Success stories like Lia Sophia and Stella & Dot have proven that direct sales can thrive in an e-commerce-driven world. But most of the new guard focus on jewelry and fashion. When it comes to beauty, the stalwarts have remained untouched by competitors. (Even Avon's younger-skewing line, Mark., is a decade old.)
But that all changed in March, when former fashion industry exec Gregg Renfrew (she's consulted for everyone from Lela Rose to Ann Taylor) launched Beautycounter, a line of beautifully packaged, responsibly manufactured, reasonably priced skin and body care sold through direct sales (a la Tupperware parties). From a refreshing rosewater spray ($32) to lemongrass-scented sugar scrub ($38), these are products that would fit as naturally in Sephora as they do at a house party. There are currently more than 650 Beautycounter consultants in 44 states, and Renfrew hopes to double that number by the end of the year.
Renfrew, who is based in Los Angeles, believes the the business model will be a key driver in the company's success. A major part of the brand's DNA is focused on delivering non-toxic, safe products that are also effective, and she believes that having ambassadors who can communicate the message to their clients on the ground is crucial. "Information first, product second," she says. "We want to educate people." While the products are not branded organic—or natural, or any of those other BS words—they are guaranteed to be safe. "To be totally honest, it's a challenging process," Refrew says. "But we are literally going ingredient by ingredient to ensure that it's a safe product that also performs."
Ambassadors can go the more traditional direct sales route and host parties and events for their friends, or they can set up an online "shop" and push the products via social media. Or both. "I want to empower them to build successful businesses that are also financially rewarding," Renfrew says. To become a consultant, one must purchase an $85 starter kit that includes marketing materials and training guides, a 25% discount on personal purchases, and a personal URL where clients can shop to ensure you're rewarded the commission. Consultants must make $150 a month in sales to remain a part of the network, and they can earn up to 35% commission on those sales. Not a bad number.
As for the product offerings, expect them to keep increasing at a steady pace. Sunscreen is up next, with more body care—shampoo, body wash—launching in the fall. Lip sheers are around the corner too, opening up the "color cosmetics" market. And in 2014, the big push will be anti-aging products.
Of course, Beautycounter is a long way from rivaling Avon and Mary Kay in terms of audience and name recognition. But Refrew and her staff—which includes editorial makeup artist Christy Coleman, who is vice president of creative design—are so passionate about the product that it might just happen faster than anyone could imagine. Let the disruption begin.