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.



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