Drew Barrymore is building a very different beauty brand — one that’s laser focused on formula and not the marketing engine that so many businesses are predicated on.
“We thought instead of carving out money for marketing and being a smaller upstart, we’ll put money into formulas so we can have a different company and be able to serve that same lipstick that retails for upwards of $40 and charge $6 to $8,” Barrymore said of Flower Beauty, which launched exclusively at 1,509 Wal-Mart doors in January of 2013 and has since expanded to 4,000 doors. Barrymore gave her thoughts on beauty during a keynote speech at the WWD Beauty CEO Summit in Palm Beach, Fla., last week.
Rather than relying on advertising to get the message out — she’s had an obsessive focus on formula since the beginning. There are enough mass beauty brands on the market “that are perfect the way they are,” she said.
Flower Beauty was going to challenge the traditional definition of “mass” beauty, and along with design and manufacturing firm Maesa Group, which co-owns Flower, Barrymore got to work.
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Her plan was simple. In coming up with the original business model in preparation for launch, the actress-turned-producer-turned-beauty executive decided that she would develop prestige formulas to market at a different price.
She wanted to bring a luxury brand to consumers at a mass price point — and “Robinhood this motherf—-r,” per Barrymore, who from the onset decided she would take less money and even put her own money into the project.
As a co-owner of the company, she had a very clear vision of what her involvement in Flower would be: she would have a hand in everything, from conception to finished product. Barrymore is averse to the notion of “name-slapping” — or celebrities just putting their name on a product with little to no involvement in the design, production and manufacturing processes.
“Name-slapping is bad and short-lived. If you want a long career you should be really selective. Steven Spielberg said this to me and my mom at age seven,” she said.
Even decades years later when Procter & Gamble Co.’s Cover Girl, called, the actress initially said no to working with them. But after talking to the company — she loved the idea of “running these campaigns” — and proposing “clean marketing,” Cover Girl called her again. They proposed that Barrymore serve as the face and cocreative director for her campaigns, and this kicked off a seven-year partnership that lasted from 2007 through 2013.
Fortunately, when her contract ended, Wal-Mart and Maesa reached out to Barrymore. For her, it was another “aligning of the stars moment,” where as much as she loves acting (“I’ll always do it and it will always be my first love”), she was ready for the next.
Wal-mart challenged her to come up with an idea for the $482 billion retail chain’s much-needed white space — four feet to be exact, according to Barrymore, who got to work.
“Imagine doing your upstart at the world’s largest retailer?” she said with a laugh. “It’s the kind of fear you need to work your ass off. I’ve never been a good name-slapper. I’m so impressed with those people who make a killing at that. When you take ownership of your company you’re thinking about longevity and not a greedy cash-out outlook.”
She talked about the time that the team finalized their first BB Cream. The actress had been to “every lab across the country” and she was in the San Fernando Valley “somewhere between a porn house and a bar” when she tested out the new product.
“It’s the most incredible innovation I’ve ever seen in the six years we’ve been building this company. That night I drove home with the windows open and music blasting and a new sense of energy. All because I thought, ‘Someone is going to love this,’” Barrymore said.
While Barrymore admitted that beauty is an all-consuming business that can be equal parts demanding and exhausting, she called it empowering. She is passionate about telling a story and communicating an emotional message to women all over the country: she just wants them to “feel their goddamn best about themselves.” And it’s working.
As Flower goes into its fourth year in retail, sales are up, with stores carrying the line nearly tripling to 4,000 from the initial rollout. Barrymore unveiled a Flower fragrance in the second year, which now comprises between 15 and 20 percent of revenue. She’s also expanded into bags, eyewear and brushes, (“We take pride in our brushes…[they] are made in the same labs that prestige ones are…[with] the horn and gold hot stamping. We hardly make a profit on those but go figure,” she said). The main cosmetics range has 200 stockkeeping units.
“Beauty is from within, and we’re just looking to put a little something on top that makes us feel the most confident when we walk into the room. If you walk in like an insecure nut bag, they will smell an insecure nut bag,” she said emphatically, adding that the brand will always fall back on joy and positive messaging. All of the packaging is even emblazoned with the quote “happiness is the best makeup.”
Up next is building a global footprint for Flower, starting with entry into Asia and South America (the brand will remain exclusive to Wal-mart in the U.S.), and branching out to the bath and body category. While Flower will remain a color cosmetics company first, Barrymore is focused “on the rest of the body” and plans to venture into candles, lifestyle and skin care.
“Man, is it a really tough business. But I love it,” Barrymore said.