Jemma Kid Make Up School: Jemma Kidd and Grace Fodor

How the skilful handling of a respected brand is delivering global sales for Jemma Kidd’s cosmetics firm

The cosmetics industry is intrinsically linked to celebrity. Top beauty houses spend millions securing the latest en vogue stars to head-up marketing campaigns, while at the other end of the spectrum, celebrity-branded fragrances make a tidy sum for the likes of Kylie and Britney.

But attaching credibility to a new cosmetics brand is a tough challenge, and one that’s vital to overcome to generate long-term success. It’s something Grace Fodor (right) and renowned make-up artist Jemma Kidd placed at the centre of their business plan when launching the Jemma Kidd Make Up School range.

Kidd had already been running her Notting Hill make-up academy for several years before she teamed up with Fodor. Her industry status provided the company’s branding nucleus, and it has been skilfully utilised. This year will see profits of £1.3m on revenues of £5m (and retail sales of £17m), despite the company being hit by the overall slump in consumer spending.

Getting a commission from Boots

Kidd and Fodor began working together after the latter was commissioned by high street retailer Boots to research possible talent-based brands it could launch in-store. But after much deliberation, the pair decided to develop the range on their own. “One of the fundamental reasons for not doing the deal with Boots was that we saw the business as an opportunity to create a new global cosmetics brand,” says Fodor, now the firm’s chief executive. “For us to achieve that, we needed to extend our distribution possibilities.”

Despite the decision not to launch under the Boots umbrella, the pair kept the chain on board with a deal for it to stock the range, which hit the shelves in early 2006. A Selfridges launch was followed by another in New York’s Bergdorf Goodman, and by the end of the year the business was supplying premium-end department stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Australia and Hong Kong.

“The global ambition was always in the business plan, it just happened a lot quicker than anticipated,” says Fodor. As the popularity of the brand grew, so did requests from retailers, which presented an interesting dilemma.

The high-end department stores wanted a premium extension to the range, while Boots were seeking ‘funkier’, cheaper products. The issue led to one of the toughest decisions Fodor and Kidd have had to make so far – to remove the range from Boots. “We had this pull at both ends and it worried me,” explains Fodor.

“When you’re developing a consumer brand, you have to do everything you can to protect and manage that value. We lost 65 stores and £3.5m at retail, but brands that get their distribution wrong or over license themselves pay a price.”

Pulling out from Boots and moving on

Pulling out of Boots was “painful”, but it has proved to be a shrewd move. The original range is now stocked in luxury cosmetics chain Space NK, while the launch of a younger, cheaper high-fashion version – JK Jemma Kidd – has finally given the company the mass distribution it needed to return its first profitable year. Last year, JK launched in 1,600 Target stores in the US – a retailer Fodor describes as “Asda meets Debenhams”.

It’s also now available in the UK through online fashion outlet ASOS, and is about to launch in Mikyajy, a Middle Eastern beauty retail chain, which will eventually add another 177 stores to the mix.

Despite the recession hitting consumer confidence hard this year, the Target deal was just too potent to allow a dip in the company’s fortunes. Shoppers may be spending less, but going from 60 to more than 1,600 stores has given Jemma Kidd Make Up School gravitas Stateside. Back home, this November will see a million units of Jemma Kidd lip-gloss sold with packs of Bodyform sanitary towels, while a make-up masterclass book has been launched in time for Christmas.

“From a brand perspective, we’re getting a lot of attention from retailers and companies interested in brand affinity projects,” says Fodor. “Finding accessible mass retailers is difficult. Everyone wants the latest brand exclusively, so whichever one we partner with, another is excluded. It’s a very exciting time for us, but we’re weighing up our options.”

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