Maxine Laceby was fast approaching the big Five-O. For years, her career had played second fiddle to bringing up her two daughters – but all of that was about to dramatically change.
It started when she began looking more closely at what she was putting into her body, and stumbled upon what she describes as ‘the amazing benefits of collagen’.
And it happened while she was cooking up bone broth in her kitchen…
Unable to find a commercial product that did the same job, she decided to take matters into her own hands – and in less than five years, she has gone from a kitchen table experiment to an award-winning business which is turning over millions.
Absolute Collagen now employs more than 25 people, and has its headquarters, fulfilment and distribution depot on the Hadley Park industrial estate in Telford.
And the daughters which Maxine gave up her earlier career to raise, Margot and Darcy, are now working with her as part of the business, making the success even sweeter.
“I had a bit of sales and marketing experience in my earlier career, but gave that up when I was about 25, and ever since then I’ve not been in business at all other than a few part-time bits and pieces,” she says.
“But that doesn’t matter, because everything I’ve learned from being a woman and a mother I apply to the boardroom.”
She describes herself as someone who has always had a bit of a creative streak, and enrolled on a fine art degree course, where one of her first projects was all about exploring ‘bare beauty’.
She had to strip herself free from make-up and hair products, and it was here that she says she had an epiphany.
“That was the first time I stepped into my own skin and I was surprised at how insecure and vulnerable I felt. I’d given so much to my family over the years, I’d lost myself in the process.
“I’d lost all my self-confidence, and my diet was terrible. I’d snack all the time or skip meals and eat a packet of biscuits at the end of the day. I needed to nurture myself.”
Maxine started to boil chicken feet and pigs’ trotters in her kitchen to make bone broth, discovering in the process how to extract collagen, a protein that provides structure to much of your body, including bones, skin, tendons, and ligaments.
She drank this bone broth for a few weeks, and says she saw an incredible impact on her skin, hair, nails and general wellbeing.
When friends started asking her what she was doing to get such glowing skin, Maxine soon found herself sharing the love by cooking up bone broth for her neighbourhood, and recalls becoming known as the ‘local collagen dealer’.
She spent many hours researching collagen tablets and supplements, and discovered that they were often made up with fillers and binders.
Maxine was adamant, though, that she wanted to create a liquid supplement – following the logic that liquids are absorbed far better than tablets.
“I asked myself what I wanted from a collagen supplement, and the answer was the maximum of the best collagen available in a ready mixed dose, as affordable as it could be.”
The foundations of Absolute Collagen were born, and Maxine began experimenting with the formula, taste and ingredients, becoming an expert in the process on the world of ingestible beauty supplements.
She worked incredibly hard spreading the word through the power of social media, and by the end of her first financial year, she had turned over an amazing £500,000.
Maxine has been recognised in the NatWest Everywoman Awards, winning the Demeter prize for ‘an inspirational woman running a business trading for between three and five years’.
The panel said: “Despite being 50 years old and having spent the majority of her adult life as a stay-at-home mum, Maxine was determined to pursue her idea, even re-mortgaging the house to start the business.”
Remortgaging her house? “Yes,” Maxine says. “That happened in the early few months of the business – I raised £250,000 which I put into the business over the first nine months. Yes, it was a risk, but my eyes had really been opened to the possibilities at that point, and I knew exactly where I wanted to take it.
“I believe one of the keys to this company’s success is changing the direct-to-consumer experience. Long before everyone was doing it, we were offering no-obligation subscriptions giving people the chance to cancel if they didn’t like the product.
“Why wouldn’t you do that if you have confidence in the product that you are offering?”
Maxine has been described as an inspiration for female entrepreneurs around the world – and for women in general.
She is incredibly passionate about the strengths of women, which she feels often go unrecognised due to what she describes as their ‘humble nature’.
“We just get on with the job that needs doing,” she says. “This is not about trying to make me look years younger. For me, how you feel is far more important than how you look.
“I feel very blessed to be in the position I’m now in – not just with such a successful business, but being able to work alongside my daughters too.”