A beauty company which appeared on Dragons’ Den earlier this year has won £90,000 in investment despite the dragons turning it down.
Beauty Boulevard, started by mum Paula Short and Rachel De Caux, was one of only a few companies which was directly invited onto the BBC programme since it had already been building a bit of a reputation for itself.
At the time it was first approached, it was a very small business and Paula and Rachel didn’t feel ready for it, but this year they said yes. Their turnover had increased by 350% in the previous year and it was a chance to win major investment – or at least to learn about how to do that. “We thought we had nothing to lose,” says Paula. “If we got the investment that would be great, but if not we would have our product showcased nationwide.”
That prediction turned out to be right. Beauty Boulevard didn’t win the dragons’ investment, in part, Paula thinks, because they didn’t really get the cosmetics industry. Also, she says the development of the business has been so rapid that the team have not had time to do more than react. There has been little time for the kind of strategic thinking Dragons’ Den requires. In that sense, doing the programme was like “a big spring clean” in that it forced them to look at what they were doing with fresh eyes.
It also brought a lot of positive feedback and investment interest from global beauty company Affinage with which they had already been in touch. Through their wholesaler they had met Ann Moon, distributor account manager and technical team leader at Affinage (International Hair Cosmetics). As luck would have it, she attended a hair show that same evening and to her surprise, all the models had Glitter Lips on! Affinage wanted to know more and after several meetings agreed to give away a Ruby Slippers Glitter Lips with their new Rock Star Reds range in the UK. It took off and soon the US and Australia came on board. IHC was interested in the brand and in Paula and Rachel’s story.
Affinage’s managing director Eric Bailey and his son Doug saw Dragon’s Den. The day after it screened Eric rang saying he wished he’d known Beauty Boulevard were looking for investment. In return for its £90K investment, IHC will get a 30% stake in the business and will help with distribution, marketing and administration and other activities.
The investment will be used to purchase the stock required to keep up with demand and also to fund new product research and development. Affinage are currently in 54 countries and Paula says she is “pretty confident that we can follow suit”.
Beauty Boulevard has certainly come a long way since it was set up almost by accident. Paula was a mobile hairdresser in Lincoln who had set up her own hairdressing business when her youngest daughter was three. She ran that for eight years. It was hard work: her husband was working in Belgium and she had three children under the age of 10.
She sold up to take up a job in property development because she wanted a change, but found it a bit boring. She went to have a blow dry one day and realised she really missed her old job and got talking to the owner, who was Rachel. She ended up working for her on a self employed basis and managing the hairdressing side of the business.
One night just over two and a half years ago, Rachel and Paula were having a glass of wine and talking about how to increase their customers. Rachel had a photo of herself at 18 and the two were laughing about her hairstyle. “She remembered that she used to put vaseline and glitter on her lips and how she loved how they looked, but that it kept coming off,” says Paula.
The two started to test products to see if they could come up with something similar that was kissproof and party proof, that could survive a night out or a festival and still be safe. They came up with Glitter Lips, which consists of a glitter lip gloss bond and a premium glitter shade.
They tested it a lot as they had to meet EU and UK regulations. “It was quite expensive and we had to invest our own money. It was a gamble, but it helped that there were two of us and it soon made a profit,” says Paula.
They tested it in their salon. “We didn’t tell anyone it was our product as we were afraid it would fail,” said Paula. “The response was phenomenal.” They wore the product on the shopfloor and made sale after sale. Their sense meant they had to set up an umbrella business, Beauty Boulevard, to sell it. “We had no plan or strategy. It was just something different to bring football to the salon, but it went a bit crazy,” says Paula.
The two decided to go to a buyer day at Liberty to get some feedback. Glitter Lips was named product of the day and, given it was not the kind of product Liberty would normally stock, Paula and Rachel were told to try Top Shop in Oxford Street. Paula says they were mobbed on the shop floor. Soon they were supplying the Top Shop branch.
They started doing beauty shows and getting the word out, although they had no experience of marketing or dealing with buyers. They had to put in a lot of hours. Initially they were trying to do their day jobs in the salon and develop Glitter Lips at night. Indeed they didn’t take a wage from Beauty Boulevard for the first year because they wanted to get the company into a good position. Paula says they were working seven days a week and had a constant feeling of jet lag.
Paula says she has been lucky that the business has grown at the same time as her children have grown up. Her eldest is now 20 and has left home, while her youngest is 15 and comes into the office with her. She is no stranger to working mum guilt, but feels proud that she has brought up three intelligent, polite and hard-working adults. “It’s my proudest achievement,” she says. “Even though there are days when it feels it would take just a feather to break you, when the guilt is all-consuming and the day is not long enough to get everything done. But then I think my children have grown up knowing what it is like to run your own business and are not afraid to take opportunities. They are fearless.”
In addition to global growth, Beauty Boulevard plans to keep expanding its range of products. It is working on a new range called Confessions by Beauty Boulevard, which includes Trinity, “a moisture rich lip balm that delivers intense hydration for soft kissable lips”.
Also in production is Divine Hydra Gel Lip Mask, described as a moisture infused lip mask. It contains red wine, seaweed and collagen that aims to plump, tighten, smooth and hydrate tired lips. Paula says: “We are looking to develop fun products that do more than one thing and after all the glitter wearing, we thought our lips could do with a little TLC.”