Powder Pocket: Beauty meets the beast – from Rugby man to girl's best friend
My Big Idea
RUGBY and beauty rarely come together, but Connacht player Michael Swift is bucking the trend.
His new business Powder Pocket provides a subscription service for beauty fanatics, giving them a chance to try new cosmetics every month. The 36- year-old Galway-based player explained how he endured high delivery costs and good-natured abuse from fellow players to get his business up and running.
"I wanted to diversify for a long time; you can only play rugby so long and are always just one injury away from retirement. I was always interested in the online subscription model and spotted a gap in the market for beauty products. There are lots of services like this in the UK and US but not here.
"I started the company early last year and the first month's delivery was in November. Subscribers pay €15 a month to receive a package containing five products from premium beauty brands, one guaranteed to be full size, with incentives for placing a six or 12-month order. Our unique selling point is that at least one of those brands, every month, will be Irish. I hadn't realised when I started the company, but we are spoiled for choice – there are about 70 Irish beauty brands out there. The first box contained a makeup brush from Irish brand Blank Canvas Cosmetics as well as products from Academy, Vichy, Shisheido, Hugo Boss and 'Blush' magazine.
"What's great about cosmetics is that they are recession-proof. They call it the 'lipstick effect' – in a recession, when money is tight, lipstick sales actually go up. Women see it as a way to indulge and spoil themselves without hurting their bank accounts. It's also gone down well as a gift bought by men who haven't a clue what to buy their wives or girlfriends.
"The products themselves aren't really our big cost. Brands provide them for free as a way to get samples out to people who are already clearly interested in beauty. It was challenging at first to convince brands of the concept, but interest shot up after we delivered our first batch and they could see what we are about. It helps that everything is luxury-orientated: the box it's delivered in, for example is beautiful.
"I knew nothing about the industry when I first started out, so it has been a steep learning curve. The aspects I thought would be difficult were easy, and vice versa. Postage was a massive challenge – it really is very expensive. Branding and public relations has also been expensive. We mainly advertise through social media and through promotions with websites like Beaut.ie and Her.ie
"It's all been self-funded; disappointingly I was turned away from Enterprise Ireland, because they class my company as a distribution business. I took out a small bank loan instead. We're now about six months away from profitability.
"Time management is definitely a struggle. My rugby career is a full-time job and the days of an hour or two's practice are gone – I'm on the pitch from 7.30am to 4.30pm now, though I have Wednesday off. I've taken someone on full-time, which has really helped.
"I've had good support within rugby too – former player Conor O'Loughlin helped build the website and another helped with graphic design.
"I did get a bit of stick from the lads when I started out, but now they are really starting to take an interest."