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Being Ready to Break Into New Markets

Kathy Connolly
  • Part of nearly every beauty brand’s strategy is growth, but growth to where? When you know you want to grow your brand, you have to figure out the best ways to enter new markets before launching.
  • For new market launches, stick with your key hero products. Too many unfamiliar products launched too fast is overwhelming. Start small, build a base, then grow.
  • Make sure your support system for new markets is solid. Retailers see lots of beauty brands, and the better prepared you for launch, the better chance your brand has.

As a London-based consultant to the global beauty industry, I meet with many new businesses from Eastern Europe, Russia, China and India, among others, all hoping to gain access to the dynamic retail arena in the U.S. and Canada. For these brands, North America is the pinnacle in terms of being positioned in a key marketplace, as they can showcase their products to the world in what is considered to be the top level of retail distribution worldwide. The ultimate goal is to place products on the store shelves of retail chains in these markets.

In order to achieve this goal, careful planning of the actual execution of the product launch is critical. However, this key step is often forgotten or ignored because the focus in the beginning of a beauty brand launch is on product development, brand image, packaging, ingredients and efficacy of the product. The actual product launch, including the all-important backup support, is often not well planned, and this can impair the chances of success for the lucky few who do get accepted by North American retailers. There are lessons for all beauty brand here—especially those looking to expand.

Further, for many entering into the North American retail arena, much thought is given to the front end of the businesses, with the technicalities and support details of getting to market often overlooked. While the logistics can be less fun or creative, it is a crucial and necessary part of the journey of a brand in its acceptance into the highly competitive beauty industry. All too often when I meet with companies who feel ready to launch, I see beautiful products, great packaging and lots of thought in the details of the unique selling points, but there’s an absence of any clear plan for how to bring the brand to market.

In today’s competitive retail world—be it in high-end specialty stores such as Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks or Neiman Marcus or large chain drug and pharmacy retailers such as CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid, or Walmart and Target—it has become even more important for brand owners to do their homework up front. That way, if or when the day comes when they find themselves sitting in front of a category manager or buyer, all the background work and final checks have been done and the majority of the administration work has been put to bed, making the decision for these increasingly work-overloaded retailers as simple as it possibly can be. Today’s buyer does not have time to do the work for you—making this as easy as possible for them is already going to give you a head start on your competition.

Product Planning

Some of the most common mistakes seen with newly emerging brands are often the simplest to resolve. A little extra upfront planning and effort can be the deciding factor for a buyer picking your product over another.

The number of items in a brand line is the biggest and most frequent error I see. All too often—particularly in brands coming from Europe, where the retail market is still mostly that of mass chain pharmacy distribution or the independent beauty boutique retail environment—the brand lineup has hundreds of products all falling under the same corporate name and ranging from hair care, body care and bath and shower to foot care, facial creams, balms and serums—and even fragrances and deodorants. This common error needs to be addressed even before beginning work on where the various product lines will fit.

Each retail buyer has different category responsibilities, and you need to break your brand down into key categories in order to appeal to a particular buyer responsible for a particular area of the market.

Starting out, less is best. Begin with your hero products or the category that your brand performs best in. For example, if hair care has been your strong point, focus on that, making it the best it can be. Highlight the products with a unique story to tell. Think about how many beauty brands, products and ranges this buyer has already had presented to her, and try to put yourself in her shoes. Look for the magic in your products, find that one product that will grab the attention of the buyer and run with it.

Also, don’t try to be all things to all people. New brands often only see the potential financial rewards that could be theirs without stopping to think of how many other brands and products there already are like them—all vying to gain a foothold in the retail space. You will usually have just one opportunity. Take a step back and analyze, analyze and analyze again. Then tighten your product range, putting forward only the best of the best.

Next, break down your categories. You can always make more than one appointment—or better yet, streamline your offerings to make your selection only those products you feel strongly about.

Support System

The North American way of doing business, from a support point of view, often comes as a great surprise to companies attempting to launch in North America. Often, brands have done insufficient research when building their business plans. Gone are the days when buyers chose products based on packaging, name, design and the good looks of a new brand alone. In today’s world, where the market is owned by a few giants, there is very little space left for newly emerging product lines. It requires a great deal of careful analyzing and decision making from the buyer or category manager to seek out the best of the best and find the next winning product or brand.

And smaller brand owners need to be prepared to meet the challenges they will face with the huge corporate giants that dominate this space and also provide the spend to drive their businesses at retail. Though smaller emerging companies may not have the deep pockets of some of the corporate market leaders, brands of all sizes are expected to able to come to the party with a well-thought out marketing plan to support the products, as well as budgets for PR, advertising and social media.

One other area that is often forgotten or ignored is that of warehousing, distribution and administration. Yes, this can be tedious and time consuming, but it is so important to have all of this finalized before meeting with the buyer to present your brand as market ready for their stores. Often buyers are looking at categories that can be a year away from actually writing a purchase order and shipping the goods, but opportunities do present themselves either last minute or during a cut-in period to a store’s planogram. If the buyer turns to you and picks your brand, then you need to be ship ready in an instant.

Ready, Set...

Today’s consumer is extremely savvy and also very brand aware. If she has not heard of your product, no matter how beautiful it may look or what it promises, she most likely will not buy into it. It is up to you to provide the necessary support, both at retail and beyond, to make your new entry known to the consumer. You also should partner with your retailers to build in-store awareness. This helps ensure the consumer chooses your product instead of the competition.

Come prepared with your story for the buyer, including how you are going to educate their customers. Do you homework. Know your competition. That buyer likely is going to have to remove a brand from their shelves in order to replace it with your product. You have to let them know why they should do this. What is your product going to deliver that the brands already on shelf cannot? Make sure you have a lock-tight plan for your strategy and execution.

Start small, but think big. Launch with only your best items, so go with only what you know will be a winning and successful lineup. When you start small and prove your successes, you will more easily gain the trust of the buyer. Then, and only then, can you add to your product lineup of more winners.

Too often these huge ranges want it all and want it now. In today’s market, that will not happen. The retailer today is much more open to “testing” the product in stores before committing to launching new products chain wide. Gone are the days of orders for 6,000–8,000 stores in one retailer appointment. It is much more likely today to have a test market of 50–100 stores, to gauge results before making chain-wide commitments.

In Summary

The industry has changed to the point where brands and retailers have to almost be 100% sure a product is a winner or the buyer is simply not going to even grant an appointment to see your beautiful new line. So, take a step back, pick your heroes and build your brand from there. Use those as your base, and when you have fine tuned your presentation of only those products, then step up to the plate, present your range and its backup support strategies and reach out to the retailer of choice for your requested appointment and presentation.

Too often, the thought process stops with the marketing and sales aspect of launching a brand. Not enough time is given to the process of actually getting the product to market—a critical area for the retailer.

Be precise, concise and have your plans in order. This will lighten the buyer’s workload, which will subsequently give you an edge over your competition. Show you’re worthy of partnering with them to build a successful brand within their retail organization.

Kathy Connolly is the founder of KCC Consulting, which provides turnkey operations to beauty companies that want to expand, particularly into the North American market. Connolly earned her stripes in sales and marketing at brands such as Erno Laszlo, Lancôme, Cosmar, LVMH, Guerlain and Swarovski.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Middle Eastern Marketing

The Middle Eastern beauty market, while enticing, can be difficult in terms of marketing. Some brands alter marketing materials via airbrushing or removing imagery for markets with strict rules on how women can be depicted. However, Lush, in a recent catalog for the Middle Eastern markets, decided not to cover or brush out any imagery. Instead, it retouched images using its Emotional Brilliance makeup range. Additionally, Lush released the first bilingual edition of its Fresh Matters brand catalog for the Middle East in both English and Arabic, working to appeal to more consumers in the region.

GCI connected with Alessandro Commisso of Lush’s international branding team in the U.K. to ask some questions about Lush’s efforts in the Middle East.

GCI magazine: First, can you give me a little background on Lush’s Fresh Matters catalog? What’s the purpose of it for the brand and for its customers? How has it been used in the past?

Alessandro Commisso: The Fresh Matters catalog is part of a major rebranding exercise for Lush that includes messaging, photography and typography. This booklet is a collectible brand publication, with articles about Lush’s stories, ethical campaigns and creative buying at the front, and a complete product catalog at the back. Jack Constantine, head of branding for Lush UK, and the branding agency Method worked on defining and refining our global branding, and this is the first piece of communication in the new style available to the public.

GCI: Why the decision to change the Fresh Matters catalog this year, to release it for the Middle East in English and Arabic? Are there other global editions?

AC: We found ourselves struggling getting some of our messages across, and this new format is a great platform to tell our stories to the public. We released this catalog in all our European and Middle Eastern countries (for the first time in Arabic and English), with plans to roll it out in North America, Asia and Russia [in 2014]. The Middle East is one of the most exciting retail spaces at the moment, with great potential for growth in the future—we definitely didn’t want those customers to miss out.

GCI: What are the most distinct changes that were made? How do they help the brand reach its customers better?

AC: While the format is global, we made sure that there is room for local stories and for the required local adaptations. The Middle Eastern version has been the most challenging one, with changes to the photos and to the naming of some of the products. In most countries we sell a body lotion called Charity Pot, and all proceeds from the sale of this products are donated to small, grassroots, local organizations that make a big difference to the communities. In each edition of the catalog, we also told the stories of the local charities we support and gave info on our local campaigns.

GCI: How do you develop the stories and information that are available in the catalog? How do you decide what story to tell?

AC: All the articles are related to what’s happening in the company or to the campaigns and the ethical groups we support. We have so many great stories that sometimes we struggle to pick. My favorite articles in this edition feature our project to produce the world’s first fair-trade vanilla absolute and our buying story for our Zambian honey.

GCI: How important to you feel like sustainability is to consumers globally? What does Lush do to help cultivate these desires?

AC: Sustainability is not just important—it’s the only way for a business to survive in the future. Consumers are realizing this more and more ,and we try to educate them along the way, especially in countries where this is not on the top of the consumer agenda. The Lush experience is fun and exciting, and the products work. Sustainability is one of the key elements of Lush, but we don’t want to be too pushy about it.

GCI: How do Lush’s products tell a sustainable story for its customers?

AC: Lush is often thought of for its enticing, distinctive smell and for the big displays of naked products in the shops. The nakedness is definitely one of the most effective ways to explain our sustainability message; for instance, one solid shampoo bar replaces three bottles of liquid shampoo, with the consequent impact on landfill and transport emissions. Where we have to use packaging, it is recycled and either recyclable or reusable. All the products are vegetarian and more than half are vegan too, and we only buy from companies that do not test on animals. Each Lush product itself is an ambassadors for the core beliefs of the company.

GCI: Is it difficult to translate your message to consumers in other regions of the world/other cultures? How do you work to do so?

AC: We are a global brand, but we want to be relevant in the local markets. All our core brand messages are the same around the world, just like our products, but we work alongside local teams to make sure our communication has the right flavor and quirk in each country. I would say that it’s not hard to translate the messages—it’s much harder to localize the humor!

GCI: Bringing the catalog, the products and Lush’s message of sustainability together, how do you feel like the typical Lush consumer relates to the brand?

AC: It’s quite hard to answer this question as there is no typical Lush consumer. Teenage girls come to Lush for their sugar lip scrub; environmentally conscious customers may come to Lush for the natural, fair trade massage bars; and many customers come to Lush to find the right product to solve a problem with their skin or hair. We know every customer relates to our brand in a different way, and our job is to give them all the information they need to make an informed choice when they shop.

GCI: What plans for the brand’s future can you share? Anything from new product launches to new sustainability efforts to new markets you are looking to reach—how is Lush growing its brand responsibly?

AC: Lush is currently present in 50 countries and at the beginning of 2014, we opened our flagship spa shop in São Paulo, Brazil, which is our second market in South America. We are experiencing exciting growth in many areas of the world, especially North America, the Middle East and Asia—although we have decided not to enter China until we are sure we can stick to our policy against animal testing. Plenty of opportunities—but my lips are sealed about new products.

The online catalog can be read (with English on the front, Arabic on the back) at


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