MID-APRIL, Karen Murrell, founder
and CEO of Skinfood,
came to Wellington to visit some of her retailers. I heard of her
visit, and offered to collect her from the airport, not too far
away from Lucires head bureau.
I called as she was clearing up some invoicing
in Auckland before her flight. Ill stand out: Im
taller than everyone else, she said.
She certainly was one of the tallest women on
her flight, even though I had the impression that I might have been
meeting a former basketball player. But Murrell seems taller than
her 5 ft 10 in, probably due a self-assured sense of style. Her
clothes reflect the Skinfood philosophy: high quality though you
know she didnt get ripped off buying them. She could pass
for a model: at some angles, theres a resemblance to a more
feminine, more attractive version of Hilary Swank.
Murrell is very much the Lucire WTGwell
travelled girllooking at Strawberry.net for getting beauty
products or checking out the clothing URLs
in this magazine. Shed make a mental bookmark to check out
Lucire-featured products on her next jaunt abroadwhich
seems to be happening with increasing frequency.
Launched in July 2004, her brand has been selling
in six-ﬁgure quantities at certain single stores alone, testament
to Murrell getting her market positioning right. But it goes beyond
New Zealand shores: Skinfood is already selling in Europe, and other
countries are planned. Murrell has even had people come up to her
to tell her they had seen it on Ebay.
But like all success stories, Murrell has had
her share of struggle. Coupled with that is an uncanny skill of
seeing through deception: Our industry is full of it,
she told Lucire.
The struggle came at a time when her brother passed
away. A phone call to her father changed things: He told me
that I had a lot going for me, and that was when I put everything
into my career. The concept is simple enough: unisex skin
care products of high quality, but with an accessible price tag.
But getting consumers to understand this can be tough. Murrell recalled
one incident at an Auckland function where she told someone she
was the head of a skin care company. After describing it, he said
to her, I would not buy it. Its not enough of a premium
brand for me.
It is right for you, she insisted.
You breathe, dont you?
However, Murrell noticed shifts in consumer tastes,
and was perhaps one of the first in her field to do so. And while
it is hard to be a pioneer sometimes, when success hits, it comes
like a huge wave.
Modern consumers are less inclined to think of
Claytons, mid-range and luxury
like they once did. Fifteen years ago, a car range might be divided
into a very basic model for sales reps and taxi drivers, a
mid-range for families and a luxury model for the wealthy; today
its likely that bottom of the range means something
quite nice. The same is being reflected in fashion: it is not uncommon
for a luxury brand to diversify downward (or an everyday one to
take on the trappings of a luxury brand, to wit, Karl Lagerfeld
designing for Hennes & Mauritz last year). Indeed, in a brand-driven
world, there is no longer a rule that says the less wealthy shop
at the Warehouse and the more wealthy at a department store.
Purity and simplicity are also 2000s trends.
Real Simple and Ikea are popular for those who feel their
urban lives are too complex; Skinfood brings things to basics. The
logo is simple, an exercise in modernism and one that has found
huge favour in the Swedish market. Our distributor loves it
there, she said.
Block out the New Zealand-made claim in her advertising,
it could pass for an import. Despite this simplicity, fine ingredients
have been added, from coconut palm and avocado oil to lavender oil
and manuka honey.
Finally, and more than apparent to most consumers,
Skinfood has tapped into the environmentally friendly aspect that
is a necessity in modern marketing: it does not test on animals,
and the packaging is recyclable.
There are countless other examples of the trend
that Murrell has tapped in to. By discovering that about the skin
care business, and following it through, Skinfood has already become
one of the most widely distributed ranges in the country.
Most people might have a few cheaper products,
plus a really nice Lancôme, as she recalled her research.
By pricing her products under NZ$10,
she has captured the value-conscious consumer. And as she has found
through retailers whose customers average incomes are in six
figures, richer folks like a good deal, too.
Given the way the world is, Skinfoods exactly
what consumers, regardless of demographics, globally
seek. Her advertisement in Lucire last month said it all:
paraben-free, no artificial colourings, non-comodogenic, not
tested on animals, recyclable packaging, 100 per cent New Zealand
Murrell started off her business at home, as many
entrepreneurs do, a neighbour of Worlds Francis Hooper and
Denise LEstrange-Corbet. But
eventually Skinfood stock meant that she needed somewhere to house
it, and a forklift somehow did not fit into central Auckland. That
prompted Skinfoods shift to Mt Wellington. It was a necessity
though now she has the pressure of getting through rush hour in
Aucklands notorious traffic.
Shes since taught herself how to drive the
forklift: I can get all but the pallet at the very top,
and is very much the boss who can roll up her sleeves.
Skinfood has also managed to nurture other businesses,
such as her graphic designers, and Murrell is particularly
proud of her 14-year-old helper who comes in after school.
As her brand grows and she nurtures exporting
deals, Murrell has been visiting other countries more. That has
led to a wardrobe that is a mix of cultures: always professional,
yet distinctive when compared to any other Kiwi. At LAX,
the passport controller refused to believe that she was a New Zealander,
thinking she looked more American. Its those Oscar-winning
actress looks, I thought to myself. When Skinfood hits the States,
the Americans are going to love her.
Jack Yan is founding publisher of Lucire.
ABOVE LEFT: Part
of the paraben-free Skinfood line-up. ABOVE,
FROM TOP: Karen Murrell.
Despite this simplicity,
ﬁne ingredients have been added, from coconut palm and avocado
oil to lavender oil and manuka honey
the full story in the May 2005 issue of Lucire.
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