Ten lessons on disrupting an industry from make-up queen Leslie Blodgett

28 Feb 2013

Leslie Blodgett is credited with disrupting the beauty industry by launching mineral-based product bareMinerals.

Blodgett became chief executive of Bare Escentuals in 1994 when the company was a tiny maker of bath and body products, but she spotted a huge opportunity selling healthy, mineral-based make-up and the company took off after she made a pitch on the late night TV shopping channel QVC.

Now Blodgett sells $1.5 million worth of product a minute in her appearances on TV. Bare Escentual's rapid growth led to its acquisition in 2010 for $1.8 billion by Japanese cosmetics giant Shiseido. Blodgett was in Melbourne presenting at a Business Chicks lunch this week.

Here's 10 lessons from the make-up magnate:

  1. Networking is not a bad word

    Blodgett got her role as chief executive of Bare Escentuals with no experience managing people and says it was all down to networking.

    "Networking isn't a bad word, all it means is meeting people, when I was at the Fashion Institute of Technology I went to a lecture and met a guy and it was through him that I got a phone call and another phone call about someone looking for someone at Bare Escentuals."

  2. Care about your customer

    According to Blodgett, Bare Escentuals succeeded by focusing on what women really want, a lesson she learnt in one of her first jobs working behind a cosmetics counter in New York.

    "I was horrified at the lies these women were telling to sell a cream. They would say they were 30, when they were 20 and say 'look how great my skin is'. I wasn't a great salesperson as I would tell the women 'You don't have to spend this much'," she says.

    "I still do that; when women come to the boutique and I can tell they are not ready to pay for something I ask them to leave and come back when they are ready. That experience really had a huge impact on me. I really care about what women are thinking and whether they are ready and on their timeline."

  3. Tough times can create opportunity

    Blodgett's first few years at Bare Escentuals were tough. She says the business was only making money in the fourth quarter of each year and couldn't pay its bills the rest of the year.

    "We would have to call and say 'The cheque is in the mail' or 'can you wait 90 days?'. It was a very stressful time and I couldn't sleep because of the stress but then I would turn on the TV and QVC was on and it was just a comforting woman talking to me," she says.

    That's how Blodgett came up with the idea of appearing on the shopping channel.

    "It was soothing and it took my mind off things," she says.

    "It wasn't a marketing strategy. Nobody was on QVC then."

    Blodgett says she had a make-up product that nobody was buying because it was a loose mineral foundation and everyone was using liquid foundation.

    Nobody wanted to hear about something where there was a technique to apply it, so Blodgett thought QVC could be the perfect avenue to demonstrate the product.

    "It was frustrating that I had this amazing product, I just thought maybe if I could get on QVC and I can tell these women myself it might work."

  4. You might have to fake it to seal the deal

    Blodgett applied to go on QVC and says she had to bluff a lot in her meeting with the buyer.

    "I bought a five-carat fake diamond ring off QVC because I wanted them to think I was doing well and somehow I sold her on the idea of me going on," she says.

    Blodgett credits that first appearance on QVC as changing her life and that of her business forever.

  5. Focus on making your customer happy, not on your competitors

    The focus for Blodgett has always been on making her customers happy rather than looking at what competitors are doing.

    "The good news about not having your MBA, which I don't, is that I didn't know you are supposed to study the market," she says.

    "I was so focused on making these women happy and that was it. I didn't look at the market and how many brands were out there, it all came down to how to please these women"

  6. Hire carefully

    Blodgett advocates hiring a team which believes in the brand as much as you do and has a passion for the product and for people.

    "Your life work has to be wanting to help somebody out. If you are just a make-up artist with no people skills you shouldn't work for us," she says.

    "And if you are a big company like us, we have over 3,000 people in the United States, to get those kind of people is a challenge."

  7. You are going to need help with work/life balance

    When Blodgett got the job with Bare Escentuals she decided with her husband for him to stay at home with her young son, Trent.

    "If my husband did not stay home with Trent this company would not be the company it is," she says.

    "But I was jealous and envious of him for a long time. He always told Trent 'This is what Mom does, respect what she does'."

    Blodgett says there were periods in her career where she could only have breakfast with her son during the week as she wasn't around on the weekends.

    "You do what you can," she says.

  8. Emotion is okay

    It's okay to have emotion in the workplace, according to Blodgett.

    "I'm a woman and I'm emotional and I think men are emotional too, and that's what makes us human, that's when the change happens when you have that passion and you believe in something."

  9. Use social media

    Blodgett is an avid user of Facebook and says she is still getting the hang of Twitter, where she tweets at @LeslieBlodgett.

    "I was doing social media before Facebook was even invented, our customers started their own chat rooms and that was how it all began," she says.

    "On Facebook you can talk about your relationships, your work/life balance, you bring in more than just make-up. I love that we are learning from each other constantly."

  10. Trust your gut instinct

    Blodgett says trusting your gut instinct and making the occasional mistake are the ways to succeed.

    "You need to trust your gut. You might hear negative voices saying 'Do this, Do that' but sleep on it, that's what I do, I don't make rash decisions," she says.

    "Don't ask people to tell you what you should do; that's the worst thing."

    With trusting your instincts comes making the occasional mistake as well.

    "It's trusting your instinct and taking a risk every now and again, it's those risks that are the turning point. Those screw-ups make you a better person."

Cara Waters

Cara Waters is the editor of SmartCompany, a sister site of Women's Agenda.

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