| 8°C Dublin

'The embarrassing memory of my workers' pay cheques bouncing is what keeps me going', reveals Cocoa Brown boss


Marissa Carter

Marissa Carter

Marissa Carter and partner Ronan. Glenageary, Dublin. Picture: Caroline Quinn

Marissa Carter and partner Ronan. Glenageary, Dublin. Picture: Caroline Quinn


Marissa Carter

'As obsessed as I am with the beauty industry I don't think I am a slave to it," Marissa Carter tells me as her bichon frise Cherry - whose hair genuinely smells and probably looks better than my own has ever done - makes herself comfortable in my lap.

We are sitting in the Cocoa Brown offices in Dun Laoghaire, inside the mothership of what is perhaps the fastest growing and most competitive self-tan empire on the planet. Everything is perfectly positioned and mostly pink. Marissa herself is warm, welcoming and above all incredibly honest.

"Every now and then you'll hear 'Oh pale is in,' but people just keep going back to tan. There is absolutely no doubt about it that when you have a false tan, even just a tiny bit, you look healthier, you feel slimmer and your eyes sparkle," Marissa explains. "Pippa O'Connor put up an Instagram post recently and it read 'I love fake tan Thursdays; when I go from a low two to a high eight.' I just thought that's exactly what it is, that's how tan makes a woman feel. You instantly feel like you go from a low two out of ten, to a high eight," Marissa laughs.

Marissa, who is now 20 weeks pregnant with her second child, spent her maternity leave, following the birth of her son Charlie two and a half years ago, formulating Cocoa Brown One Hour Tan, a product which has since revolutionised the self-tanning process.


Shortly afterwards Marissa sold her beauty salon, Carter Beauty, and has since created a number of products, which are giving the big hitters of the beauty industry a genuine run for their money.

"It's cut-throat, but I am just so busy forging my own path," Marissa says.

"I think the advantage that we have over the big companies is that even though the business is thriving, we are still in start-up mode.

"We are still nimble and we don't have a seven or eight board members to answer to yet, if a decision to do anything in the company needs to be made, I can make that decision very quickly," Marissa adds.

Surviving the recession in retail has given Marissa extra motivation to succeed. Cocoa Brown is now not only the number one selling self-tan in Ireland- the country which consumes the largest amount of fake tan per capita in the world - but it is also number one in the UK and it's popularity is growing across Europe.

"I couldn't be happier, but I want to keep growing and keep moving forward," Marissa says.

"This time a couple of years ago I remember I was going through a revenue audit, when I had my salon and I was six months pregnant; the difference between where I am mentally and where I am in business then and now is just unbelievable."

"I spent eight years running a beauty salon. When things were good I had ten employees, but when things were bad..." Marissa pauses.

"I think anyone who has gone through the recession in retail will testify that they have gone through the embarrassment - well actually it's embarrassment in the beginning and then you just get over it because it happens so much - of your employees' wage cheques bouncing. I went through that just like everyone else.

"I don't think I have fully grasped just how successful Cocoa Brown really is because I have just spent so many years hustling; nothing like a recession to instil the absolute fear of God in you!" Marissa laughs.

The next 12 months promise to be equally as successful for Marissa, who has just launched Cocoa Brown in US beauty chain Ricky's, which has 30 stores across New York and Miami.

Cocoa Brown has been gaining momentum stateside ever since it was the official pre-Oscars tanning partner last February.

"I am in talks with Walgreens and Macy's, two massive retailers," Marissa explains.

"And with an Australian distributor and I have just got a new partnership with a distributor in Sweden, which is going really well, so I'm delighted with that.

"We are in Tesco in Ireland already and last week we signed off on going into 500 Tesco stores in the UK, which is amazing!" she beams.

Marissa went to Coláiste Íosagáin in Stillorgan, a school, which she tells me is renowned for "churning out high achievers."

"I thrive in a competition environment, I always have - being the eldest of eight children just makes you that way," she says.

"I have always been competitive whether it was basketball or at home with my brothers playing games.

"We absolutely murder one another at Christmas time.

"My husband and I are hosting Christmas dinner this year and he has already warned me that he is not joining in on the board games this year if I am and going to take it so seriously.

"There is a little bit of Monica from Friends in me," she laughs.

"He doesn't want to see that side of me."

Marissa met her husband Ronan O'Flaherty when he showed her around a house, in which she was hoping to rent a room.

"I was moving out of home and I went to view a couple of different rooms in houses with other students and I called to one house and my now husband Ronan showed me around. I just fancied the pants off him," Marissa says.

"I just said 'I'll take it! Here's my deposit!'"

Eleven years later, the couple are very happily married, with baby number two on the way.

"We are madly in love still," Marissa says.

"Zig Ziglar said that sometimes the only reason a person succeeds is because somebody else believed that they would and Ronan is that person for me.

"I don't think it would actually matter if I said to him, 'Do you know what? I think I want to go to the moon, I am going to study to be an astronaut and I'm all booked in for the training!'


"Yes he might be a little bit taken back, but then he'd just say 'Right OK, it'll be tough now, but I think you can do it, you'll be well able!' We are yin and yang and I love him very much."

Despite her ambitions to dominate the global self-tanning market, family is Marissa's number one priority.

"I try to do little things that make me switch off. They'll sound so small, but they work for me. I don't bring my phone up to the bedroom with me at night, at the weekends unless it is an absolute emergency I will not reply to a work email," she says.

"I finish work at five o'clock every day on the button regardless of what's going on because I have a little boy and I have to, he's two and a half and he's my priority.

"The hard part for me is the travelling, but it is a necessary evil," she says.

"I bake a lot. I garden and I spend a lot of time with my friends and family. I feel really lucky. Family is my priority regardless of how successful Cocoa Brown ever becomes. At the end of the day work is just work."

Marissa is looking forward to cooking Christmas dinner this year for her clan.

"I am cooking for about 20 people. I don't mind though I love it!" she tells me.

"My mum has offered to make the starter, but I think I'll just do it. I love having people over and I love having my family around. It'll just be so much fun, it'll be wild, we'll probably all kill one another as well, but it will be great!"

Marissa is supporting the Going for Growth programme, which provides a unique mentoring environment for women entrepreneurs in Ireland. The closing date for the receipt of completed applications is Wednesday, 10 December 2014. For more information see: www.goingforgrowth.com