Deborah Duffey is the first to admit that her company, Dermazone Solutions, is adaptive and diversified by design.
Though its core is manufacturing pharmaceutical skincare products, the St. Petersburg-based business has expanded to include applications far beyond skin science such as food and beverage, oral supplements, and animal health. Spanning from an impressive warehouse of research labs, product manufacturing and quality assurance departments, they have become the “who’s who” in the Florida health and wellness industry.
“We can fit into the biotech space; we can fit into the life science space; we could fit into the manufacturing space. It’s funny because we don’t fit into one category, ‘Who’s Dermazone?’ ...Many things,” she says.
Though Deborah has faced her share of challenges, the multi-faceted company is now a blueprint for success, thanks to her bold vision and commitment to forging local partnerships, like that with Seacoast Bank.
In some regards, Deborah is an accidental entrepreneur. Before taking the helm at Dermazone Solutions, she enjoyed a successful career developing feasibility studies for companies looking to expand into new and emerging markets.
Her career path changed forever when she agreed to draft an executive report for a small, publicly traded skincare company. A few months after her presentation, Joe Schuchert, a prolific businessman and the company's largest shareholder, telephoned Deborah, seeking a partner to expand the company and take it private. Understanding the magnitude of his offer, she agreed.
"It was an opportunity that I felt I couldn't turn down … I had the opportunity to be mentored by one of the best business leaders in the United States," Duffey says.
In true entrepreneurial fashion, Deborah was tasked with building an entire company from the ground up and putting into practice the tactical solutions she’d shared just months before as a consultant. She analyzed every aspect of the skincare business with her business partner, skillfully building her team and exploring a path to growth and profitability.
One of Deborah’s first decisions was to adopt a vertically integrated business model. She believed in the quality of the product, Kara Vita, but recognized that, if she depended on outside manufacturing, maintaining quality would be a challenge.
Her new plan called for significant investments into a warehouse and manufacturing equipment, but in the long run, she believed it was the only way to maintain the quality that meant so much to her.
In 2007, she boldly moved forward with her new plan. It was a decision that proved successful until an economic recession just a year later threatened the company’s entire existence. As small businesses around the country collapsed, she soon found herself reorganizing yet again, going back to the drawing board to keep the company afloat.
Looking around at her expansive facility, she took inventory and devised a new path forward. Deborah’s list of assets included a warehouse, state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment, a talented workforce and stringent quality control processes.
Instead of placing all their resources around their in-house skincare brand, they’d refocus and align within the pharmaceutical manufacturing space – a move that made sense, as Deborah’s high-quality standards were perfectly in-step with strict pharma regulations.
“That changed our trajectory and today is what dominates our revenue flow – servicing other brand owners in the pharmaceutical space,” she says.
Changing her business model was the easy part. She now found herself operating within a competitive pharmaceutical industry that was male-dominated, where business agreements passed from generation to generation and had little representation of female leaders.
To succeed, Deborah recognized that she needed a framework of local business professionals to partner with and share experiences.
“I didn’t have what I considered a large enough personal network of other business leaders that I could engage with and build trusted relationships with, and felt very much stranded at times,” Deborah recalls.
After a chance invitation from a colleague, Deborah joined the CEO Council of Tampa Bay, a membership organization with executive leaders from over 30 industry categories. She quickly got involved, participating in everything from small round table discussions, fundraisers and community events – gleaning advice and making connections with some of the area’s brightest minds.
It's through the CEO Council that Deborah met Susan Blackburn, SVP and community banking director at Seacoast Bank, and Cathy Swanson, former Pinellas County market president, who has since retired from Seacoast. Deborah witnessed first-hand Susan and Cathy’s passion for Tampa Bay area businesses. She saw their leadership abilities and their solutions-based approach to success.
Over the course of their involvement in the CEO Council, Deborah realized how abandoned she felt at her large national bank. Contrary to her experiences with Susan and Cathy, the large bank didn't take the time to understand her business needs or her growth goals. She felt overlooked.
When it came time to renew her commercial real estate loan, she knew who to turn to.
“There were two female leaders, at a community bank, right down the street from me that were fellow members of the CEO Council. Done,” she says. “They understand this community better than anybody I’ve ever met.”
As Deborah looks to the future, she looks to pivot the company even more – this time in the name of innovation, not survival. Though skincare manufacturing remains its core business, Deborah has invested heavily in scientific research, partnering with brand owners in the cosmeceutical, skincare over-the-counter, prescription medication and medical device spaces. In addition, her team has secured numerous patents exploring how the whole body can benefit from their life science technologies.
As her company grows, Deborah is confident she finally has the business relationships and support network to help face whatever challenges arise, especially when it comes to financial partnerships.
Deborah exclusively depends on Seacoast's small business solutions, such as Positive Pay for electronic transactions, ACH network for issuing and collecting payments, an owner-occupied real estate loan to house her business and a business line of credit to support capital improvements.
It's a relationship that involves many Seacoast associates, from the branch level to regional leadership, partnering with Deborah to ensure her financial solutions continue to align with her growth goals.
"I believe it comes back to feeling confident that we have a mutual relationship and respect and trust for one another ..." Deborah says.
And though Dermazone Solutions is a complex company, Deborah has a razor-sharp vision of the future and the continued need for a unique banking partner like Seacoast Bank.