Tuesday 21 November 2017

Beauty is booming for savvy business owners

Ireland's beauty industry has always been quite fruitful, but entrepreneurs are putting a new spin on looking good, says Vicki Notaro

Pucker girls Niamh McHugh and Louise Dunne
Pucker girls Niamh McHugh and Louise Dunne
Ellen Kavanagh and Trish O'Brien
Vicki Notaro

Vicki Notaro

Irish women have always liked to look good, but in recent years, the tide turned towards DIY beauty treatments when purse strings were tightened during the recession.

There were still some stand-out success stories, like Marissa Carter's ascent to the top of the self-tanning tree with her €7.99 false tan Cocoa Brown, and the success of beauty delivery service Glossybox both at home and in the UK for Irish entrepreneur Rachel Kavanagh. Customers felt they were getting great value, as well as a great product.

But the beauty business is on a definitive upswing in 2015. More disposable income means women are pouring their pennies into looking great, but the sting from the recession hasn't left us, and means that we're looking for high-quality products without a hefty price tag.

That's something Karen Brown knew when she set up Karora in 2011 with business partner Tomasz Kucemba. The range, which Brown says "bridges the gap between self-tan and skin care" launched in the US, Canada and Australia in 2014. Now, the focus is to reinvigorate the brand in its home country.

"Ireland has the highest users of fake tan per capita in the world, where fair women demand more from their sunless tanning products," she explains. "Karora is considered 'prestige' with retail price points of between €14.99-€29.99. There's a lot more competition in the mass market where price is everything, but in prestige, customers value product performance and efficacy."

2015 sees the brand take a slightly new direction. "There's been a shift in the tanning market. Traditionally, faux tanning had been seen as something with negative connotations in Ireland. We've noticed that it's become more acceptable, nearly a badge of honour, to be a fake tan wearer for people who wouldn't have touched it in the past, and we're planning on targeting this segment of the market."

Hair extensions are another area of growth (pardon the pun), with women demanding more from their mane.

Katie Jane Gold is the woman behind Gold Fever Hair, a new brand exclusively available in salons that provides ethically sourced human hair. Katie grew up in the hair business, her family having developed high-quality extensions in the early 1990s. "My brother pioneered modern hair extensions 25 years ago. He was personally responsible for almost all of the major innovations in processing, manufacturing and technology, and he built the biggest hair extensions firm before selling in 2011. I spent several years distributing the product here ."

Katie's new venture is, according to her, the only extensions company in the world that has "ownership and oversight of each layer of our supply chain, from hair sourcing to processing and distribution and delivery to the salon". Katie wants Gold Fever Hair to be recognised as the premier brand for extensions globally.

Other beauty entrepreneurs with their eyes on the global market are Ellen Kavanagh and Trish O'Brien of Waxperts. The duo, who started out with a salon in Dun Laoghaire in 2008, just signed a distribution deal for their waxing product line with Sweet Squared in the UK, the same people who distribute well-known brands like CND Shellac and Minx nails.

"Waxperts is now Ireland's number one wax brand, and set to take the UK by storm," Ellen enthuses. "Every beauty salon in the world uses wax and we're determined to make sure it's Waxperts. We have created a wax that is 100pc unique, and our potential for growth with the brand is phenomenal. Although we are beauty therapists by profession, we have grown into businesswomen."

Niamh McHugh and Louise Dunne have launched not a beauty product, but a service that's beneficial to both beauty professionals and consumers.

"Pucker is a platform which connects customers with local, vetted, mobile beauty professionals. We bring beauty appointments to your home, office or hotel, and make money by receiving a percentage of each appointment," explains McHugh.

"It's a two-sided marketplace. Current platforms are problematic. Freelancers are advertising on the likes of Instagram, Facebook and numerous beauty directories and spending a lot of money doing it. Pucker is free for professionals to sign up and improve their business."

Drawing inevitable comparisons with the likes of Hailo, albeit for beauticians, the idea came from the fact that Dunne, a make-up artist herself, was finding it difficult to find new clients. "We have completely thrown ourselves head-first into start-up life. We got a place in Startlocal on Baggot st, which is a start-up incubator, and it enabled our idea to turn into a business.

McHugh thinks that beauty booms happen regardless of economic climate. "It's the 'lipstick effect'. Women will purchase beauty products or spend money on beauty services to make themselves feel better and get a confidence boost, even when we could be spending money on more important things!"

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