It's tough enough to make it in the fashion and beauty industry, insiders say, but selling to an audience as fickle as teens gives a whole new meaning to the word "challenge." "It's easy to get into this business and grow the first year," says Shawn Haynes, the 29-year-old president of Girl Cosmetics Inc. in Los Angeles and a former cosmetic company sales representative. Launched in 1997 with $10,000 in personal savings, the company earned $1 million last year and expects to double that this year. "But there's pressure, a constant cycle of bringing out new products," says Haynes.
That explains the myriad of options available to entrepreneurs looking to get into this industry, from cosmetics lines and teen-focused fashion to fashion and beauty Web sites. There's a piece of wisdom that will well serve anyone venturing into this market, say the somewhat battle-scarred veterans: Know your customers. Not just intellectually by reading trend reports, although that is important. You need to put yourself inside the head of a teenage girl and live there. Watch Dawson's Creek and MTV, read teen magazines, hit the most popular teen Web sites.
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The three principals and owners of Mighty Fine Inc., a Los Angeles company with a line of clothes featuring silly slogans and characters, have resolutely resisted growing up and declare that they would want to wear the products themselves, although their ages range from 26 to 31. "This is a company created by kids for kids," says 31-year-old Guy Brand, who started the company at home in 1994 for less than $200, selling T-shirts with logos with the help of Stacy Kitchin, 29, and Pearl Shiung, 26. He initially marketed the products at raves, nightclubs and stores frequented by teens. Today, the products are sold worldwide, and the company expects to bring in $9 million this year-triple last year's sales.
Entrepreneurs cannot be successful in the teen market without constantly soliciting feedback from their customers, insiders say. Many entrepreneurs have Web sites featuring questionnaires that ask teens what they want; others get the word from teens on the street with informal focus groups. Says Diamond, "Teens determine what is popular and cool, not us."