PALM BEACH, Fla. — Marcia Kilgore — the beauty guru who has developed everything from face cream to fragrance to footwear — is rooting for the little guy with the big idea.

This story first appeared in the June 11, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

While calling on the beauty industry to nurture up-and-coming players, the London-based founder of Soap & Glory and FitFlop walked attendees at the WWD Beauty CEO Summit through her process of taking “an idea from a little acorn into a big oak tree.”

She recalled the early days of her first spa venture when Uma Thurman would sit on the floor of a one-room space as an answering machine clicked away in the corner.

“It was really a small thing, but it was a gem and it was something that just needed to be polished,” she said. “And I think that a lot of times there are a lot of gems out there. But as an industry we tend to look only at the huge things that can bring in a lot of money immediately, rather than looking at some of the gems that need to be polished and that can be made bigger and made into the next big things.

“Maybe there is a way that as an industry we can think about a way to get together and try and build that new business, because it doesn’t seem to happen,” she said. “When it gets competitive, when the chips are down, it seems like everybody goes for who’s advertising the most and who is out there and who’s a known entity. But that’s not going to build long-term business always.”

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When developing brands, Kilgore, who sold her Bliss spa business to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton in 1999, said she applies what she calls the “so what test.”

“The ‘so what test’ is taking your idea or your concept or even just down to the basic product level and saying, ‘So what?’” she said. “It’s brutal and you should be able to do it to yourself.”

Kilgore did just that when she created Soap & Glory, a bath, body and treatment brand, which comprises products with tongue-in-cheek names, including an item dubbed Glow Job.

“So we’ve got humor, we’ve got budget and we’ve got world-class design,” she said. “And I don’t think you have that very often all wrapped up into a package at an accessible price point that really looks great.”

Similarly, FitFlop, a footwear line said to allow wearers to “get a workout while you walk” brought something new to market.

“Any new product should be remarkable, which just means it should be able to be easily remarked on,” she said. “We all know that PR and press and the media are one of our biggest friends. If you give them something funny or something interesting or something remarkable to fill space with in their magazines, then hopefully they will write about it and millions of people will read about it. If you send them yet another face cream with Retinol, hexapeptides and niacinamide, if it doesn’t have a clinical, who cares, right?

“I think it’s very important to remember that every new brand has to have a voice,” she continued. “If on your product — within three seconds it doesn’t communicate to the customer what’s in it for them, why she should buy it, why should she like it, or why should he like it, or why should he buy it — it’s not going to be interesting. You don’t have a chance.”

Kilgore also stressed the importance of offering products that go above and beyond customers’ needs — for example, putting very high sun protection in products when a lower level would likely suffice.

“It’s making people look like experts when they don’t necessarily need it, but it gives them ego gratification,” she said.

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