Some people are lucky enough to have a good idea in life that they then build into a successful business. Marcia Kilgore had five.
First, in 1996, she founded Bliss, a cult New York beauty center that grew into a lucrative line of beauty products that later became LVMH’s first North American acquisition for an estimated $ 30 million.
Then there was the affordable bath, body and cosmetic brand Soap & Glory, which became a staple of the UK bathroom and was sold to the Boots Alliance drugstore chain in 2014. Next came the FitFlop ergonomic shoe line; and then Soaper Duper, a vegan label for bath and body products.
But it’s her fifth company, Beauty Pie, that the 52-year-old serial entrepreneur thinks is her best idea yet.
“I’ve had some good ones in the past,” said Ms. Kilgore. “I’m proud of them all. But beauty pie? Beauty Pie darkens the rest. “
Headquartered in London, Beauty Pie started operations four years ago and is a shopping club for beauty addicts. Members pay a monthly membership fee for backdoor access to some of the world’s finest fragrance, skin care, and cosmetic factories, many of which supply well-known luxury brands that charge sky-high multiples for products once their logo is stamped. With Beauty Pie, members receive regular deliveries of Japanese skin cleansers and South Korean serums, Italian lipsticks and perfumes from Grasse, France, all of which come in pink packaging.
The idea came to Ms. Kilgore one afternoon in a Milan train station when she was returning from a beauty region in Italy known as the Lipstick Valley. She had approximately $ 5,000 worth of free samples from local factories in a shoulder bag.
“I suddenly thought, ‘What if all the women who normally buy these products in Sephora or department stores could feel like I have right now?'” Recalled Ms. Kilgore. “That they got a lot by cutting out the middlemen. That they can access beauty at a real cost, which means they can afford and explore so much more in terms of great products. I knew there was a real power in making customers feel good, even if it would unbalance some noses in the industry. “
After all, what energized your company from the start is what makes customers feel good. Ms. Kilgore was born in Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1968. Her father died when she was eleven years old. Money was tight and after high school she moved to New York with $ 300.
For several years she worked as a personal trainer. After completing a course in aesthetics after recurrent acne bouts, Ms. Kilgore found a new niche: offering facials from her East Village apartment.
In 1996 she opened the Bliss Spa in SoHo. A Vogue article got lyrical about their rubs, scrubs, and wraps. Oprah Winfrey and Calvin Klein and Madonna became customers. The waiting lists for treatments like the Quadruple Thighpass and Double Oxygen Facial with Ms. Kilgore were up to 18 months long. (In 1997, Julia Roberts told people that even she sometimes found it difficult to get an appointment.)
A cheesy bestselling line followed, plus spas and a decade of 90-hour workweek for Ms. Kilgore and her team to have customers relax in the electrolysis room with King Kong videos and talk to them like old friends.
“Bliss stood out as a brand because it had a personality that was quirky, interesting, and different from everything else back then, just like Marcia herself,” said beauty entrepreneur Bobbi Brown.
“She was also a smart pioneer who opened a whole new lucrative sector of the health and beauty sector,” said Ms. Brown. “She’s never been someone afraid to take risks.”
With each of her ventures, Ms. Kilgore seems to be able to fill a moment in the beauty zeitgeist and then sell it, an industry that was once dominated by a handful of global giants. In recent years, however, there has been a proliferation of independent start-ups whose success has been driven by innovative products, social media know-how, and keen consumers.
Beauty Pie has come at a time when customers know more than ever how and where their products are made and are increasingly gaining transparency from retailers. Online subscriptions for toiletries, flowers and housewares are also enjoying increasing popularity, especially since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
An annual Beauty Pie membership costs $ 99 or starts at $ 10 per month. This includes lower prices for more than 300 products.
“At some point I thought I might need a bulletproof vest to ruffle the feathers of the old beauty guard with the fact that I couldn’t do it, that anyone could hate me,” said Ms. Kilgore from Geneva, where she lives with her husband and two Children together. With skin so radiant that it cuts through the fluff of the zoom screen, she is a seductive ambassador for her brand – including on social media, where she often gives tips and gets feedback on new releases.
“But then I thought about it again,” said Ms. Kilgore. “This is about democratizing luxury beauty. It’s about respecting the intelligence and needs of a customer that I know I understand. “
If she had given in to her fears, she said, “I would hate myself. When you’re almost too afraid to do something, there’s usually a reason. The reason for this is that it’s a really good idea. “
Some industry watchers have suggested that the volume of purchases must be up to hundreds of dollars for a Beauty Pie membership to make financial sense in terms of overall savings. Others have found that at a time when the sector is full of innovation and choice, not all beauty lovers want to set their beauty budgets in one place and that the different membership levels could be confusing for some buyers.
Ms. Kilgore said both memberships and revenue have increased significantly since March, despite refusing to provide figures for the company. However, she revealed that Beauty Pie had recently made a venture capital investment – the first time she had borrowed any of her businesses.
“For the first few years, I just put all incoming interests from investors in one folder,” said Ms. Kilgore. “But if you want to play in this arena and attract the best talent for your company, you have to have those resources.” She noted that the money raised by Index Ventures, Balderton Capital and General Catalyst would be used in part to improve Beauty Pie’s technology operations, marketing reach, and product lineup.
Index Ventures’ Danny Rimer said it took a long time to convince Ms. Kilgore that it was worth working with investors
“Marcia has built everything herself so far, but we knew we had to convince her,” said Rimer. “There is nothing more important to an early or late stage investment – even with a great product – than the entrepreneur behind it. We need to be convinced that this person was brought to the planet to incorporate their vision into a company. “
Ms. Kilgore described herself as a “fierce workaholic,” though one whose normally relentless itinerary had been curtailed by this year’s lockdown. Lately, downtime has been associated with meditation apps, learning Mandarin and French, and hiking in the mountains near her home with a 45 pound vest. Maybe not most people’s idea of relaxing, but she said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
After selling previous businesses like Bliss and Soap & Glory made her rich, Ms. Kilgore had considered stepping back from the roller coaster of start-up life.
Then, she said, she realized that “working on how to make people happy” makes her happy “from the days I did three part-time jobs to support my mother in high school, or when I was doing facials on a box in my apartment and then watched my clients float out the door. “
“It just gives me the greatest thrill,” she said. “And I’m not ready to give that up.”