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.