Tuesday, 22 March 2011

An interview with… Karen McKay, president of Japonesque

Years in beauty industry: 9

Back in 2002, Karen McKay recognised unfulfilled potential in the 16-year-old beauty accessory brand Japonesque and decided to purchase the business. Karen talks to Your Beauty Industry about the benefits and challenges of buying an existing beauty business, the importance of a brand's reputation and juggling family life with a successful career.

Tell me about your career background and how you ended up buying Japonesque.
My husband and I purchased a business that dealt with manufacturing and installation of walk-in closets into both private homes and office environments. We sold that business to a larger entity eventually.

Japonesque never really made it to the open market for sale. We knew about the business through a professional connection and we heard that the owner might be looking to sell as she had two small children and didn’t want to work in it any longer. We saw a product line that had a great reputation but was under-financed, with a very small team. The combination of some investment, passion about the brand and a real desire to bring it to a larger audience has paid dividends for us. Whilst we design all our products so that a professional would find them interesting or useful we now rely on a larger retail customer for volume.

Why did you decide to buy Japonesque, rather than create a brand from scratch?
Japonesque was a very small brand with an excellent reputation. I knew from the very beginning that with some efforts and investment the brand could become recognized globally as it is today for the highest quality makeup accessories.

How did you take Japonesque to the next level where the previous owners didn’t?

The previous owner of the brand recognized how much potential there was and for her, selling to a new owner gave her the opportunity to see that happen. Over the last ten years we have upgraded continuously both the items in the line and the presentation of the brand to the marketplace. We have had an amazing amount of support from all our retailers and the consumers have responded very well to the line – take a look at all the great YouTube and Facebook comments we get.

"Focus on the current reputation of the products or services being offered; It is hard to fix a bad reputation"
What advice would you give to anyone considering buying an existing beauty business?
It is the same advice I would give to someone buying any business. Focus on the current reputation of the products or services being offered at this time. It is hard to fix a bad reputation. Make sure you see where the business can be in the future and some path of how you can get there.

What are the biggest challenges you have come up against and how have you overcome them?
The business is full of day-to-day challenges which we work through as a team. At the moment we are waiting to here about the safety of our production team in Japan [following the earthquake]. So our biggest challenge may still be ahead of us.

What would you say is the best way to approach buyers with your products?
We constantly work with all our buyers with product ideas. Not all products are appropriate for all market segments. With nearly 300 items ranging from baby accessories to professional makeup palettes, we need day-to-day input from our retail buyers, makeup artists and consumers to help us bring unique, high quality items to market.

How do you make a beauty brand successful across different countries?
Our efforts are focused around consistency. We work with our retailers and distributors to make sure that the Japonesque message and product mix is appropriate in each environment. PR is vital in all new markets.

How do you manage to juggle your work and family life?
My youngest child was 1 when we purchased the brand – now she is 10. My children have been amazingly supportive over the years as I have travelled a great deal and missed several games, plays and parents evenings. But working for yourself also brings some degree of flexibility that others do not have. Like all working mothers I am constantly trading work time with Mamma time.

Who inspires you?
When I am having a rough day I read a little Maya Angelou, her words have always been very inspirational to me. Other than that I deal with extremely talented and dedicated people, including my own Japonesque team that encourage and inspire me to be the best that I can be – every day.

"Listen to others’ input and opinions but know where you want the business to go and follow your instincts"
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Don’t let anyone else tell you how to run your business. Listen to others’ input and opinions but know where you want the business to go and follow your instincts.

Any other words for my lovely readers?
Be brave and have fun – this business is a fantastic ride.

Visit www.japonesque.com

Monday, 21 March 2011

An interview with... Anna-Belle Woollcott, Editor of soFeminine.co.uk

Years in industry: 9 

Editing the huge female lifestyle website that is soFeminine.co.uk is no mean feat - and that is exactly how Anna-Belle Woollcott spends her days. Anne-Belle talks to Your Beauty Industry about the importance of SEO in online publishing, the vast skills required to edit a lifestyle website and her top tips for making it in online journalism.

Tell me about your career background and how you ended up at soFeminine.co.uk.

I started my media career while I was still at university. I did two weeks’ work experience at RWD magazine which turned into a part-time permanent position. I worked as a features writer and fashion editor for the magazine up until I graduated. I went freelance for a little while before landing the role of Editorial Assistant at Metro.

At Metro I worked my way through the departments (general editorial, picture desk, accounts, features, web, Editor’s office) gradually climbing the ladder. I learned how all the different elements of a publication come together and honed my writing skills but what I really learned was that I wanted to edit. It was a fantastic experience but after six years I was bored and frustrated waiting for my next opportunity to progress so I threw the towel in.
"I’d sent my CV on spec a year earlier and received the standard 'we’ll keep it on file' response. I didn’t think they actually meant it!"
I accepted a job offer in Amsterdam working as a copywriter, packed my bags and left the media world behind me. But I missed it. A year later, I was offered the chance to interview for the editorship of sofeminine.co.uk. I’d sent my CV on spec a year earlier and received the standard “we’ll keep it on file” response. I didn’t think they actually meant it! I got the job and moved to Paris to train. At the beginning of 2010, I relocated to London and took over as Chief Editor.

How do you manage to edit such a huge website, covering so many different lifestyle areas?
With difficulty! I often liken it to a Salmon desperately swimming upstream. I have a small team both here and in Paris to help me and we make use of freelancers who know their SEO.

What are the main differences between online and print journalism?
SEO! It means search engine optimisation. How you write affects whether the search engines will find your article and ultimately how many people will get to read it. It’s a completely different skill to print writing.

What does a typical day consist of for you?
There really is no such thing. I do something different every day. The only consistent part of my job is yelling at BT! Generally, I plan the site’s direction week-by-week as well as month-by-month. I edit freelance features as well as in-house features and news. I do quite a lot of picture research and editing, as I also function as the creative director of soFeminine.co.uk within my editor role. I write as much as I can. In addition, I do lots of behind the scenes work such as strategy and number crunching.

What’s the most difficult aspect of your job?

Keeping so many balls in the air. It’s a non-stop juggling act.

And what are the perks?
We get to try lots of lovely products and services but for me the greatest thing about working as an editor is the chance to turn yourself into an armchair expert on literally anything. I feel like I learn so many new things every hour, let alone every day, just by reading, interviewing and researching. Because of journalism, I know how to land a Boeing 777, tile a bathroom and lose weight 18,000 different ways.

What would your advice be for anyone wanting to break into online journalism?

Educate yourself on SEO, start a blog and experiment. If you can get articles on your blog to appear on the first few pages of a search engine’s results then you’re very valuable to online editors.
"Learn as much as you can about SEO and keep updated with any changes Google and Bing make"

What are your top 5 tips for anyone wanting to become an online editor?
•    Get lots of online work experience
•    Learn as much as you can about SEO and keep updated with any changes Google and Bing make
•    Read every online article with an editor’s eye: Why did you look at it? How did you find it? How well was it written?
•    Start your own blog and practice
•    It’s not essential but make sure you know a bit about HTML. A working knowledge of tools such as Dreamweaver and Photoshop will also go a long way.

Who inspires you?

Stylist editor, Lisa Smosarski. She’s done fantastic things for women’s magazines.

What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received?

My mum told me I could do anything I wanted as long as I worked hard. Mums are always right.

Visit http://www.sofeminine.co.uk

Friday, 18 March 2011

An interview with... Gavin Duffy, investor and Irish Dragon

"Think customers, not money. If you have customers, the money will come"
It was a genuine pleasure to meet Gavin Duffy, an investor and Dragon from TV's Irish Dragon's Den. Far from being intimidating and unapproachable, Gavin was warm, articulate and passionate about his latest investment in beauty brand TanOrganic. Gavin talks to Your Beauty Industry about what makes an appealing investment, what groundwork you should do before approaching investors and how attractive the beauty market is as an investment opportunity.

What attributes do you look for in a brand and a person when you consider an investment?
In a brand, for me to get excited about it, it has to be doing something completely different to what is out there already. We can all claim to have USPs but some of these unique selling propositions are never actually that unique when you get there. It might not be something dramatic, it might be something like ‘here is a premium product, but we are not going to sell it at a premium price’. It just has to be something that little bit different that’s going to catch people’s attention.

But for me, what is more important than the brand is the person behind it; the promoter. I invest in people rather than products and the particular services they are promoting. If the person has a certain drive, a certain commitment and a passion about it and if they are fun as well, then it is something I would give serious consideration to.

"The beauty market is very attractive as an investment because it enjoys ridiculously high margins"
How appealing is the beauty market from an investment point of view?
You want the honest answer? Very attractive. Because it enjoys ridiculously high margins. I can’t believe that the beauty product I’ve chosen to invest in [TanOrganic] is, according to industry experts, wildly expensive to make. And yet there is such a margin, so if we are 3 or 4 times more expensive [to produce] than the rest of the self tanning industry, well then they must be making an awful lot of money.

Probably computer software has to be the best [investment] in the sense that you come up with a piece of software, it costs you X to make it, but then you just need to manufacture it and flog it out. So that’s probably the best, but the beauty industry is coming in a hot second.

Have you invested in any beauty brands in the past?
No, I’m a virgin beauty investor! I had bankrolled one or two spas in the past and made investments like that, but that’s as much about a property play – the hotels we were developing at the time had to have spas. So I have to say it was an industry I knew very little about. I have to also say what I find very interesting is there is camaraderie in the beauty industry that I think is exceptional. People engage in real networking and sharing of information and the help and assistance that we have got from people has been amazing. They are always trying to give you the right contacts to speak to, rather than thinking ‘who does he think he is from Dragon’s Den?!’. I have found this in both Ireland and the UK. 

"Look for an investor that can give you connections and contacts - that makes a huge difference"
What is the best way for someone to find an investor who is most suited to their brand?
It depends how much you’re looking for. If you’re looking for £200,000 or less, you’re usually working within families, friends, twisting people’s arms and so on. If you’re looking to do something a bit bigger, you are probably going to need to bring in an investor at some stage. I would be looking for two things [in an investor] – not just the money, but their track record in the industry and what connections and contacts they can give you. That makes a huge difference.

And so when I invest in businesses – and I invest in a range of industries from hen parties to DIY – what people are getting the benefit of are my contacts and connections. And even though I wasn’t previously involved in the beauty industry, with regards to the big pharmacy chains in Ireland, three of them have used me as a management consultant and know me very well, so I had contacts in this respect.

What top tips would you give anyone looking for investment, before they approach investors?
People when they are setting up a business are fixated about getting money and they come along to people like me, looking for cash to invest in their business. I would prefer if they spent their time going out and looking for customers. Even if they haven’t been able to sell anything to them yet, if someone comes along to me and says ‘I have this idea, and I have spoken to X and I now have 500 customers who are genuinely interested – this is how frequently they said they would use this service...' when you see information like that, even in a recession here in the UK at this time you will find people that are willing to invest.

But what tends to happen is, say for instance someone wants to open a spa, they want to build these big, exotic – expensive – premises and hope people will come in the door. Let’s talk about someone who wants to open a restaurant. They’ll spend all this time thinking about the design of the restaurant, how it will look, its ambience, I’m going to get some guy with a French name to be the chef – you know, all of this sort of stuff. Whereas, do they ever actually sit down and say ‘let’s poll people in the area – what type of restaurant would they want, this is what we’re going to do, these are the type of customers that are going to come...’. if someone like that came into me I would rather invest in that restaurant. I’ve done a lot of investments in the hospitality sector and that very rarely happens, so I am always very impressed when someone comes along and they know their potential customer profile. So that’s what I’d say to people – think customers, not money. If you have customers, the money will come.

Visit www.Gavinduffy.ie

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Make Up For Ever’s unretouched ad – a PR’s dream

The news of Make up For Ever’s unretouched ad – a first for the beauty world, apparently – has been flying around the world wide web today. I was excited to hear the news – I think it is a genius idea, and frankly I wish I had thought of it myself.

This isn’t because I believe that the product the advert is promoting – an HD Invisible Cover Foundation range – must be fantastic because the girl looks so flawless. Let’s face it; the model’s skin looks pretty flawless even if she didn’t have a scrap of make up on. No, I think it is fantastic because by taking the unprecedented step of sending an unretouched ad to press (and then sending out a press release about it), French brand Make Up For Ever has succeeded in getting talked about worldwide across mainstream press (I picked up on it on the Daily Mail earlier), beauty blogs, twitter... etc, etc.

And because the new HD foundation range fits in so nicely with the message that having an unretouched ad promotes (i.e. the product is so good, we don’t need to fake the results), the HD Foundation is being talked about synonymously within the hype – nicely earning the type of worldwide press and hype that is many a PR’s dream. Good work, Make Up For Ever marketing team!

It will be interesting to see how other brands react – will they follow suit? Will it make a difference? Dove’s infamous Real Women campaign did a fantastic job in making the brand stand out from its competitors and generating sales, but the use of conventional models within beauty advertising is still mainstream – so in this aspect it didn’t turn the industry on its head.

Regardless, what I find refreshing about Make Up For Ever’s clever move is that is gives the brand an air of honesty – even though the model does have flawless skin, at least we can see it is her skin. It drives me mad when mascara ads use lash inserts within their advertising – frankly it tells me that the brands don’t believe in their own mascara and I think it does a fine job of promoting false eyelashes instead!

What do you think about Make Up For Ever’s unretouched ad?

Thursday, 10 March 2011

An interview with... Fiona Parkhouse, founder of Amie skincare

Years in industry: Over 20 years 

With her roots in beauty marketing, Fiona Parkhouse spotted a gap in the market when she tried - and failed - to find her daughter gentle skincare products specially formulated for teenage skin... and so Amie skincare was born. Fiona talks to Your Beauty Industry about putting in the legwork when sourcing suppliers, the importance of having a USP and building upon a brand.

How did you start your career in the beauty industry?
After graduating with a degree in History I was very unsure of what career to pursue – I knew more what I didn’t want to do more than what I did!  But I found myself on a course on marketing and I loved the whole discipline, as it is a great combination of creative thinking as well as core business skills. The next step was where to take this new-found passion and that was sheer luck!  A friend mentioned she had heard of a job at the fragrance house, Yves St Laurent in the marketing department, so that was my first introduction to the world of cosmetics.

What made you make the leap from being employed to starting up on your own?

Well, that was really to do with being a mum and wanting to keep on working but to have the freedom to work from home and be around for the kids. And it was thanks to my daughter, Samantha, that I actually had the idea for Amie. When she was 11 her skin started to change and she needed to use skincare that was gentle and non-stripping and full of lovely, natural ingredients and no nasties. There wasn’t anything like that available on the market and, as a mum, I didn’t want her using anything too harsh or aggressive. The idea for Amie was born and now 4 years on we are selling in many overseas markets as well as the UK.

"I had absolutely no knowledge of the manufacturing side so this was my steepest learning curve"
How did you know where to begin with launching your own beauty brand?
I knew I could create the concept for Amie and carry out all the marketing disciplines that it would need, such as carrying out market research and creating the branding, for example, but I had absolutely no knowledge of the manufacturing side so this was my steepest learning curve.

What were the most important lessons that you learnt along the way?
That no matter how passionate you are about your products or how lovely they might be, at the end of the day, you are in business and you need to focus on driving that.

How did you source suppliers you could trust?
Really by doing a lot of legwork and research. I have spent many hours travelling up and down motorways visiting potential suppliers to see whether they would be the right fit.

If you could do one thing differently, what would you change?
Start working with my sales team a lot earlier than I did! Seriously though, it is best to work with as many people who are experts in their own field as you can. As a marketer I was not an experienced sales person apart from having the determination to bring Amie to the market, so it was a great support when the sales team came on board.

What are the challenges of making a beauty brand successful?
The main challenge is to appreciate that launching is the easy bit! I would say that year 2 is when the hard work really starts, as you have to keep on building your brand and getting the message out there. So no time to sit back and relax!  

"If you can’t answer the question ‘So what?’ about the idea for your products, then you shouldn’t launch"
What are your top tips for anyone wanting to create their own beauty brand?
You need to have a very strong USP so making sure you have really researched the market is absolutely crucial. Someone once said that if you couldn’t answer the question ‘So what?’ about the idea for your products, then you shouldn’t launch!

What are the challenges of being self employed?
For many people, I think it is hard to keep yourself motivated and focused without the support network of a team of people that you might have had when you were employed. This is something I have definitely felt occasionally along the way, but then there is nothing as motivating as seeing your own products on the shelves of the top beauty retailers.

Who inspires you?
We have some absolutely amazingly talented women working in the beauty industry but I think the person who inspired me early on was Anita Roddick, who had such vision.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
‘Count your blessings’ – something that it is easy to forget to do when you are busy or stressed. Trying to think of all the good things or people in your life really helps put into perspective all the hard work or challenges you might be facing.

Visit http://www.amieskincare.com


Monday, 7 March 2011

An interview with... Jackie Tyson, celebrity make up artist

Years in industry: Over 20

I recently caught up with Jackie Tyson, one of the UK’s leading celebrity make up artists who has beautified the likes of Katy Perry, Lily Allen, Sienna Miller, Daniel Craig plus many, many more. Jackie can also be seen on the X Factor, where she has been Chief Make Up Artist for the past 5 years. Clearly all this doesn’t keep Jackie busy enough as she also has her own make up school. Jackie talks to
Your Beauty Industry about breaking into such a competitive industry, making the transition from make up artist to celebrity make up artist and the realities of working with celebrities.

Tell me a bit about your career background.
I always wanted to be a make up artist. I went to school in Yorkshire, back in a time when no-one in Yorkshire knew what make up artistry was! So after I left school I came to London to do a beauty therapy course and did some hair and make up along the way. I worked for free for a year after I qualified to be a make up artist - literally any photographers or people in the film industry that I met, I would just bother them to let me work for them, for nothing. A lot of the photographers did start to take me on for [paid] work after that.
"Whenever I met any photographers or people in the film industry, I would just bother them to let me work for them, for free"
I did a lot of fashion at first, but then photography started to move into the music business, so I met bands and they’d say ‘oh yeah, come and do our video’ so then I’d meet video companies and record companies, and the whole thing very, very slowly snowballed into a career! I very much enjoyed working with music artists rather than models. It’s a different challenge; you really are looking after people rather than just doing their make up.

So your transition from make up artist to celebrity make up artist wasn't planned?

It was kind of organic really, from the kind of photographers I was working with. Also, I think I’m pretty calm - a lot of my friends who work in fashion are very flamboyant and very loud, and you can’t be that person with an artist – there’s only space for one artist in a room! So I think those guys will stick to fashion and be the centre of attention, while I’m quite happy to not be the centre of attention – I’m just doing my job.

What are the realities of working with celebrities?
It can be extremely glamorous, and it can be extremely unglamorous. For instance, when I was driving past here today [to eXcel in London], it reminded me of a video I worked on a couple of years ago with Snow Patrol on the wasteland out there. It was pouring with rain and all the boys were soaking wet – their hair was wet, their faces were soaking wet. We were walking across the wasteland and I thought ‘oh, I give up! I’m cold, I’m wet – they look terrible and there’s nothing I can do!’. So you know, there are some very unglamorous days but then, I’m at the MTV awards, I’m in Madrid with Bon Jovi, I’m staying in amazing hotels and being whizzed around in a Mercedes... which is just amazing. You get to have a taste of the celebrity lifestyle without all the hassle. It definitely makes you realise that being a celebrity must be really difficult.

"Think - 'if I’ve got 5 minutes, what can I do to make that person look better?'"
What are your top tips for anyone who wants to be a celebrity make up artist?
Be able to work quickly and quietly. Whatever else is going on, you need to make sure you can just get on and make sure your client looks as fabulous as possible. I can remember working with a proper A-lister and I was asked, ‘how long would you like to do her make up?’ and I said, ‘well ideally, I would like an hour – how long can you give me?’ and they said ‘probably about 5 minutes!’. But I’ll get it done – I can make anybody look better with whatever time you give me. So you need to hone those skills; think - if I’ve got 5 minutes, what can I do to make that person look better?

Who inspires you in your career?
I worked very closely with a make up artist called Adam de Cruz, who did X Factor with me. He is a flamboyant fashionista and he is a fantastic make up artist. We work really well together because I teach him things and he teaches me things, which is really nice that for someone who’s been doing it as long as we have, we’re still picking up tips – you never stop learning in this job.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
I don’t think I have ever been given career advice! My careers teacher told me I should be a PE teacher because I was good at netball and my mum still thinks I’m going to get a proper job one day! I was talking to an old friend recently through Facebook who I had previously lost touch with and they said ‘I can’t believe you have done what you said you would do – you said you would work with musicians and be a make up artist and you’ve done it!’ So it was just me being totally single minded in what I wanted to do.

It’s a very hard industry and I wouldn’t like to start again – there’s so many make up artists out there now. Also, when I first started there were no make up schools. I have a make up artist school of my own now, which offers 2-week intensive courses – I would have killed for that back then, just to know whether it was something I could do.

Visit http://www.serene.uk.com
For more information on Jackie’s make up school, visit http://www.jackietyson.co.uk/make-up-school

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A very shrewd way of working with beauty bloggers

I went to the National Beauty Blogging Event (NBBE) last week, where a number of brands and industry experts took turns in presenting to an audience of beauty bloggers. Among the line up of speakers was Gavin Duffy, an investor and Dragon on the Irish Dragons' Den.

While I was particularly interested to hear from Gavin about investing in beauty companies (an exclusive interview with Gavin will appear on this blog shortly), what he was actually there to talk to the beauty bloggers about was his latest investment – beauty brand TanOrganic.

Firstly, I was intrigued by Gavin’s decision to do the presentation on TanOrganic himself, instead of brand owner Noelle O’Conner. But what what was really interesting to watch was the very shrewd way in which Gavin chose to address the bloggers.

From the get-go, Gavin told the audience how highly he rated beauty bloggers and how in many ways he considered them more important than marketers. Suitably buttered up, he went on to tell an amusing story of how he learnt about the influence of beauty bloggers the hard way:

Following a dire advert made by TanOrganic, Beaut.ie, a respected Irish beauty blog, picked up on it and slated the advert and its concept, saying ‘it screams cheap, it screams orange – surely the very last things TanOrganic would want to convey’. This blog in turn generated a whole heap of reader comments that were in general agreement with each other that they weren’t impressed and wouldn’t be trying out the product.

When Gavin happened to pick up on this piece of coverage, he penned an exhaustive comment in return, apologising for the ad and holding his hands up by declaring it a ‘disaster’.  This very honest admittance of getting it wrong, coupled with Gavin’s direct response to the blogger and her readers (rather than deeming the blog post too unimportant to bother with), saw a dramatic turnaround in the brand’s perception, with many follow up comments applauding Gavin’s honesty and showing a renewed interest in TanOrganic. (You can read the post and its comments and watch the [terrible] ad here.)

He finished the presentation by telling the beauty bloggers that he would love it if they could help TanOrganic when it launches in the UK this autumn, and thanked them for ‘doing us the honour of coming to listen to the TanOrganic story’.

By – 1. Recognising and referencing the influence of beauty bloggers and 2. Holding his hands up when he made a mistake, Gavin had a captive audience. Whether the bloggers appreciated Gavin’s approach or thought it a bit much, I have already started to see TanOrganic reviews appear on beauty blogs, so I can only assume it’s working.

I have been told that there will be a video of Gavin’s presentation available soon, so if I manage to get hold of this I will post it on this blog post for you to watch in full.

On a side note, I was actually very interested to hear about the TanOrganic self tan range, which sounds revolutionary in that it is 100% certified organic – in part achieved by using an aloe vera base, which by happy coincidence apparently got rid of the biscuit smell usually associated with self tan. I'll leave the reviews to the beauty bloggers, but I'll watch the brand's progress with interest. Following a successful launch in Ireland, TanOrganic is looking to launch in England this autumn.

What do you think of Gavin’s approach to beauty bloggers?