Money makers: a recipe for success in cosmetics

Gregg Renfrew set out to shake up the personal care industry when she started Beautycounter. Chris Carter reports.


Renfrew: cleaning up the beauty industry
(Image credit: Copyright (c) 2018 Shutterstock. No use without permission.)

Gregg Renfrew became passionate about the environmental movement in 2006 after watching An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary presented by former presidential hopeful Al Gore, says David Gelles in The New York Times.

Then one day the message was really brought home to her. "I was washing my children with a natural foaming oatmeal body wash by a name brand, but when I went on the American activist group Environmental Working Group's website, it rated it an eight out of nine for toxicity," she says. "I was putting toxins on my babies. I was just outraged. And I became truly obsessed with this."

Unlike food, personal-care products are "woefully underregulated" in America, says Renfrew. So, in 2011, she founded cosmetics brand Beautycounter and drew up a list of more than 1,500 potentially harmful ingredients she vowed never to use in her products. Then she turned the conventional business model on its head, eschewing selling her products in department stores in favour of a network of independent consultants.

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Finally, she embarked on a campaign to introduce new regulation to the personal-care industry. It's a successful recipe. Beautycounter has raised around $86m from investors, including U2 frontman Bono and the private equity firm TPG, valuing the business at around $400m.

There's no substitute for hard graft

"I didn't know how I was going to get there, but I knew working my b******s off was something that I was going to have to do," Andy Bell tells Jamie Nimmo in The Mail on Sunday. Success for Bell, the archetypal rough-around-the-edges, straight-talking entrepreneur, means hard graft, says Nimmo and he reeks of it. In 1995, after beginning his career by working as an actuary between stints of travelling, Bell started AJ Bell with friend Nicholas Littlefair, just as the internet was taking off.

From a tiny office, they offered self-invested personal pensions (Sipps) for six years, before outgrowing the space. They then bought a stockbroking firm, and in 2007 they sold shares to Invesco, then under fund manager Neil Woodford's watch, when Littlefair wanted to cash in his share. Bell then grew the company into a fund shop with 750 staff, now overseeing £46bn in assets for almost 200,000 customers. AJ Bell was due to float on the London Stock Exchange today (7 December) with a listing that valued the business at up to £675m, making Bell's own stake worth up to £189m.

Our struggle to fix loans market

Rishi Khosla and Joel Perlman met at the London School of Economics, says Simon Duke in The Times. In 2002, they set up Copal Partners to provide research on mergers and acquisitions deals to investment banks, using graduates in India. When they tried to raise £50,000 in working capital from high-street banks in Britain, they were turned down."We were taken aback," says Khosla. "We were a cash-generative business and had multiple-year contracts with some of the biggest investment banks in the world." The lending market, they decided, was "broken".

Having sold a majority stake in Copal to credit-ratings agency Moody's in a deal that valued the company at $193m in 2011, Khosla and Perlman started their next venture, OakNorth, in 2014, guided by their past experience with the banks. It stands to be even more lucrative by providing loans to small and medium-sized companies, using machine-learning to build detailed pictures of borrowers. OakNorth also earns revenue by licensing its technology platform to overseas lenders.

Its most recent fundraising round valued the business at $2.3bn, having raised $576m in total from investors, which include Singapore's sovereign wealth fund. "We're solving a real world problem," says Khosla. "We feel our first business was just a warm-up."

A sweaty revolution

"It's cool to sweat now," Tamara Hill-Norton tells Katie Strick of the Evening Standard. The founder of premium "activewear" brand Sweaty Betty, which has just celebrated its 20th anniversary, lives by her brand's ethos, cycling every day to the firm's London headquarters by Putney Bridge. There, leggings are the unofficial uniform, reflective of a wider revolution in the capital.

"After two decades I still get such a kick out of that," says Hill-Norton. "You can sit there and dither on something within four walls and think, Yeah, it'll sell', but the ultimate endorsement is just seeing customers wearing them wherever you are." Sweaty Betty has garnered a loyal following in the United States, and the brand has more than 60 shops worldwide. It's all part of a "tribe" mentality, she says.

Unlike with normal clothes, where you're embarrassed to wear the same dress as someone else, people want to feel part of a "team" with their activewear, taking part in free in-store fitness classes. "It's our way of saying, Come on everyone, come in and get fit for free'," says Hill-Norton. It appears to be working. Profits hit £1.3m in 2017, an increase of 160% on the previous year.

For this January, Sweaty Betty is doing away with the tired "new year, new me" January mantra, instead replacing it with "It's old' me, loving who I am and going to the gym and working out and having fun", says Hill-Norton."If you lose a few pounds along the way, that's amazing, but that's not the ultimate goal."

Chris Carter

Chris Carter spent three glorious years reading English literature on the beautiful Welsh coast at Aberystwyth University. Graduating in 2005, he left for the University of York to specialise in Renaissance literature for his MA, before returning to his native Twickenham, in southwest London. He joined a Richmond-based recruitment company, where he worked with several clients, including the Queen’s bank, Coutts, as well as the super luxury, Dorchester-owned Coworth Park country house hotel, near Ascot in Berkshire.

Then, in 2011, Chris joined MoneyWeek. Initially working as part of the website production team, Chris soon rose to the lofty heights of wealth editor, overseeing MoneyWeek’s Spending It lifestyle section. Chris travels the globe in pursuit of his work, soaking up the local culture and sampling the very finest in cuisine, hotels and resorts for the magazine’s discerning readership. He also enjoys writing his fortnightly page on collectables, delving into the fascinating world of auctions and art, classic cars, coins, watches, wine and whisky investing.

You can follow Chris on Instagram.