The initial stages of starting a beauty product business can be daunting — it’s often hard to know where to start. Though it may be difficult to compete with the well-established brands you use in the salon every day, there’s always space in the indie-sphere for a newcomer. Successful indie nail polish manufacturer S. Maria Chheo-Shen says she welcomes healthy competition with her NailNation3000 brand with an open heart.
“I love seeing new brands pop up, even if they surpass me, because I love this industry,” she says. “It can get cut throat, but with my brand, I want to unify the customers, the novices, and the nail techs.”
After years of working as both a nail tech and retail manager, Chheo-Shen took her expertise to nail art forums and began producing tutorials and demos. She unintentionally established a following before her brand even began and now @NailNation3000 has over 230,000 “likes” on Facebook.
Today, she fully supports herself through the company, and though she says it’s a lot of work, she exudes passion and authenticity.
These are Shen’s tips for getting started in the indie polish world, step-by-step.
1. Identify your motivation.
You have to decide whether your business is going to be a side-hobby or if you want to grow your polish line into a profitable company, Chheo-Shen advises. “That can change as you go, but it’s important to have a business model in mind,” she says.
2. Do your research.
Go check out the selection of both mainstream and indie polishes. Chheo-Shen emphasizes the need to sample other products to decide what you like and what you would improve. “To become inspired, go see what you think is cool about a brand and how successful it’s been,” Chheo-Shen says. “Ask yourself, what makes these brands unique? Who will be your direct competition? Where will you sell your polish?”
Continue to think about these questions as you go on to the next step.
3. Develop a formal business plan.
Key aspects of a business plan include company goals, a marketing strategy, product information, and a financial outline. Determine the price of your product and where you intend to sell it. You can open a virtual store on a website like Etsy or Storenvy, as well as visit neighborhood shops and ask if they’re willing to sell your product.
“Know what your goals are and make them realistic,” Chheo-Shen says. This may be overwhelming if you’ve never developed a business plan before, but there are many resources available to help. You can check the SBA website (www.sba.gov.), reach out to an entrepreneurial friend for advice, or sign up for business classes at a community college.
4. Invest your time and money.
Be prepared to work long hours and prioritize where your money goes. “If you have another job, you’ll need to map out a schedule so you can invest your time in the way you need to succeed,” Chheo-Shen says.
In addition to time, you will have to invest a chunk of change. Chheo-Shen recommends having about $1,000 of cash on hand to start out. Once you begin to bring in revenue, any profits should go toward company improvements.
“I throw everything back into the business, aside from what I set aside for my children,” she says. “When I’m gone, I want my grandkids to use NailNation to pay for college and help one another.”
5. Choose a supplier (or suppliers).
There are two approaches when it comes to suppliers: one-supplier-fits-all or do-it-yourself.
Whichever you choose, experiment before ordering in large quantities. Wear the polish on your own nails to see how quickly the color chips, if the polish comes out exactly how you wanted it to, and which colors are well-received by your community.
Option #1: Use one supplier with premade colors. It can be much more costly to use a number of suppliers for your different polish business needs, says Diamond Cosmetics owner Lisa Antinelli. She suggests using one supplier who offers all the elements you need, especially if you are just starting out. Suppliers like Diamond Cosmetics can provide a collection of bottles, caps, and treatments, and a large variety of color choices.
“Let’s say Mary owns a salon business and she wants to offer her own polish. She would start with our first option and order 24 bottles of 12 different colors, and use our stock cap and bottle. You can rename the colors too, so our #2 Deep Red becomes your #1 Mary’s Red,” Antinelli says.
She adds that using one supplier instead of many will help you avoid mistakes, maximize your time, and reduce your expenses, due to their buying power.
“We know a lot of our companies don’t have a lot of money to spend or knowledge on the backend, but they have this dream to start their own line of polish, so we offer our knowledge and experience to them,” Antinelli says.
Option #2: Use one or more suppliers and mix your own colors. For the adventurous entrepreneur, you can go your own route by mixing pigments into a suspension base, then loading them into the polish bottles of your choice.
You can buy bases and pigmented liquids and powders from online suppliers, such as TKB Trading or Micamoma. Be aware that this route will be more time-consuming, but it’s probably the right fit for someone who wants to physically mix her own unique polishes and have complete freedom in her choices of pigments, additives, caps, and bottles.
6. Design a lovely logo and use pretty packaging.
Your logo will symbolize what your company represents, and the packaging will serve as a first impression to your customers. Aesthetics is always important, never more so than in the beauty industry. Create your own, or ask your supplier for help.
“We know what works and doesn’t work — simple artwork is best because it will show up. You can’t have something too ornate on a tiny polish bottle,” Antinelli says.
7. Seek loyal customers.
Chheo-Shen is very involved in the polish community. She’s befriended other indie polish makers, nail techs, and cosmetic collectors, and is thankful for NailNation3000’s expanding support. “I did the work to get it started, but they’re the fuel that keeps the fire burning. I can fan it, but they’re the ones who burn it for me,” Chheo-Shen says. In other words, network via social media and any other means available to you.
8. Launch your product.
Be prepared for all possibilities. Chheo-Shen recommends you give yourself a few years before expecting to make a profit. On the flipside, there’s also a chance your business may become profitable after your first round. “There’s only one way to find out,” she says. “Get yourself out there! Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is just a guide on how to improve the next round.”