Creating an entrepreneurial partnership

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Introduction

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Cosmetics is a huge and fast growing industry comprising fragrances, traditional cosmetics, beauty and skin-care preparations as well as many different hair care and toiletry products. These are sold in a variety of ways: through Boots department stores, supermarkets, pharmacies as well as other outlets and direct sales.

Brands play a key role within this industry. Through names, terms, signs or symbols, brands provide a product with an identity. Consequently, the product is perceived according to the various qualities, strengths, characteristics and attributes the brand represents. Though brands encourage loyalty and make repeat purchasing easy, educated and progressive consumers are increasingly seeking the latest innovations. Consumers enjoy a choice of brands; they appreciate unique features and typically buy three or more brands on a regular basis. Consequently, a critical task facing any organisation wishing to launch new products is how to position a new brand so that it occupies a distinctive and desirable place in the minds of customers.

This case study focuses upon the Ruby & Millie brand, hailed as Britain’s most exciting range of personality-driven make-up since the launch of Mary Quant 30 years ago. First launched in October 1997, the brand comes under the Boots The Chemists' beauty product portfolio. However, the unique positioning feature of this brand is the personal profile of the two gifted entrepreneurs, Ruby and Millie.

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Product positioning emphasises the unique features of a brand. It is the place a brand occupies within a given market as perceived by a group of consumers that helps it in relation to its competitors. Therefore successful positioning of a product will help a brand to stand out in a clearly defined part of the marketplace.

Boots The Chemists is the UK’s leading retailer of health and beauty products. It employs over 58,000 people and has more than 1,400 stores ranging from small community pharmacies to city centre department stores. In the beauty market it is a leader in cosmetics including No7 the leading cosmetics brand in the UK, and 17, the leading teenage cosmetics brand. It is also the market leader for fragrances, skincare, dental, haircare and bath toiletries.

Born in Nigeria of Bangladeshi parents, Ruby Hammer came to live in Britain when she was 12. Ruby is an experienced make-up artist to supermodels including Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell.  Millie Kendall has widespread experience of the beauty industry. She is a high-powered beauty publicist, who grew up in Beverly Hills, California, but is now based in London.

Developing the idea

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One key feature of an entrepreneur is creativity and having good ideas. When you have a good idea and think that the goal is achievable, it is important to accept that challenge and have the confidence to follow it through.

Ruby and Millie have considerable creative energy and enthusiasm that complements their experience of the beauty industry. Knowing the industry well, they identified a gap in the market from which they developed an idea for a new range of personality-driven make-up products, but were then faced with the challenge of translating their creative and fashion skills into production.

Developing a business idea into reality requires considerable energy, planning and attention to detail. It also requires belief and commitment in all that you are doing. George Hammer of Gram Corporation, and husband of Ruby, suggested that they approach Boots The Chemists with their idea. Neither Ruby nor Millie had previous experience of translating their creativity and fashion skills into mass production. Boots The Chemists and Boots Contract Manufacturing had no previous experience of dealing with make-up artists and beauty publicists.

It is unusual for large organisations to enter into entrepreneurial partnerships with enterprising individuals but, after considerable discussion, Boots The Chemists reached an agreement with Gram for Boots Contract Manufacturing to develop and manufacture the makeup range and for Boots The Chemists to market and distribute it. The result was a steep learning curve for all!  A business agreement had been reached between a corporate giant and two aspiring entrepreneurs.

Developing the product

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The Boots Company possesses a vast wealth of experience, expertise, raw materials and equipment. It was prepared to take on-board the ideas of Ruby and Millie and to invest a lot of time, effort and money into the range, while Ruby and Millie used their personal experience and skills to contribute their in-depth knowledge of cutting-edge fashion. It was like having a huge kitchen with the finest chefs, with Ruby and Millie testing the ingredients to make them tastier.

Even though Boots Contract Manufacturing was used to launching whole ranges at a time through its product development and production capabilities, the Ruby & Millie work was demanding and stretching. As part of a make-up artist range, the product briefs required the best professional formulations with a wide range of colours and effects. The collaboration was far-reaching and revolutionary.

At times the production area of the factory in Airdrie resembled a kitchen rather than a factory, with domestic sized mixing bowls used to blend colour and microwave ovens to melt waxes. The factory staff found themselves stretched in terms of the resourcefulness and creativity required in handling so many new elements. Almost 200 manufacturing trials were needed to ensure that the new formulae developed in the laboratory could be repeated in manufacture.

The packaging also had to be innovative, unique and stylish. Silversmiths, Wright and Teague were commissioned to design a range of Perspex and silver components for the brand.

Creating a niche brand

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A niche brand is one that specialises in meeting the needs of customers in a particular market position. A niche brand only succeeds if the company has in-depth knowledge of the target group so its needs can be served more precisely.

300 different products have been produced and since the Ruby & Millie brand was launched in sleek, simple, stylish and futuristic silver and Perspex packaging, customer and media interest has been intense.

Unlike No7 and 17 products, Ruby & Millie was launched in two Harvey Nichols stores before going into Boots The Chemists stores. Since then it has become available in larger Boots The Chemists stores and has been adapted in preparation for when Boots International Retail launches Ruby & Millie in Japan. It was important that the brand image was projected at the point of launch. The launch made a big impact and emphasised the mystique of the brand. At the same time, promotional materials built hype around the brand to provide it with the cult status required to support its position in the market.

Post-launch activity

Ruby and Millie have been continually projected in terms of their personality and credibility in the market. There have been some exciting activities within stores which have been supportive of make-up artists. For example, Ruby Hammer worked on Rachel Venning, a Boots Contract Manufacturing buyer, at the Ruby & Millie counter in Nottingham. A promotional programme has emphasised the attributes of the products and the focus has been on product performance.

Product positioning

The brand’s key competitors are MAC, Shu Uemura, Bobbie Brown, Nars and elements of other niche cosmetic brands such as Hard Candy. The key features of these brands are:

  • in-store make-up artist consultants
  • mystique/exclusivity
  • make-up artist support
  • innovative products/presentation in-store
  • good PR support
  • breadth of offer
  • unique components.

Though the Ruby & Millie brand succeeds in meeting the above criteria, it differentiates itself from its competitors as:

  • it is a British make-up artist brand
  • the ‘human’ element is projected and emphasised
  • prices are matched to MAC which is more ‘accessible’ than any of the other brands
  • there is greater availability in a less intimidating environment.

A key element in the positioning process for any brand is pricing. The pricing structure for Ruby & Millie has been broadly aligned to MAC. This means that it is well-priced and value for money in comparison with premium or highly-priced brands. For example, the range is priced at 15% below Clinique.

Brand attributes

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Key to the product positioning of the Ruby & Millie brand has been the personal profiles and specialist skills of Ruby and Millie themselves, which appeals to consumers who want more than just a set of products. This is because the brand is correctly perceived, through solid PR support, to have been developed by opinion leaders in the market.

Ruby’s role is to shape make-up fashions and her ability to do this ensures constant innovation in the product range, while Millie provides expert knowledge of make-up. Her eye for seeking out innovative new beauty products around the world ensures that the range is constantly updated. Both have been featured in articles in popular magazines, such as MARIE CLAIRE, Elle and Cosmopolitan, their names developing their brand’s image and status. Vogue ran an exclusive feature during the launch of the brand.

Effective PR (public relations) also aids in furthering the brand’s credibility among consumers together with influential media voices and leaders in the market. The benefits include cost-effective exposure such as being featured in magazine articles; which is significantly cheaper than TV promotion and enables the correct target audience to be reached. The uniqueness of the brand became the main focus and the publicity resulted directly in sales double that of original forecasts.

Features and benefits

Another unique feature of the brand is that it is the first comprehensive British make-up artist range and, whilst distribution in Boots The Chemists is limited, it does mean that the brand is accessible. During its first year there were 28 stockists in addition to Harvey Nichols (Leeds and London) and Selfridges (London). It is envisaged that the range would potentially be available in up to 40 Boots The Chemists outlets in the UK and Eire.

One of the most distinctive skills of marketers is to create, maintain and protect their brands by consistently helping it to deliver a specific set of features and benefits associated with its position within the market. A good brand effectively guarantees that it will deliver all of the qualities that the consumer associates with it.

Almost 200 manufacturing trials were needed to ensure that the qualities of the Ruby & Millie brand would be carried through to manufacture, more than for any other cosmetic range Boots Contract Manufacturing had handled before.

All of the formulations for Ruby & Millie have been developed to an exacting standard and are based upon either the best available in the market, or better. Performance is tested via professional use. The brand’s credibility is further enhanced as Ruby and other high-profile make-up artists use the product during the course of their work.

Conclusion

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The British and international fashion and beauty press embraced the Ruby & Millie brand. Many elements outperformed their original sales forecast. Best sellers included lipgloss and the cream eye colour, both packed in brush-tipped pens designed by the Japanese company Mitsubishi.

The Ruby & Millie brand has given Boots The Chemists added kudos and credibility in the cosmetics market. Since the Ruby & Millie launch they have been approached by other niche brands, all of which has raised the status of the chain store as a retailer of niche cosmetics.

Boots | Creating an entrepreneurial partnership