Saje advice? The story behind the corporate takeover at one of B.C.’s best-known wellness brands

Saje Wellness has seen some turmoil of late

One of Vancouvers most successful business stories has come to an abrupt end.

It all began in 1992, when Jean-Pierre and Kate Ross LeBlanc opened a small shop in North Vancouver dedicated to selling essential oils and skincare products. Since then, Saje Wellness has become one of the country’s leading names in the health and wellness sector, with close to 100 stores in North America and regular appearances on the Profit 500 list of Canada’s fastest-growing businesses (revenue surged 1,547 percent from 2012 to 2017).

But all hasn’t been well at Saje recently. 

Those problems culminated in an unexpected scene at its Mount Pleasant office in the early morning one day this past February. According to a source close to the company, that’s when members of the board came through Saje’s doors with a plan to go in a different direction. 

Though you won’t find anything about it online, Greenwich, Connecticut–based L Catterton allegedly took a controlling interest in Saje around the same time it was reaping profits. 

“There was so much overhead and so much cost,” said the source, who asked to remain nameless. “With so many stores to manage, they needed more money and had to relinquish more control.”

Spending was also rumoured to be an issue, with the company hosting a yearly retreat at tony Shawnigan Lake School on Vancouver Island, where retail staff would take part in product information sessions. 

At the February meeting, Jean-Pierre and Kate, who had been serving as CEO, along with their daughter, Kiara, chief innovation and brand officer, were dismissed from the business they created. 

According to the source, L Catterton executive Michael Vineberg then gathered Saje’s 150 employees on the third floor of the building and announced that the LeBlancs had left the company and he would be taking over as interim CEO. Kate Ross LeBlanc remains on the board, and all three family members retain shares, the source said.

Of course, it’s been a tough few months since then, too. Besides prompting layoffs at Saje, COVID-19 has fast-tracked changes—the shuttering of some of the company’s American stores, particularly those on the East Coast—that may have been coming anyway. The Vancouver office hasn’t reopened yet, and when (or if) it does, there will be significantly fewer employees.

Saje Wellness didn’t respond to a request for comment.