Continuing our look at business / investment opportunities in “The Female Economy” we now turn to the beauty sector, and a woman founder who discovered pure gold in the hyper-competitive make-up marketplace.
We like what Leslie Blodgett has done by creating and then growing makeup and skincare company BareEscentuals and its flagship product line bareMinerals - which was founded in San Francisco and recently moved its headquarters to New York City.
Blodgett shook up the swanky cosmetics business by selling her products on home shopping channel QVC. She’s been described as a founder with “guts” whom single-handedly made the mineral-makeup trend real starting back in the mid 1990s.
After a career in product development at Neutrogena and Max Factor, Leslie Blodgett became CEO of Bare Escentuals in 1994. Back then it was little more than a bath and body retailer in Northern California. But they had an unusual product – a mineral or powder-based makeup. However the fine powdered makeup line offered shades that didn’t match real complexions. Blodgett took this as a challenge and set out to build her company.
WOMAN CAN DISRUPT A CATEGORY BY REDEFINING IT
Blodgett started by relaunching bareMinerals with new shades of eye-shadows, blushes, foundations and brushes. In the early days of the company she found herself staying up nights worrying about how to market the line; as a result she ended up watching endless hours of shopping networks on cable TV. This experience sparked an idea.
In 1997 she was offered a slot on QVC and quickly sold out her entire $45,000 inventory. Eventually she was selling $1.4million of product an hour. This was a far cry from the traditional way higher end cosmetics were sold at department and drug stores.
She then strengthened her distribution network, bypassing traditional distribution channels and focusing on company boutiques, and in specialty cosmetic stores like Sephora and Ulta, all the while continuing to sell on QVC.
WOMEN CAN EMPATHIZE WITH THE NEEDS OF OTHER WOMEN
Blodgett started getting lots of feedback on her QVC appearances. She began to respond personally to e-mails and letters. “What I realized is when you touch a woman’s face a few minutes after you meet her, you form an emotional bond; it’s powerful stuff.”
One woman wrote: "Dearest Leslie, I've always been overweight. I've never felt pretty. I lived without cosmetics for 15 years. In 2008, my younger sister convinced me to try bareMinerals. I did -- and then I cried. Finally, at 49 years old, I was pretty."
“Sometimes they come to you after a bout of cancer or an emotional trauma, so what we do is not superficial kind of stuff that only helps women look good for their husbands.”
Leslie concluded “We are in the business of helping women feel good about themselves.”
WOMEN FOCUS ON CREATING AWESOME PRODUCTS
Bare Escentuals is widely credited with beginning the trend of “mineral” makeup – loose powder that looks more natural than traditional cake powders and foundations.
Leslie noted “Back in 1994 everyone used liquid foundation, which seeped into your pores and gave you zits. A powder foundation that was good for your skin made great sense.”
The company gained particular traction with young American women concerned with their complexion, and willing to pay top dollar to improve it.
The company continues to be committed to “creating innovative products that are powered by nourishing, skin-loving minerals” according to its website. “We formulate our products with purity in mind, so you can feel good about everything we make” which includes facial “get started” kits, foundation, finishing powder, correcting concealer, multi-wrinkle repair, and “marvelous moxie” lip gloss.
WOMEN CAN CREATIVELY OVERCOME OBSTACLES TO GROWTH
In 2006, Bare Escentuals went public shortly after its sales had jumped over 60% for the first half of the year. But soon after the IPO, Bare Escentuals felt the pressure of the economic crunch which capped consumer spending.
“While we didn’t go looking for Shiseido,” Leslie notes, “we were looking for better inroads into Asia. Shiseido has been in business for 140 years with distribution in 87 countries, so it makes perfect sense.” In early 2010 Shideido Co, Japan’s largest cosmetic company, made the $1.7 billion deal, it’s largest acquisition in its 83-year history.
SUCCESSFUL WOMEN FIND WAYS TO HAVE IT ALL
Leslie Blodgett had two-year-old son Trent when she founded the company. Now he’s 22. She made a bold decision with her husband Keith back when she first took her job with Neutrogena.
Keith was working in film production, and they agreed that whoever was making more money would keep working when they started their family. Keith has been a stay-at-home dad ever since. Leslie observed “He does everything around the house. I don’t even know how to turn on the dishwasher.”
In April of this year Blodgett announced that she was departing Bare Escentuals from her role as an advisor to join the recently created Shiseido Americas Creative Center.
“While I look forward to embarking on my next chapter, I leave with an incredible sense of pride around what the company has achieved—including the community we have built—and at the same time an amazing sense of purpose. I will remain connected to Bare Escentuals through my role as an advisor to Shiseido Americas, and I look forward to seeing the new ways in which the brand will continue to inspire and connect women around the world.”
Seems like Blodgett is well poised to reinvent herself, and continue to act as a role model for women founders who are creating growing companies and exciting investment opportunities in the process.