Puttin' on the Glitz

It's a Beautiful Day

It's more than mattes and frosts for Toni Ko, 30. This cosmetics entrepreneur worked in her family's cosmetics retail business and discovered her desire to be on the creative side of the market-not just the retail side. She saw how popular budget-line cosmetics were, and, through her own experience at the store, she knew just what customers wanted in their makeup. Armed with that knowledge, Ko set about creating NYX, Los Angeles Inc. in 1999. It was a one-woman show early on, recalls Ko, who worked 10- to 12-hour days, six days per week during startup.

To save money, she lived with her parents for two years while she developed and sold her line. And while she knew the retail side of the cosmetics industry, Ko had to learn all about the manufacturing and distribution side. "I was so young [25], and people actually thought I was 19 or 20," says Ko. "When I went to manufacturers, they'd look at me like 'Are you kidding?'" She actually worked this perception to her advantage, though. Ko would approach prospective suppliers and ask all the questions she could about the cosmetics business, under the caveat that she was new and needed to learn more. The industry veterans found her candor refreshing, she says, and most were willing to work with her.

While she confesses she likes making the world more beautiful, Ko doesn't particularly subscribe to trends. She creates a line of colors, which range in price from about 99 cents to $7, that she knows her customers will wear because they feel beautiful, not simply because sparkly pink is the season's hot color. Larry Oskin, a beauty-industry specialist and president of Marketing Solutions, a beauty-industry marketing and consulting firm in Fairfax, Virginia, says this is a good way to approach the ever-changing cosmetics industry. "Don't be afraid to make a new trend or fad," he says. "But it's a pitfall if that's the whole basis of what you're doing." It's good to have a three- to five-year plan of line extensions to solidify your market share and make sure you're not just a blip on the radar.

Like all the entrepreneurs we talked to, Ko knows all too well the unglamorous side of a "glamour" business. "It's not like I'm a makeup artist [who] works backstage at a fashion show," she says. "We travel a lot for trade shows and conventions. It's usually the same city at the same time of year. It's a lot of headaches and a lot of work."

The headaches, though, have paid off. Ko saw sales hit $7.5 million in 2003. Her products are sold at specialty beauty-supply stores nationwide, along with a presence in 200 Longs Drugs stores in Northern California, and online at www.nyxcosmetics.com. Ko would like to expand her lines to include medical color cosmetics (to treat skin blemishes and wrinkles while covering them) and a higher-end beauty line under her recently acquired Doll Face brand. She's already got her fans: Ko recalls striking up a conversation with a saleswoman from the high-end Stila cosmetics line, who raved about the NYX eyeshadows she used in her beauty regime. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Ko's success is definitely stunning.

Glamour Is as Glamour Does

What these entrepreneurs learned is that a so-called "glamorous" business is still a business with all its ups and downs. But when done right, starting a glamour business can be a unique joy. You can be glamorous; you can be fabulous. And yes, your business can be, too.

Beauty in a Bottle
If you want your makeup line to be the next MAC or Maybelline, heed the advice of Larry Oskin, president of Marketing Solutions, a beauty-industry marketing and consulting firm in Fairfax, Virginia:
  • Define your niche. Is it for teens, young professionals or men? "Try to find a niche that no one has," says Oskin.
  • Package well. "Beauty care is a highly visual and emotional business," says Oskin. "You have to please the [customer's] emotions and senses." Use your packaging to please all the senses.
  • Get press. Try to get coverage from mainstream and trade beauty press. Familiarize yourself with beauty editors-send press kits (with samples, if possible) along with seasonal press releases.
  • Don't be ruled by trends. For long-term success, create a cosmetics offering that has staying power.
  • Get good distribution channels. Decide if you want to sell via department stores, online shops, specialty cosmetics stores or drugstores. Where does your target market shop?
  • Plan to grow. "You need a long-term approach to beauty care, because it's rarely an overnight success story," Oskin says. Develop a three- to five-year plan of line extensions. Always have something new up your sleeve to delight the beauty-conscious consumer.
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This article was originally published in the April 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Puttin' on the Glitz.

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