How We Built A $7M Aussie Skincare Empire
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Robert Jarmyn and I am the CEO of The BLAQ Group.
BLAQ is an Australian company that provides detoxifying beauty solutions for people leading busy and active lives and empowering positive change through its involvement with The Trevor Project.
The business was founded in 2016 by former model Ryan Channing who unfortunately passed away in May 2022. As CEO I am committed to honoring Ryan’s legacy by seeing through the business vision that he had for The BLAQ Group.
We’re on a mission to provide detoxifying beauty solutions to our customers all over the world.
We get down and dirty, so you don’t have to. We leave the toxic stuff out and put the good stuff in.
But it’s not only about blasting the nasties, we believe beauty should be fun! So we keep it simple and, more than that, we have a hell of a good time doing it! That’s why we’ve created a range of beauty essentials packed with detoxifying ingredients that mean every time you use them, you’ll feel clean, fresh, and ready to play. detoxing the BLAQ way. Our motto is:
Be you. Live loud. Accept everyone. Question everything.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The idea for BLAQ came about following a trip Ryan took to Japan where he discovered the time-honored ritual of using activated charcoal to remove impurities from your body.
Ryan was fascinated by the absorbent properties of charcoal and worked with a formulator to develop a peel-off charcoal face mask to remove skin impurities and blemishes.
He gave this mask to a number of his friends in the modeling industry to try and posted videos of them using the product with some hilarious footage.
The posts went viral and before he knew it Ryan had launched a multi-million-dollar skin care product online. Within the first twelve months, BLAQ had generated over $8 million in sales in the Australian market.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Buoyed on by the success of his first foray into the beauty world Ryan developed several other skin care products using detoxifying ingredients like salicylic acid, Kakadu plum, and glycolic acid.
Some of the products proved to be just as successful as the original Charcoal Peel Off Mask but others like the ill-fated “Meteor Shower”, which incorporated pumice and charcoal into a body wash turned out to be a disaster.
Whilst it sounded good in principle to use the absorbent properties of charcoal and pumice to remove grime and pollution from your skin it didn’t work well in practice as it turned customers’ beautiful white bathrooms into a black mess.
This proved to be an invaluable lesson for Ryan who from that moment onwards made sure to only work with contract manufacturers and formulators who were experienced with the raw materials he was using and had in place suitable testing facilities to ensure that the products would be safe and suitable for use by consumers. Since that time BLAQ has remained loyal to a handful of manufacturers that Ryan personally vetted and has built up trusted relationships.
Describe the process of launching the business.
BLAQ’s first real success in the US market came after the subscription beauty box, FabFitFun, reached out to Ryan to see if he was interested in sampling out BLAQ products to their 2 million plus subscribers.
Whilst at first the idea of getting BLAQ’s products into the hands of over 2 million consumers sounded like an amazing opportunity when he crunched the numbers of what it would cost to produce over two million products to supply FabFitFun the idea was quite daunting.
Whilst the company offered to pay for a portion of the costs of the product Ryan still needed to find quite a lot of cash to make it happen. Doing so was a massive burden but because he believed in the opportunity, he maxed out all of his credit cards and borrowed money from friends and family to make the stock and ship it to the US…The rest, as they say, is history.
BLAQ proved to be a massive hit with FabFitFun customers and ever since that day BLAQ has worked with them and other beauty boxes to get its products into consumers’ hands to try.
Working with the beauty boxes has created massive brand awareness and drawn customers to its website and other online marketplaces. Over the past four years, BLAQ has shipped more than 9 million units to the US market and when you speak to most US consumers, they will tell you that they have received one of BLAQ’s products from a beauty box.
You should always set an annual budget detailing what sales you plan to achieve and what expenses your business is likely to incurring achieving those sales. The more detailed your marketing strategy plan the better.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Whilst working with beauty boxes creates massive consumer awareness it has not come without its problems. The huge volumes of products they require have created some pretty big cashflow headaches. The beauty box model requires manufacturers to supply very large quantities of products at prices well below cost and typically they do not contribute the stock until up to 90 days after they have received it. This means that manufacturers are cash-flowing their marketing activities for up to 180 days before the consumer even sees the product.
Another problem is that it is difficult to predict how many of those people who receive products in the beauty boxes will go on to buy the product from BLAQ’s website, or even worse simply sell those products on Amazon at prices well under the retail value.
To counter these problems BLAQ has been working hard to expand its reach through other media and marketing strategies. Two channels that are working particularly well for BLAQ are Google AdWords and Instagram.
Although the likes and shares seem low, this drove over 3,000 customers to view the product and a huge jump in sales.
Whilst these can both be very costly marketing vehicles and can be very hit-and-miss in terms of results, we have found that getting influencers to talk about our products has helped drive sales. We have found that lifestyle influencers who review products without being tied to any one brand and unsponsored are much more trusted by consumers than influencers who only review products they are paid to talk about. Working with influencers and utilizing social media was pivotal in BLAQ’s success with the peel-off mask. We still work with influencers now, but we have found at times it can be hit-and-miss. You can collaborate with one individual who will drive huge brand awareness and direct sales, but with others, you notice it doesn’t move the needle at all. We’ve focused our attention on micro-influencers recently which can be great for authenticity, however, the category of nano-influencers has been less rewarding. We are looking to give more attention to TikTok content creators and producing reels, so we can utilize the content across all platforms, and also Amazon affiliate influencers where the success of the post is mutually beneficial for both parties.
One of the big advantages of sampling consumers through beauty boxes is that consumers leave honest reviews and have gained thousands of five-star reviews over the last five years consumers feel pretty confident that when they purchase a BLAQ product they are getting a quality product that will live up to its promise. BLAQ is now aiming to expand its reach to other trusted media outlets where consumers can get honest reviews from unbiased authors.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Having now garnered strong consumer awareness BLAQ’s biggest challenge right now is to expand its channels of distribution. Whilst our Amazon and Shopify stores are both profitable without a doubt, to take the brand to the next level we are looking to expand into brick-and-mortar distribution but that is proving to be challenging in the current market with many buyers nervous about taking on new brands.
We will shortly be going into Urban Outfitters which is very exciting for the brand and are also in discussions with retailers like Ulta and Target which we believe will make it significantly easier for consumers to purchase products after receiving them in one of the beauty boxes.
Another key initiative that we are excited about is our partnership with The Trevor Project. They are America’s largest provider of 24/7 crisis support services to LGBTQ young people. It is an organization that Ryan was very passionate about and to help them provide education and support programs to at-risk youths, we are contributing $1 per unit of our new Pumpkin Fresh Peepers sold through BLAQ.co or on Amazon.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Having been involved in several very successful start-up businesses throughout my career I think there are some really important things that every business owner should consider.
Firstly, map out what it is you want to achieve as a business and how you are going to get there. There is a saying that failing to plan is planning to fail and that is certainly true in business. Far too many entrepreneurs have an idea and then just wing it as they go along only to find that they have lost their way and failed. You should always set an annual budget detailing what sales you plan to achieve and what expenses your business is likely to incurring achieving those sales. The more detailed your marketing strategy plan the better. It is always better to underestimate your sales and overestimate your expenses and set milestones for when each stage of your business plan will be achieved.
Secondly, whilst it is important to have a vision for where you want to take the business and when you want to achieve those goals, be prepared to pivot if things don’t go to plan. From my experience, it always takes a lot longer than you expect to reach your goals. Pivoting does not necessarily mean giving up on your long-term goals, but it might involve changing your short-term strategy to reach your longer-term goal.
Finally, stay focused on your business plan. I have seen far too many entrepreneurs who after achieving initial success lose sight of the end goal and go off on a hundred tangents that waste time and resources rather than maintaining focus on the primary objectives. If your goal is to achieve sales of a million widgets over the year and you are halfway to that goal don’t suddenly start getting excited about developing a new product or sales channel and distract the team from the core focus unless you have good reason to do so.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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