A 12-Year Overnight Success

After working for one of the biggest beauty conglomerates in the world, Clay and Lena Campbell joined forces and found success after starting their own company, Innovative Beauty Products.

It can take years of planning and struggling to become an overnight success in the beauty industry–for Innovative Beauty Products’ founders Clay and Lena Campbell, it took over a decade.

“There are literally tens of thousands of beauty products on the market, so breaking through can be very difficult and time- consuming, especially if you are small and undercapitalized,” Clay says. “We were five years into this thing and dead broke. But, strangely enough, time can be your friend–as long as you establish a good plan and are consistent with your execution. We tell everyone we are a 12-year overnight success.”

Innovative Beauty Products, the parent company of the Godefroy brand, has 75 SKUs that mainly cater to the women’s multicultural and men’s grooming market segments. The company’s best-sellers include 28 Day Mascara, Instant Eyebrow Tint and Double Lash & Brow. “As we have developed the product line over time, our customer base now includes women of all ages and nationalities and men with facial hair who are beginning to gray,” Lena says.

The Campbells recently sat down with Beauty Store Business to discuss how they turned their struggling business into a modern-day success story and what’s to come in the future.

BIG DREAMS IN THE BIG APPLE
Clay and Lena met shortly after graduating from college, and both worked for Revlon’s professional products division in New York City in the mid-1980s. “We reported to the same person ... and spent a lot of time together,” Lena says.

Lena attributes much of what she learned about the industry to her two marketing mentors at Revlon: Richard Stella and Karen Zipp. While working there, Lena and Clay married. Later, they relocated to Dallas, where Lena worked for Mary Kay for five years, all the while fine-tuning her product development skills.

After spending almost 11 years at Revlon in sales and marketing positions, Clay was employed by two other small beauty companies and worked as a niche product developer (“which I enjoyed very much and still do,” he says) before he and Lena were bitten by the entrepreneurial bug.

“Despite everything you read and hear, e-commerce is not going to eliminate retail.”

—Clay Campbell, cofounder, Innovative Beauty Products

In 2004, the couple founded Innovative Beauty Products, at first headquartered in Arlington, Texas, and twice relocated since then to move into larger facilities. That year, they acquired Godefroy–a manufacturing company founded in the 1800s in France that has since been owned by several large companies, including Carson products. Godefroy made its way to the U.S. around the 1930s and was the first manufacturer of TRESemmé haircare products in the 1940s. One Godefroy product that survived changes in ownership is the hair color capsules, still sold today.

“The goal was the same then as it is now: Bring to market high-margin, niche items that serve a unique purpose,” Clay says.

When Clay and Lena acquired Godefroy, the brand was in a state of disarray. It was generating less than $100,000 per year in revenue, and Clay says the challenges they faced made the acquisition almost the equivalent of starting a brand new business. “It had a loyal following and some very unique features; it just needed someone with the right skill set to focus on it. I tell my wife all the time there are a lot of Godefroys out there,” Clay explains.

Turning their attention toward revamping the company, Lena combined her practical and cost-conscious approach with Clay’s risk-taking, forward-thinking mentality. Lena says, “I take a much more conservative approach to business, and am very detail-oriented, whereas Clay is more of a big-picture type. ... If I could give you [a] visualization, Clay is 10 steps ahead of me and I’m in the background picking up the things that fell and cleaning them up.”

GROWING GODEFROY
In 2008, the Campbells introduced Instant Eyebrow Tint, a permanent eyebrow tinting kit that uses natural, plant-based, nontoxic dyes. It’s ideal for consumers with sensitivities to harsh, traditional hair-coloring products because it contains no hydrogen peroxide and pro- vides color that lasts for up to six weeks. “Before that, the only available product was [a lash and brow tint], which was very expensive and limited mostly to the pro market,” Clay says.

“The goal was the same then as it is now: Bring to market high-margin, niche items that serve a unique purpose.”

—Clay Campbell, cofounder, Innovative Beauty Products

Following the success of Instant Eyebrow Tint, Lena and Clay created 28 Day Mascara, an eyelash-tinting product that lasts for at least four weeks and features a nontoxic formula free of coal tar derivatives, synthetic dyes and hydrogen peroxide. And because it’s compliant with Food and Drug Administration regulations, they were able to sell 28 Day Mascara to larger chains in the U.S. and Europe.

About three years ago, Innovative Beauty Products introduced a men’s grooming line, which was, and continues to be, a big hit. The line’s best-sellers include Thick, a beard and mustache growth serum; Barbers Choice, premeasured color capsules ideal for coloring gray facial hair; and the company’s newest product, SilverFox–a non-greasy, leave-in serum that adds vibrancy and shine to dull, white or gray facial hair. “It’s a violet-based crème that you work into your beard to eliminate yellow and brassy tones in gray facial hair; think Shimmer Lights for men’s beards,” Clay says.

“Men’s grooming has been a good category for us, especially with the beard color and maintenance products,” Lena says. “We do well with these items on Amazon and the ethnic OTC market. The beard colors are very popular with African-American and Hispanic men.”

Today, the company’s distribution model is quite diversified. Fifty percent of their business is done on Amazon, both through direct sales and through third-party sellers. The remaining half is broken down as follows: retail, OTC ethnic, OTC Caucasian, salon, nail, catalog, specialty retail and international sales. “We have a distributor in every country that Amazon services. We are in 17 countries worldwide and, for whatever reason, we seem to do pretty well in Latin America and Eastern Europe, and especially well in Russia.”

Innovative Beauty Products has seven full-time employees and works with three contract workers on an as-needed basis. Though Lena says that no two days are the same, the couple spends most of their time managing their full-time staff, developing products, handling the logistics of manufacturing and doing back-office work.

“We try to provide everyone with a living wage, regardless of the skill set needed.”

—Lena Campbell, cofounder, Innovative Beauty Products

“We are very involved in all aspects of the business. ... Other than working with an outside chemist on formulations, everything else we do ourselves,” Clay says.

Lena adds, “We try to provide everyone with a living wage, regardless of the skill set needed. We bring our dog Max to work with us every day and he makes his daily rounds to say hi to everyone. Max brings a smile to everyone’s face.”

CONSTANTLY EVOLVING
Throughout Godefroy’s evolution over the last century, the beauty industry itself has seen its fair share of changes. “It’s a mature industry now without a lot of top-line growth, so we have seen a tremendous amount of consolidation, both in manufacturing and distribution,” Clay says. “It’s not nearly as entrepreneurial as when I started, and most of the larger distributors and retailers demand ever- increasing margins. Also, the OTC Caucasian market has seen a tremendous amount of store decline, making it even more difficult for small companies to gain entry.” Though Amazon has helped Innovative Beauty Products grow over the last several years, Clay notes that online retail as a whole has made it increasingly difficult for small companies to find success.

Lena says, “There are certainly a lot less full-service dealers and OTC stores than when I first began. But the nail and ethnic OTC markets were practically nonexistent as well, so that has created new opportunities.”

In the future, Lena says she hopes that the company’s export markets continue to grow, particularly in developing countries. “Social media has made it much easier to reach remote markets,” she explains.

But despite a lot of changes, some things have remained the same. “From a product development view, not much has changed. Other than African-Americans, who have distinctively unique needs for hair and skin products, most other nationalities can be catered to the same way you would the Caucasian market. Certainly your packaging and marketing materials should reflect the changing demographics though,” Clay says.

One of their focuses for the future is to grow Godefroy’s retail distribution. “Despite everything you read and hear, e-commerce is not going to eliminate retail,” he says. “People still go to retail stores to buy things. I would like to see us develop more distribution at the retail level, but it’s certainly not easy.”

For beauty store owners, Clay says that the two key factors to help retailers thrive in today’s market are 1) a diverse product offering and 2) good customer service. “Try to source and stock interesting items from all over the world and strive to offer the very best in customer service. Anything you can do to differentiate yourselves from the chains and Amazon will create real value and protection,” he says.

To find success in the industry, Lena also believes that it’s a necessity to have a network of experts you can call upon for advice. “With my experience working with billion-dollar companies, you always have an expert to ask about a situation. Now, being the owner of a small company, I do not have that luxury. Thank goodness for our network of friends and business associates that have helped guide us!”

Clay and Lena work well together because they recognize each other’s strengths. “We are both fortunate to work in an industry that we truly enjoy. If you’re lucky enough to enjoy what you do, it’s more of a hobby than a job,” Clay says.

Lena jokes that one advantage of working with her husband is that he “always pays for lunch,” and they truly have fun together and are passionate about bringing one-of-a-kind products to market. Clay says, “We both have different skill sets that complement each other, and neither of us takes ourselves too seriously, which helps.”

ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT
Innovative Beauty Products cofounders Clay and Lena Campbell share their business tips for retailers and brand owners.

  • Set Yourself Apart: “Our whole philosophy is to do things that nobody else has done,” Clay says. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but when you’re a small company and don’t have a huge advertising budget, you’ve really got to do something to differentiate yourself.”
  • Make Sure Your Packaging Is Effective: “We strategically use our packaging and product names as descriptors of what each product does,” Lena says. “We try to help the retailer in the sense that once they put it on shelves, the packaging pretty much tells customers exactly what they’re buying and exactly what they’re going to get.”
  • Play to Your Strengths: The Campbells are focusing on product development to grow Innovative Beauty Products in the future. Clay says the couple stays ahead of trends, often extends existing, successful product lines and knows their audience. “If it makes sense for you, try to best serve your customers’ needs,” he says.
  • Stay Organized: For retailers, how your store is organized will affect how well your products sell. “There’s no secret to it–just put things where they belong,” Clay says. Most of the Godefroy products are eye-related, so it makes sense for them to be placed near eyelash and eye accessories. Don’t make your customers work hard to find exactly what they need.

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