Last week, Laura Badcock and I joined hundreds of independent beauty business owners and brands in Manhattan, NY for a two-day whirlwind showcase event called Indie Beauty Expo. The first night was a shopping event, where the pavilion was open to the public. Beauty product lovers and inspiration-seekers from NY and around the country poured into the festive expo floor where they were welcomed by dozens and dozens of great indie brands. Just inside the door was a giant tissue paper heart on the wall. Every attendee was asked to write one wish, dream, or idea on a piece of paper and pin it to the heart. By the end of the evening, this 6′ high heart was full of big ideas and bigger dreams.
Walking the floor and talking with beauty brands was fantastic. As contract manufacturers, we rarely get to see how the products we make enter the market. We’ll see them in their retail boxes or in their bottles, but we don’t get to experience how the products we make woo and delight the customer. At IBE, that all changes. Not only did we get to talk with people about their products and brands, we got to see real consumers engage with the products we make, and of course, the products we don’t. The magic of a gorgeously presented beauty line is a little thrilling for those of us so deep in the back-end operations of formulating, filling, boxing and labeling.
As I flew back to Portland, I thought a lot about what I learned over the two days. And how I was going to explain to my husband that all the new products in my suitcase were for ‘research’. Good thing he likes a great product, too.
Five Takeaways from the IBE Floor
- Indie Beauty Takes Courage
Anyone striking out on their own to create a business, be it a beauty business, clothing line, or restaurant, knows it can be exhilarating, frightening, overwhelming, and joyous, sometimes all at the same time. Stepping out into the unknown with an idea and a belief in your own ability to meet a market need takes courage. I overheard one beauty brand owner say she drew courage from her daughter. Whenever she wanted to quit, when the money wasn’t there, the product was failing, and customer feedback was daunting, she would talk with her daughter. And inevitably, the reasons she wanted to launch her own brand in the first place came back to her: she wanted to be a role model for her daughter, and she wanted to create products that helped women feel confident in themselves.
- Perseverance Pays Off
While it’s true many of the indie beauty companies attending IBE were relatively new, many more have been working and growing their businesses for years. But regardless of whether the company was well established or just getting started, they all shared a similar story of having to be persistent and steadfast. In their work to get to market, build a niche, and attract loyal customers and partners, working through obstacles brought a sense of accomplishment, and a finer-honed image of their business. It takes time to create and establish a brand, and it takes time to develop and perfect your product. So yes, while it is okay to want to go fast, embrace the obstacles and settle in because creating a beauty brand from scratch isn’t an overnight effort.
- Pivots are Good
Pivoting is critical to longevity. As with most startup businesses, beauty startups will sometimes need to pivot their product offering and/or their brand messaging. We visited with several brands that entered the marketing to serve one group of customers, only to find that the real opportunity was in serving a different clientele and through a different retail channel. Being aware of the market’s reaction to your products is key, as is an attitude of what I call ‘flexible steadfastness’. A bit of an oxymoron, I know, but the message we heard again, and again is to be true to your vision, but be willing to be flexible; test out different paths to making that vision a reality. Trends come and go. Consumer tastes change, and too, so will your market with different competitors entering the field. Use research data and your business KPIs to determine if you need to pivot your business.
- Be Authentic
Great indie brands are built on the personality and values of the founder. Actress and indie beauty entrepreneur Kimberly Elise spoke to the attendees about what it means to be authentic, both in your business and in your life. The power of your brand comes from knowing who you are and why you are making the choices you’re making. Setting aside the expected stereotypes– which may be more comfortable to wear in the short term, will ultimately give you strength to face any situation. People gravitate to and embrace authenticity. Whether it is your customers, your employees, your business partners, or the press, people will be more engaged with and have a more powerful experience with you and your brand if you are authentically yourself. You’ll become known for your values and your practices. So be known for who you really are, not someone you’re not.
- Laugh it Up
Starting a business and forging a brand is serious work. But don’t forget to bring the joy and laughter into your business. Laughter filled the halls throughout the entire IBE event. Serious work got done, but so did serious mirth. Lighten up, give yourself time to enjoy your adventure, and pass the fun on to your customers.
Join us in Los Angeles
As indie brands work to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace, being able to communicate your unique value proposition in a few key words or phrases is a must-have tool in your marketing toolkit. Having dozens of indie beauty brands in one place provides a unique opportunity to learn from each other and discover great products and companies that might complement- or compete, with you. By spending time looking at your competitors, talking to indie brands in other niche markets than yours, and of course, asking your customers, you’ll find the keywords and phrases to get your message across. For instance, one company at IBE positioned themselves as the Farm to Face beauty company. Now doesn’t that tell you so much about their products? How will you define your niche in the indie beauty world?
The next IBE is scheduled for Jan 18 and 19, 2017. We encourage you to go, either as an exhibitor or an attendee, and don’t forget to secure your pass to the shopping event, too. This is a fantastic show for our industry. You’ll leave inspired and well-connected to retail buyers, consumers, and to others on the same indie beauty adventure as you are.
Did you attend IBE NY? If so, what did you learn? What inspired you?