Placecol celebrates 40th anniversary

South African skincare brand, Placecol, will turn 40 in January 2020. Esna Colyn, CEO of Imbalie Beauty, owner of Placecol, looks back at the brand’s fascinating history.

In January 2014, four years into my journey as the CEO of Imbalie Beauty, I met the original founder of the well-known South African skin care brand, Placecol, Elma McKenzie, for the very first time. Elma gave me a very large, beautiful black book, containing the history of the Placecol skincare brand, which she and her husband Leslie McKenzie started in Ermelo, in January 1980, when they started the company, Macnel Pharmaceuticals. What made an impact on me on that particular day was Elma’s inner and outer beauty and her Godliness. I will forever remember her mission: she came that day to specifically pray for me.

Today I have the honour to write this article for Professional Beauty, reflecting on our history, as our beautiful and much loved South African Placecol skincare brand turns 40 in January 2020. Late in my life I have learnt the lesson to never forget where you came from.

I thought I would share with you a couple of highlights celebrating Elma and Leslie’s story.

Leslie and Elma Mckenzie in 1980

In 1980, the cosmetic market was overflowed with imported cosmetics from France, Germany and Switzerland. There were expensive cosmetic houses available, like Germaine Monteil, Juvena, Charles of the Ritz, Alexandra de Markhoff and Estee Lauder. It was evident at the time that people had money, so it was quite easy to sell a full range of cosmetics, a complete range of make-up and perfume to a single client.

In South Africa, Annatjie Theron (later Annique), Avroy Shlain and Veronica Devine from Justine had just started to launch their cosmetics on the direct selling platform.

At that stage, there was no local manufacturer of cosmetics for the pharmacies and only a few beauty clinics. This was the time before Edgars, Clicks and large departmental stores kept cosmetics. Elma and Leslie saw the potential market to manufacture a South African cosmetic range for pharmacies and beauty clinics.

Leslie was a qualified pharmacist and homeopath and wanted to manufacture homeopathic medicine. Elma was a qualified radiographer, specialising in radiation therapy, but later on she switched her career to beauty therapy. Together, Leslie and Elma had a dream to manufacture their own cosmetic range under the name Placecol, which is derived from the words placenta and collagen.

This was the time before any technology: no fax machines, no internet, no electronic banking and no couriers. There were many challenges to buy raw materials and chemicals. Although certain companies like Henkel were already in South Africa, most of the ingredients were required to be imported. The placing of orders posed several challenges: Elma had to write a letter and post a letter to an overseas company. Thereafter Placecol had to pay for the order, but only after a period of three weeks at Barclays bank. The bank then had to confirm the payment by telegram. Six to eight weeks later, the stock would arrive. This process took very careful planning.

At that time there were also no courier services or GPS to assist in locating factories in the industrial areas of Johannesburg. Elma knew exactly what it meant to use a road map to find places.

Packaging was also very difficult to source and Elma had to make the best of what was available. At some stage Placecol was packed into glass jars, which were imported from France. The biggest challenge was the words: ‘minimum order’, which meant an order of 1,000 jars, while they only needed a few hundred jars.

At the beginning, Placecol could only afford packaging for two different products, only for a night cream and for cell therapeutic ampules. The only way to enter a very competitive cosmetic market was to be the best. So, only the best quality ingredients, with maximum concentrations, were used to ensure the best results.

Totally different

Placecol realised the need to have ‘something’ totally different from all other cosmetic manufacturers to enter the market and Elma and Leslie travelled to the Potchefstroom University to obtain information from the library and the Botanic Department.