but we have all these layers of relationships together, it’s super rich and inspiring and we hold each other accountable to be the best version of ourselves. We don’t get away with complaining to each other! She’s an incredibly wise soul and very grounded and honest with herself that gives her this sense of a solid person when you’re around her.”
People Deserve More Than a Digital Shopping Experience
“The need and desire for people to have their life witnessed and make connection in person isn’t going to go away and a computer or phone will never give you that feeling.” Kate adds, ”There will always be a place for retail that really sees people and gives them an incredible experience. If people want to be ignored, they can just stay home and sit on the couch. The retailers that are going by the wayside are the ones that have not equipped themselves to be more than just order takers. People want more than that and deserve more than that if they are going to disengage from their devices, get in the car and use precious time to come and see you, you need to meet that commitment and offer them more than indifference. We are passionate about creating centers for this.”
What Does the Future Hold?
“We will be augmented with Amazon shortly and also with things that we can’t even imagine right now. In fact, I’m curious to see where people will choose to invest their time moving forward. What will capture our imagination and what will bring happiness, peace, joy? I’m confident that when people leave their house and venture out, whether they know it or not, they are looking for connection and that’s what will keep them coming back.”