How to start... a skincare business
The skincare market is a crowded one, so to make a splash in the market you need to really stand out - like Gemma Allies, the founder of Telford-based SkinSincere. Her a skincare business focusses on all-natural products free from parabens - perfect for even sensitive skin and a great choice for those seeking eco-friendly beauty products that don't compromise on performance. Here's how Gemma started SkinSincere.
Location, location, location
There were a couple of reasons to base my business where I have, both business and personal. Firstly, it made financial sense for me to relocate to Telford. I was living in Manchester, working full-time to pay my bills, and I knew that I would have to sacrifice a full-time salary in order to commit properly to SkinSincere.
Also Telford is a really great business community, and I have so much support on my doorstep here. There is a startup hub where I can work from, which is located just 10 minutes’ drive from my house, and there are so many exciting new businesses and developments happening around me - it’s a great time to be part of it. It has the facilities of a city with a friendly, small-town feel.
Deciding to take the plunge
I had always been determined to start my own business, but figured I would gain ten or so years working in the industry before taking the path of self-employment. It was only when someone said to me that in ten years' time I could have a family, mortgage and commitments, that I realised there was no better time to start up than my early twenties.
I originally came up with the idea to start SkinSincere in the summer of 2013. I was passionate about the health and beauty industry, and the idea came to me one evening after a bad day at work. Unfortunately I didn’t feel the timing was right, or have the guts to give up my well-paid 9-5 career at that point. So I stayed in marketing, and continued to be unhappy working for someone else. I had some confidence setbacks and eventually reevaluated what I wanted. I left behind my career, apartment and friends in Manchester, and took some time out to think things over and travel. It didn’t take long for me to realise I wouldn’t be happy doing anything other than SkinSincere. I started to put the wheels into motion when I was away. I knew I had nothing to lose – I had already taken the biggest step and if I could get other people to believe in my idea then it could become a reality. Fortunately the encouragement of Andy Parkes and Fay Easton from Shropshire Enterprise and the Virgin Startup campaign gave me the confidence to follow my dream, and here I am eight months later!
Qualifications and equipment
Not specifically. A passion for the market is essential, and beauty qualifications help with understanding the industry. I am not a qualified beauty therapist; I just had a great deal of raw passion and spent a lot of time doing research.
As I don’t manufacture the products I don’t have to deal with that side of things, but there are EU regulations to comply with so you have to ensure you are doing everything correctly. This also means I didn’t have to worry about procuring very specialist equipment. However I do package the products, so I ensure everything is properly sterilised, which is extremely important. I also weigh all the products to ensure customers are getting the correct quantity as stated on the jars. But fortunately I do not have to spend my days preparing the stock as this would be very labour-intensive and would take away from the time I spend on sales and marketing.
The natural skills you need
Like anyone in business I think you need to be a good communicator, as I spend a lot of time meeting potential customers and engaging with potential clients.
I think a keen eye for detail and being very thorough in your presentation of both yourself and your brand is essential, as I want my business to appear an attractive brand that is synonymous with quality and care.
I also think that knowledge of branding and marketing is very useful. As the beauty and skincare industry is a competitive one, it is important to be able to differentiate yourself and your brand against the competition. I offer a much more personalised, friendly level of service than many of the bigger brands, and I use my marketing and branding to convey this message.
Also a real passion and understanding of the industry is vital, since it is constantly evolving and changing, and it is my job to keep up with it. If I wasn’t passionate then I couldn’t do this job. I’ve worked in industries I wasn’t passionate about and it never works in the long run.
As you’d expect I did a lot of online research into the industry, suppliers and trends. I also sent a questionnaire out to 100 potential customers, which really helped me identify patterns in buying behavior and consumer expectations. It was this that played a large part in how I developed my product range, my price points and my branding.
I also did extensive competitor analysis, and identified areas of the market where there were opportunities for me to fulfill. Finally, I held a focus group which was really helpful for providing feedback and pointers from my key demographic, and supporting the quantitative findings that I had generated already.
Finding the right premises
I decided to keep my costs down by working mainly from home – as I can do most of what I need to from there. I have also had free use of the Shropshire Enterprise hub which is great for working away from home and for meetings. It is also a really good place to mix with other startups and find inspiration. Other than that, I am moving around a lot to meetings and networking events so at the moment a premises is not a necessity – however 12 months down the line it probably will be, and I already have some ideas in mind.
My budget was £6000, half of which I've used on setting up. The rest is to support my travel expenses and use as I need it, but I am conscious that I need some level of cashflow to keep the business afloat. Cash is definitely king!
I had to strike a balance with marketing before the launch of the business, as without a website I didn’t want to promote myself too much; I didn’t want demand that I couldn’t supply to! I used my social media accounts to generate a following and interest in the brand. I also did a lot of networking between January and July of this year, which allowed me to form contacts and establish myself within the business community. I also formulated a strategy for press and social media once I launched, to really capitalise on the opportunity and begin with a bang!
I launched in sync with being chosen as Virgin Startup of the week. I provided the content and knew it was going to be within a couple of weeks, then woke up one Tuesday morning to find lots of congratulatory tweets, which was quite funny. I thought “Oh no the site’s not live!” so pushed the site live later that day, as people were trying to access it. The site wasn’t finished when I launched, but neither is it finished now. I think it was a good thing though, because otherwise you can spend forever pursuing perfection, when actually it's an ongoing process. The business will continue to develop and improve, but the best place to test this is in the marketplace and not sitting quietly behind a computer! So needless to say I launched with a bang, and managed to get some local press off the back of it, which was fantastic. It really was a great way to introduce SkinSincere to the world.
What were those first few weeks like?
The first few weeks after launching were crazy! I had an overwhelmingly positive response which was amazing and humbling. As the orders and sample requests started to roll in it finally felt real – especially when they were coming from different areas in the UK from people I didn’t know! I am still buzzing off the launch to be honest and will probably continue to do so for some time. Most of all it has been a really steep, but really rewarding learning curve. Naturally there have been some hiccups and challenges, but I am learning new things every day and heading in the direction I want to be going. Last week I had my 25th birthday and it was the first time I thought “Yes, I can actually say I am doing what I want to be doing and heading where I want to be going”, and nothing feels better than that!
Any tips to someone else that wants to start a similar business?
First of all leave your fears, doubts and negativity at the door – they are the only things holding you back. I waited too long to go for it, and my only regret is not doing it sooner!
I would say research thoroughly and know your marketplace. It is a vast, competitive market, which is scary, so find a way to differentiate yourself from the competition and offer something a little bit unique.
Finally, be prepared for some hard work, it doesn’t happen overnight – but passion, determination and drive are the most important ingredients for success.