The search for the perfect shade of lipstick can be a neverending quest for most women and it’s this very problem that inspired sisters Courtney and Kimberley Treacy to start The Lip Lab. From a single salon to now 14 locations in Australia and overseas including Canada, Singapore and the Philippines, The Lip Lab has taken customisation into the beauty arena with great success. Being able to create a custom lipstick (right down to the texture and scent), lip gloss, concealer and foundation has taken the guesswork out of buying staple cosmetics and instead turned it into a creative and fun exercise. Here I chat to Courtney and Kimberley about successfully breaking into an overcrowded beauty market, the one thing that drives them and the biggest turning point in their careers.
What inspired you to start The Lip Lab?
We saw a gap in the market here for personalised, custom blend products and thought it was a great time to start something in Australia. At the time we opened we were the only people doing custom blend on this level. Everyone we showed our idea to loved it as much as we did and this is how we knew we were onto a winner!
What were some of the big learning curves you faced in the beginning of getting your business up and running?
There were a few learning curves—staffing was hard, as we were trying to find staff who shared our passion and commitment.
Our trademark has been a learning curve also. Knowing what we know now, we would have approached our opening differently.
What’s it like working with family?
Funny enough, it’s actually great! Kimberley mainly works from her salon in Camden still, whereas I work full time on The Lip Lab. Once a week we meet at our warehouse, where we grind the numbers and work on strategies to move us forward—be it new products, international openings and basically just a good catch up on what’s happening in the business.
We are great friends and see each other every day, as well as constantly texting and calling each other, so I guess we are lucky!
What’s been the biggest turning point in your career? Why?
A plane trip to Dallas to see a supplier of our mum’s salon, where we discovered the concept in a store there… The lady there gave us a contact, and the rest is history!
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
We both draw inspiration from many people. For example our supplier in the USA has been very kind to us and has mentored us along the way, always helping us with things we had no idea about and guiding us in the right direction.
Our mum is very entrepreneurial and has started a few businesses from scratch. She has always just dived in the deep end, and always seems to make it work. I think we’ve just always had that approach that if you don’t have a go, you’ll never know!
How do you start each day?
Courtney: It’s chaotic! I try to wake before the girls are up (Dempsey 6, Evie 5) – and spend at least an hour working out by myself whilst the house is still quiet. I find it’s the best time to plan my day, and focus of the positive affirmations that I’ve been practising lately.
Breakfast and getting kids ready is a hectic race every morning and once I have the girls at school I head to our Paddington store to either work with customers, train new staff and new store locations.
Kimberley: Like Courtney, I work out each day, but I find that the gym is the best place for me! Both my boys visit the crèche whilst I do my work out (Maddox 4, Caynan 3), and I usually eat healthy food on the run before dropping the boys at pre-school as I work within my own salon five days a week.
For me not working out isn’t an option – if I don’t do it I feel sluggish, and off for the whole day! I’m a big astrology follower so checking my outlook for the day is high on my list when I wake up, and scheduling social media for my salon before the boys wake.
What drives you?
Courtney: Being a single mum, I want to give my girls the best in life that I possibly can and show them that nothing is impossible. Knowing that everything I provide them has come from my own hard work alone is uplifting and pushes me very day.
Kimberley: I’m a perfectionist and I enjoy seeing everything I’ve set my heart on come to fruition. I’m very hard on myself in both a professional and personal sense, and it drives me daily to see how much further I can push myself!
What are some tools – whether it be a gadget, an app, a favourite site – that help you manage your business?
We love Get Timely for our online bookings, which has been a total godsend! It has freed up our phone lines so that customers are able to book online, and can book any time of the day or night. We use it purely for the appointment book, and market via MailChimp and SMS.
iPhone Calendar is a lifesaver, and both Microsoft Office and our MacBooks gets used constantly. Appswise, we love Shade Scout which allows you to spotlight colours in any photo and find makeup in the exact Pantone shade family. You can also try the makeup on in real time without ever opening the packaging. You just use your front-facing camera to start a video feed, and the shade will virtually appear on your face.
We also love [photographer] Kenneth Willardt’s book The Beauty Book and the apps Bellashoot, Nail Snob and Plum Perfect!
What do you think has been the key to your success?
Hard work and not giving up. It would have been easy to give up so many times, but we ploughed on.
Offering a product that was not only of a high quality, but a fun and interactive experience, is also helpful. We really researched this product before we launched and fine-tuned it, to ensure that customers would get the best experience and product
Where do you hope to take your business in future?
We have sold three licences under a different name in Canada, the Philippines and Singapore, and have just secured a huge deal in the Middle East. We are looking to expand in India and Pakistan (over 400 enquiries so far) and eventually Europe, USA and [more locations in] Asia.
Towards the end of the year we will be launching a Blend Your Own perfume series in store, which is exciting as it will cater not just to women but will also offer men’s fragrances as well.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in your career?
Keep your cards close to your chest before you open, so that when you do no one can pull the rug out from under you! We are currently working on a totally new business that is not makeup and, although we are busting to show everyone, we have to wait until launch day and trademark objection dates have passed until we shout it from the rooftops!
How do you stay driven?
Regular meetings with each other and setting goals/ having a vision board works for both of us.
What’s your working style? I.e where do you love to work? What’s your most productive time of day?
Courtney: I’m very ‘by the seat of my pants’, in that I’m rather cruisey. I love the days I head to Paddington as I can also have a sneaky shopping day on the side, but I also love the days I can work from home!
The hours between 6AM and 9AM are my most productive times where I return emails, plan my day and get ready for the onslaught ahead. If I am at home, however, I do get distracted easily… And by 10AM, I’m off catching up with friends for coffee and then lunch.
Kimberley on the other hand is regimented down to the minute. She loves to be at the salon, seeing clients and working on her business. She is productive all day, from the time she wakes up until when her head hits the pillow. She multi tasks so much more easily than I do!
What’s your number one social media tip for someone starting a business?
Make sure you have someone good doing your social media. We used some staff for a while to save on costs, and it didn’t look sharp or stylish. It’s worth every cent, especially when you look back over posts and see the difference.
Also try and do some one day courses in social media so you are across what is current and what works. Find out when your audience is watching and following you, so you’re posting at the crucial times and stay engaged with your followers.
Finally don’t limit yourself just to social media as you may be missing out on a whole demographic of people who don’t use [social media] platforms.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give to anyone starting a business, especially in the crowded beauty market?
Firstly know your market, and what it is that they want. Is there a need for your product? Are there other similar products? If so, how can you stand out?
Finally… plan, plan and plan some more! Write down everything you want to achieve, and refer back to it often. We look back at what we wrote three years ago and we are on track 90 per cent of the time. There’s been a few ideas we’ve discarded along the way, and others we’ve honed and improved upon. Always surround yourself with good solicitors, accountants and PR/social media people… It will always pay off in the end!
Looking for more career inspiration? Check out my Girlboss Q&A with The Daily Edited founder, Alyce Tran