Inspirational Woman: Eileen Hutchinson | Founder, NitNOT

Eileen Hutchinson on Dragon's Den

I’m a 46-year-old entrepreneur and single mum from Hemel Hempstead.

Most of my career was spent in direct sales, managing different sites and working my way up the corporate chain.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d end up developing head lice products. I freaked out the first time I ever saw lice in my 9-year-old daughter’s hair. Because she suffered from eczema on her scalp when she was younger, the process of treating it was really painful and stressful.  We were stuck in an endless loop of nasty head lice infestations.  I spent a lot of time researching how to solve it and a year down the line I had quit my corporate job and was running around with four or five part-time roles on the go to fund myself whilst I started NitNOT.  I developed the new serum and comb and in the early days ran a head lice clinic in my home town which was really successful in treating nasty cases. Since NitNOT was featured on Dragon’s Den and funded by Tej Lalvani, I’ve been working alongside his team, to get our products into mainstream health and pharmaceutical retail.    

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

In the early days, I was very ambitious.  I found selling quite natural, my background is in sales.  I wouldn’t say I planned my career but I certainly pushed myself and took opportunities as they came up.  Being a single mum made things a bit more challenging – I had childcare responsibilities and no support. NitNOT was never planned – it was borne out of me being angry and frustrated with the head lice industry and a lack of decent treatments available.  But once the idea was there and it was clear there was a need, that same tenacity and drive got me where we are today.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Loads! I was used to the usual office politics and discrimination as a woman and single mum.  Thankfully this is not an issue with NitNOT, but now my main challenges revolve around finding genuinely environmentally conscious suppliers, managing stock levels, delivering on new supplier contracts, and finding amazing people to build up my team.  Head lice is a tricky business – it is an emergency product and so people want to buy it on the spot, in their local store rather than online.  People don’t follow head lice brands on social media – there is a lot of stigma.  There is also a ton of rubbish advice out there – we often see ridiculous posts suggesting that head lice can be treated with all kinds of home remedies – even mayonnaise! People don’t realise that some of these treatments can be really dangerous (e.g. Tea Tree Oil).  Our team is constantly challenged by how to get the message out there on a subject people would rather not hear about, educate people and help them overcome the stigma so they can get rid of lice for good.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Definitely being on Dragon’s Den and having several of the Dragon’s bid to invest in NitNOT! I was thrilled that we settled with Tej Lelvani as he has amazing experience in pharmaceutical retail and his team is fantastic to work with, it’s incredible having him on board.  Achieving eco-certification has also been a real achievement.  You’d imagine it would be quite simple but it’s a tough route for a small business.  As soon as you go down the environmentally friendly track your costs triple and it is harder to reach economies of scale in purchasing (minimum order costs are so high).  The fact that we have stuck to our guns and taken the hit financially to ensure NitNOT is authentic and consistent with eco-credentials is something I’m really proud of.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?   

Genuinely I think the biggest factor in our success is that NitNOT’s products actually work and we are super honest and upfront about everything lice. Many treatments are toxic and highly flammable. Our products are non-toxic, hypoallergenic and non-flammable. You don’t need these types of ingredients to make an effective treatment, however using these does keep the costs down, but that’s not our aim, we aim for quality and a product that can be trusted. The current head lice industry is full of false promises, wild claims (Beat Head Lice in 5 minutes! etc.) We refuse to engage with customers in that way.  We believe in the end, people will be attracted to NitNOT because of our brand values, quality and product effectiveness. 

NitNOT products

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I’m happy to mentor anyone who would like to set up a head lice focused business, there’s plenty of opportunities for flexible work in the industry. I think mentoring is a really valuable part of the process.  No one knows everything, and growing personally as a business owner is critical to ensure you’re not the one limiting your business.  I personally surround myself with competent advisors – Tej Lalvani being one of them.  I find that a broad mix of advisors gives me a range of experience to draw on when I need it.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I would encourage parents to take equal responsibility in checking for head lice! The responsibility falls solely on mums, it’s not always this way, but honestly, from my experience all too often it is. It has been frustrating how few fathers I have interacted with on this journey – even in the NitNOT clinic.  Head lice is a women’s issue – and not because it is specific to women (boys get head lice too!), purely because the balance of household and domestic responsibilities lies with the mums.  As such, they’re usually the ones who have to deal with all the stress, shame and tears.  

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

I would tell myself to be wise about who I work with and to follow my gut. I have had some working relationships that haven’t worked out well – I’ve just felt that the person wasn’t a good fit and didn’t have the attitude and passion for NitNOT that would be needed to get the job done.  I would advise myself to be quicker and more decisive in these situations, It can be really soul-destroying when you keep people on for the wrong reasons and I can too easily allow sympathy to drive my decisions.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

The next challenge is to find new ways to communicate with families and keep them safe. Common head lice products have been the cause of 10 major accidents that have left children with life-changing injuries (burns) and the MHRA have now published guidance stating that parents should be warned about the flammability of head lice products. NitNOT will be setting out to enlighten parents about the risks and presenting safe and effective alternatives.   

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