How I Created a $2.6 Million Beauty Brand in Retirement
From TAKE THE LEAP: Change Your Career, Change Your Life by Sara Bliss. Copyright © 2018 by Sara Bliss. Reprinted by permission of Gallery, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
PREVIOUS GIG I became a management trainer in 1986, and I loved it from day one. I landed an interview through a friend's husband, and then did a weeklong course to assess my capabilities. I did very well, and they offered me a job. I developed a three-day course called Personal Power and Influencing, which was designed to help people become better able to manage their work relationships and understand how their behaviors impact others.
AN UNEXPECTED DETOUR My granddaughter India was born in January 2012 and soon after was diagnosed with a rare chromosomal abnormality. I was needed immediately to help care for her two-year-old sister, Freya, as my daughter, Suzy, needed to stay at India's bedside. It was clear that I could no longer work with clients, so I turned down all offers of work for almost a year. By October, however, India was able to go home and be supported by a team of caregivers. I still helped out when needed, but things began to return to a more normal routine.
RETIREMENT? NO, THANK YOU As India's life propelled me into withdrawal from paid work, I was very much in need of a new challenge. I was 65 and spending a lot of time watching daytime TV and thinking I can't just watch TV for the next 30 years! I felt that my life lacked purpose and direction. I had lost contact with all my clients during the year that India was in the hospital, and at my age I didn't want to start all over from scratch trying to create new contacts. I wanted to try something new and different.
A BUSINESS IDEA BORN OUT OF FRUSTRATION I was finding it difficult to source makeup that worked well on my older face. I kept thinking that there must be other older women who felt as frustrated as I did, who would like to be offered some great products that would really work and help them look incredible. I decided to launch Look Fabulous Forever to create and sell the products I wanted.
WHAT THE MAJOR BEAUTY BRANDS DON'T GET There is nothing in a store likely to make older women feel comfortable about a beauty purchase. The sales assistants are all invariably young and heavily made up in a way that would look awful on an older face. The beauty brands don't accept the fact that older faces are different from younger ones. Older faces are never used for advertising makeup. Recently, YSL named 25-year-old Cara Delevingne as its face of anti-aging. Need I say more?
PREPARING TO LAUNCH I used £40,000 [about $53,000] to start. I risked only an amount I could afford so that if it failed, I would not be materially affected. I set about finding a UK-based cosmetic manufacturer that would be able to formulate the makeup in the way I was suggesting. I literally googled "UK cosmetic manufacturers," and I found one that looked promising and rang them up. The boss, Alan, was immediately enthusiastic about my idea and did me the enormous favor of making only two hundred of each product at a time. Now we are one of his best customers. To design packaging and create a logo, I worked with the daughter-in-law of a friend who is a graphic designer. The photographer was a contact from a teacher I knew and charged me very little. People seemed to warm to the idea and were very supportive of what I was trying to achieve.
FREE MARKETING In the first year of business, YouTube was the single most important way we had of attracting customers to our website. We had no marketing budget, so we had to use free social media platforms. I created two videos, plus before-and-after makeover photographs, with my friends as models to show how the makeup transformed older faces. Within four months, the two YouTube videos were getting 1,000 to 1,500 views a day, and orders started to come in from all over the world.
THE FINANCIAL REALITY I took no salary for two years and plowed every penny back into the business. Gradually the income grew so that we could afford higher overheads for things such as more staff and office space. We also attracted investment, and this has facilitated our very fast growth to current total profits in excess of £2 million [around $2.6 million]. Total profits in the first full year (2014) were £100,000.
REAL WOMEN. NO BOTOX. We have a very high repeat-customer rate, which shows how much older women love the effect of the makeup. We use only real older women who have not had work done, including fillers and Botox. We never airbrush our images. This makes us stand out in an industry that cannot come to terms with an aging face and wants us all to chase youthfulness at any cost.
AGE IS AN ADVANTAGE I am my target customer, so I know how to talk to older women without being patronizing. When I appear on TV or speak on the radio, my voice and face are authentic, and my age is my greatest asset. The business has rejuvenated me and given me a great sense of purpose. I'm really passionate about confronting ageism in society and becoming a voice for older women everywhere who are feeling invisible, marginalized, and ignored.