Coming up with a great idea and building a successful business out of it is the dream of many. But timing is everything, as Nancy Crossley, president of Professional Artists Canada, found when she launched her range of cosmetic sanitizers.
Working as a professional makeup artist for 27 years, Ms. Crossley constantly thought about the need for a chemical-free product that could clean her brushes and cosmetics. Traditional cleaners contain dry-cleaning fluid or turpentine, and she wanted to come up with an alternative. “I always thought if I didn’t do it myself, someone else was going to do it,” she recalled.
But it was only when epidemics like SARS and H1N1 hit that she realized the time was right for her product, Beauty So Clean. “People became aware of needing something to sanitize a commonly used surface, and cosmetics are a commonly used surface,” she said.
Her strategy worked. “We’re in a tremendous revenue growth spurt,” said Ms. Crossley.
Much of that expansion is international. Beauty So Clean has distributors across the globe, from South Korea to the United Kingdom. A company selling cosmetics in airport duty-free shops in Europe and Dubai has picked up the product for use at its counters, and a recent trade show in Hong Kong opened the doors to China, where, according to Alan Middleton, assistant professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business, grooming and beauty is the No. 1 spending category in advertising.
The road to success has been an unusually short one. The product was featured on Good Morning America and in magazines such as Flare, but positive reviews from the scores of bloggers who write about beauty have probably resulted in the most interest. “If you do a search on Beauty So Clean, you’ll see a few hundred thousand articles,” said Ms. Crossley. “That’s honest social media advertising. We don’t buy ads on their websites.”
Ms. Crossley first brought her idea for a natural cleaner to professional chemists, who created the formula. “I knew I had to come up with something like hand-sanitizer for cosmetics, and the cosmetics could not be altered in any way,” she said. She also found an immediate investor in the form of her business lawyer, who bought into Beauty So Clean after a 20-minute conversation.
“Our first product run was intended for sampling, getting it out there in the market,” she explained. The company sent these products to Ms. Crossley’s many contacts in the world of professional makeup artistry.
“We also brainstormed to come up with who [else]we could send this to,” she added, “like modelling agencies, spas and salons, and dermatologists.”
Rather than spend money on advertising, trade shows became a major marketing tool. “The most successful face-to-face meeting I can have is with someone at a trade show,” said Ms. Crossley. “They see the interest in the product from other people who are walking by.”
After a significant slowdown in cosmetic retail sales in 2009, the beauty sector is growing again, up 4 per cent last year, according to electronic payments provider Paymark. Canada’s overall cosmetics and personal grooming sector is huge – worth at least $10-billion a year, says Mr. Middleton.
“Aging populations are appearance-conscious,” he said. “Youthful populations are appearance-conscious. But it’s not an easy market [to crack]because there are so many in it. Just walk down the supermarket aisle or into a department store and look at the number of skin care products.”
“I think if you’re a small brand trying to break in, it’s really about the innovation and the angle,” said Michelle Villett, a former editor at Elle Canada who now maintains a blog called Beauty Editor. “It has to be so tight to get the attention. Something like Beauty So Clean has a very tight message, and there’s nothing else really like it that I’m aware of.”
And even though social media provides a vast marketplace in which to proclaim the benefits of a novel product, no one really knows how many actual sales translate from it.
“Everyone is jumping in, because they feel they have to be there,” said Mr. Middleton. “It will certainly give you the buzz, and if you’ve got a good sales force, that can translate into distribution. But everybody else is out there trying to get buzz as well.”