Paula Short and Rachel De Caux make up the team behind challenger cosmetics brand Beauty Blvd. They joined the Voom Tour bus in Manchester recently to impart some of their business knowledge to other start-ups.
We caught up with them shortly after to find out more about their journey in business – and how they went from being stocked in one salon in Lincoln to becoming a household name.
So, Rachel, Paula, how did it all start?
Rachel: Paula and I have worked together for about six years, we have a hair and beauty salon together in the heart of Lincoln. Paula's a hairdresser by trade and I'm a beautician and we opened a salon together and we have the same attitude and work ethic. The salon market is saturated wherever you go and although our salon was busy, we wanted to encourage new footfall, get fresh faces in and try to have something a little bit different.
One night after a glass of wine, we started chatting - there were loads of glitter inspired looks on the catwalk, Jessie J was going through that phase of having loads of lip decorations, Union Jacks and studs and things. We got chatting about that and somehow we stumbled across the idea of having glitter on your lips. Obviously most people think of glitter as going everywhere and as a lipstick it wouldn't usually last that long. But we thought there must be a way of creating something that not only looks amazing on your lips but will stay on and will withstand a night out. Working in the hair and beauty industry we've seen our fair share of make-up and the promises that people make - it'll last for 24 hours, it'll do all these wonderful things - and we've always been disappointed by the claims. So we said, if we're going to do this then we need to make sure it actually does what it says on the tin.
So we started making inquiries and looking into producing our own products. And so we started in the beginning of 2013, it wasn't until December 2013 that we actually had the product in our hands. We just did a small order to begin with and we only sold in our salon - that was the only plan we had. We had no clue that it would become the monster it has become. But we started selling it in our salon, and purely through word of mouth and announcing on Facebook to the followers of the salon that we had this new product in. We didn't tell anybody it belonged to us, we just said it was something we found - just in case it was a bit crap. But as it was, people loved it and on average we sold one an hour in December 2013. Our salon is tiny, a real blink and you'll miss it, but people were coming in and asking for this glitter lips. We were creating a buzz and getting people in, and then once they were in, they were like, "Oh, we didn't know you were here, didn't know you did hair and beauty."
So it really did do what we wanted it to, it generated the footfall but by that point we had realised that we had created something really unique and there was a demand for it.
We went from our little salon to Topshop on Oxford Street in one fell swoop.
Paula: The demand was created but we didn't realise how interested people were. So when we did realise, we thought we need to make the most of this, we need to see what we can do with it. Now, we'd never produced products, we'd never produced cosmetics, it wasn't in our gameplan but we're intelligent women, we learn quickly. So we decided to go to London and we went to a meet the buyer day in Liberty. And even though it wasn't for Liberty's customers - they're not big on glitter - they suggested that we pop across to Topshop and it just happened that there were some buyers in the store that day.
When we walked in there was such a buzz. They pinned poor Rachel in a corner taking pictures of her lips and sending it to head office. By the time we got on the train to go home, we had emails from all over with people wanting us to go see them. So the next place we stocked was Topshop on Oxford Street. We went from our little salon to Topshop on Oxford Street in one fell swoop. It still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.
That’s incredible. But I’m sure a journey like that hasn’t been without challenges – what are the toughest things you’ve faced along the way?
Paula: I would say balancing our family and our salon along with the brand - we still have the salon but we have an amazing team there who thankfully don't need us. I think balancing our family life and kids and husbands and teams, it's hard.
But we've met some amazing people along the way that if we've had any gaps in our business knowledge on where to purchase bags for example, Virgin Media Pioneers (now known as Voom Pioneers) has been a massive help to us, it's connected us to like-minded people who are going through the same thing. When you realise that people are feeling the same way, that they're also overwhelmed with the amount of work that they have, you don't feel so alone really.
Rachel: I think as well, we managed to create quite a following without really trying, but that was in our local community with just one product. But when you get into London - we were being stocked in Topshop alongside some massive brands - then we realised that actually we were a very small fish in a very big pond.
We don't have the marketing budget, or the experience, to get our voice heard. We are cheeky and we'll invite ourselves to things and put ourselves out there, we'll say yes to most invitations because you never know who you're going to meet there. But with regards to the likes of Loreal and Mac and Benefit and all these people, who are actually all under one cosmetic umbrella anyway, we haven't got their budgets and trying to get our voice heard over all the other voices of the bigger boys is really difficult.
So when we launch something new it really has to be something new and innovative and different to stand out from the crowd, which is what we did with glitter lips but we are trying to keep making our products so that they do what they say on the tin and they have dual uses, but I think having the lack of budget is one of our challenges that we're trying to work on.
And what’s been your highlight over the last four years?
Paula: There's so many!
Rachel: We do work really hard and some of the places we've been aren't the most glamorous, but then we get to do some incredible things. For example, we work with a charity called Coppafeel, who promote the early detection of breast cancer in young women and men, and we've been working with them for about three years now.
Yesterday, we went with them to Canary Wharf for the BGC Charity Day, every year hundreds of charities get the chance to go on the trading floor to mark September 11th and they give all the money that they make in commissions to the charities. We went in with Coppafeel with Fearne Cotton, their ambassador, she's really fun, so we were hanging out with them but the number of celebrities we got to talk to yesterday was incredible - Alan Carr, Frankie from The Saturdays, the Countess of Wessex, Mary Berry, Holly Willoughby, Frank Bruno. It was huge.
Paula: I think one of our biggest most exciting things was when we got to go V Festival, the first time. Just the two of us, nobody know who we were, nobody had heard of Glitter Lips. Through Virgin Media Pioneers we got invited to V Festival in the Louder Lounge, and that really was a pinching ourselves moment. We got to put Glitter Lips on all kinds of people - including actors from Game of Thrones - and we'd never done anything like it. I think we must have looked like lunatics, we were grinning from ear to ear for the whole weekend.
But I think my ultimate highlight was meeting Richard Branson at the Voom Tour launch, that was fantastic for me, absolutely brilliant.
We never really planned that we would have a cosmetics company
So it's been an incredible four years, but what’s next for Beauty Blvd?
Rachel: World domination!
Well, we're currently working on some new products. We need to keep things moving. Glitter Lips was really successful and continues to be but people are always look for the next big thing, we want to keep moving with the trends so we are working on some new products at the moment. We've got some dual use products that we're bringing out at the end of this year, beginning of next.
We started out with Glitter Lips and we never really planned that we would have a cosmetics company. We were quite happy with the salon, working in the salon and having a little extra product that people liked. Now, as Paula said, the team really run it there. We go in on a Saturday and make cups of tea and give them some support, but they don't need us in there anymore.
We used to work on Beauty Blvd one day a week and in the salon five days a week but now it's done a complete 180 and we're only in there one day. We never thought we'd have the cosmetic business that we have now, but now that we do have it, and we've got the following, we want to continue to give people high quality, affordable products that are innovative, that have double uses and we've got some really, really good products coming out.
Paula: We're also doing some really great PR engagements now - and these are all invitations, we don't have to bully our way in anymore. We're doing collaborations with big companies and partnering with them so I think there's going to be more of us for sure.
Get inspiration from other entrepreneurs like Rachel and Paula on the Voom Tour - the next stop is in Birmingham on September 28th. Find out more and sign up on the Virgin Media Business website.