5 years, 5 questions
So we're 5 years old as a business, and that feels like a huge milestone, but how exactly did we get there?
We can't tell you exactly how but we can give you insight into the process and the journey, which is what this blog post is all about.
As you probably feel yourself, 5 years goes by so quickly. It really doesn't feel like this time in 2014 we were in the garage....I'm sat in my house now writing this and the garage is still intact downstairs, complete with old postage envelopes, labels and plenty of makeup brushes! We're leaving them there to one day become a Spectrum Museum....lol!
Us in the garage, and future 'Spectrum Museum of Makeup Brushes'
We thought we'd put together a blog with 5 questions about the last 5 years in business. It's hard to know where to start, so we'll just start with the beginning.
1) Why makeup brushes?
The honest answer is that it was a random lightbulb moment, neither of us really know 'why makeup brushes' we just knew we wanted to start our own business and we needed a product. We initially spent a long time looking into other products, clothes, shoes, jewellery, all the things we love, but they were all too expensive to start up by ourselves with no money.
'What about makeup brushes?' Hannah suggested one day when we were together in the car, I was dropping her off to meet her friends, and I just said 'OK then' and that was it. We thought about it afterwards and it really was the perfect product for us.
Our most recent release, mini versions of our most popular brush sets.
2) Where did the name come from?
Again, a bit of random inspiration. We've always been drawn to colour and that seemed like the natural direction we were taking in terms of what we envisioned the brand to be. We started the brand before 'Millennial Pink' became a thing, we just went with or gut instinct and what we liked personally, there were no branding consultants or agencies, or market research really...initially most of our friends who we did 'focus groups' with actually didn't like the brushes, and the most common response we got when we dropped into conversation that we were starting a makeup brush brand was 'why?'
Anyway...our mum thought of the name, and it just felt right. It felt like us, and it was the type of brand name that could encompass different collections, colours, products...it gave us room to grow and evolve when we didn't know exactly what 'Spectrum' would be. Oh, and it was available as a domain name and instagram handle which were key!
Us with our mum in November 2013, around the time we were brainstorming for 'Spectrum'.
3) Where did you actually start? Not the garage, but the business.
We started where everyone who doesn't know what they're doing starts. Google. We actually googled 'how to make makeup brushes' and got a load of rubbish results, the odd DIY guide that looked awful, and we refined our search to 'how to manufacture makeup brushes' and a couple more interesting results came back, one being an online directory called Alibaba.
Alibaba is a bit of a mystery to be honest, the best way to describe it is yellow pages for global manufacturers. So we found that and it seemed to be the next best move to try and figure out what we were doing.
After trawling through the directory we found about 5 suppliers who seemed to produce good quality products - the only indication we had of this at the time was a few product pictures on their individual profile. We e-mailed say 5 suppliers, and had no replies. We trawled and found another 5 who looked like a quality supplier, e-mailed, no reply. So after around 3 weeks of reaching out, we started to get one or two replies and it seemed like we were getting somewhere.
We chose our supplier because she spoke really good English - all the manufacturers of makeup brushes we found were in China - and she was really understanding that this was our first step into purchasing the product.
We agreed to pay for some samples to be sent to us at a cost of around $50 which we paid over paypal. The samples arrived, we loved them, and the rest is history I suppose.
A lot of people ask if you can really trust the suppliers on Alibaba, and we've returned to the directory several times over the last 5 years to find new suppliers, not so much anymore but if you're just starting out, then yes this is the most reliable source we can recommend :)
Horrible pic of us from 10 years ago just for lols...future business bosses, who'd have known....
4) So then what happened, how do you go from a small business in a garage in Barry to building a global brand?
We can't really answer that one without writing a full book....maybe later we'll do that...but maybe to try and answer that one within one post a few key bullet points will be our best option.
- WORK HARD - no one will build your brand for you, and ultimately you're responsible for how successful your brand is. Your own success is only limited by how much work you're willing to put in. We didn't exist for the two years in the garage, there's not even a pic of us from a friends birthday or a night out, or any kind of social occasion or holiday. We were very cut off and secluded in that garage, but we were doing what we had to do, and that was learning how to run a business without any help, and that took a lot of time just getting on with it and learning as we went. Luckily we had each other, our partners, friends and family helped when they could, but ultimately we knew we had to get through the early stages to see any kind of future.
- TRUST YOUR GUT - the first 6 months were the quietest, maybe 4/5 sales a week...not enough to call what we were running a 'business' but we had a gut feeling we knew what we were doing and that was building an amazing brand with an amazing product, we just needed everyone else to catch up that's all. We were always asked by family and friends if we were going to get a 'real job' - this was only because they cared, they saw is in the garage working away and getting nothing back. That was true in terms of sales, but in terms of building awareness and an instagram following, this was going really well. We knew we just had to keep going.
- KEEP GOING, YOU WON'T GET RICH QUICK - leading on from that last point comes the next one. We did have a back up plan, that was just to return to doing full time wedding photography and videography because we knew we could if we needed to. What we were doing while starting Spectrum was freelancing to continue to support the business financially. We didn't take a wage for two years, and continually invested our own money for things like stock (we released a new limited edition set for Christmas 2014 that was a complete flop), accountants, paypal fees, post office costs, envelopes, labels, printer ink. Basically what we learned was that you should only start your own business if you really have the passion for your product and brand, enough to work for free and to keep going when it feels like you're getting nowhere.
- FIND YOUR NICHE, FIND YOUR AUDIENCE, FIND YOUR CUSTOMER AND BE CONSISTENT - once you've gotten through the toughest part, which is the beginning, then the next most important thing is to stay focused on the brand. There are so many start ups now, it's never been more important to have a strong brand identity and to keep growing and developing this while never trying to change it too drastically. Spectrum became recognised for high quality, colourful and beautifully designed products, with a great presence on social media and a friendly and reliable approach to customer service. Those are key points that were built into the brand early on and although we've developed and added lots of additional elements, these are still key and we're always striving to be consistent and improve.
- GROW AND IMPROVE - once you've worked through all the early stages, the next stage is to grow and stay relevant. You can't just sit back and give yourself a pat on the back, there's always work to do if you want to maintain success. We've grown our product range, our team, and our company in general is growing in terms of awareness and crucially, sales. However, we've done all of this sustainably and within our own means - no investors - and that means we have kept the freedom to be creative which is what we both really love. How have we done that? Well that takes you back to point number one, which is the starting point to any successful business - WORK HARD.
now we get a bit of time to enjoy ourselves, work hard play hard after all.
5) So, after all that, what's next?
Honestly, who knows. I can't say where I see us in another 5 years. One question that has been popping up in conversation a lot is 'what's your exit strategy' which means when are we planning on selling up and moving on?
Well there's no plans for that just yet, we're loving what we're doing too much and the most exciting thing is we've really only just started. You've only seen the tip of the iceberg essentially.
We're expanding into cosmetics which opens up new unlimited opportunities for growing the brand, so perhaps we'll just re-visit question number 4 and follow our own advice. Makeup is coming this year and we've certainly improved on what we think is available on the mass market at the moment. We'll wait to see what you think, but we certainly intend to keep working hard, trusting our gut, being consistent and growing...watch this space!
Lots of love,
Sophie & Hannah