In an age where companies like Squarespace and Wix make it seem so easy to start an online business, I am always challenged to fully explain the hundreds of steps required to bring an idea to reality. Imagine standing in a shower and taking a brief, six second thought all the way to someone’s front door in Toronto, Canada. I won’t be able to cover each decision step in building Lac Rose but I can highlight key phases which brought the concept to life.
In 2016, I decided to build a hair product line that catered to women with curly hair. I found most brands to either be out of touch with the natural hair movement or simply uninteresting. In addition to the products performing well for a variety of hair types, I wanted the brand to resonate in aesthetics and sourcing with women just like me.
Here is a detailed look at what it took to create Lac Rose from concept to launch and profit.
Concept and Design
As you probably know, design matters. Design is one of your first impressions with a consumer and can often break the chain of confidence if the impression is underwhelming. Since I’ve worked on many projects, I commissioned my friends and designers to assist me with the project.
When we first began the discovery process, I so badly wanted to blue sky and simply make a brand in a silo and without consideration for pricing impact. I fell in love with a design concept which featured a dark aesthetic with vibrant pops of colors giving a tropical sense. It seemed fitting since my test batches had a citrus but clean scent. It dawned on me that since I was creating all of my products by hand, they would cost more than the average $8 product on Target shelves today. Knowing that, I chose a design that was more fitting for high-end products, allowed me to splurge more on higher quality ingredients and boasted a fun but distinct edge.
Thank you Rebecca for your awesome work!
Before I could spend a great deal of time worried about packaging, I first had to create formulas. If you would have asked me five years ago if I would be interested in cosmetic chemistry, I would have rolled my eyes however I found the learning effort to be not only challenging but equally satisfying. A great deal of time went into researching purity, equipment chemical reactions, and stable emulsions (the latter one really got me). My initial formulas took around 2–3 months where I’d create batches around six hours a day until the formula performed as intended.
In addition to creating formulas for Lac Rose’s initial Essentials Collection, I spent much of my time reading (and learning) cosmetic regulations for both the USA and additional countries I’d ship to. To simplify, in America, cosmetics are not FDA- approved but they are FDA-regulated. Regulations extend to labels, ingredients, manufacturing and testing. In all honesty, I have single-handedly contributed to at least one thousand views to the fda.gov website in 2017.
Sourcing posed a unique challenge because I am bound to the limitations and pricing of manufacturers that I can afford. Before setting my hopes up for a flop, I spent time setting a target price for each product. For example, if I knew that a Curl Butter would not sell for more than $18, I had to fit containers, labels, ingredients, labor, shipping materials, and profit markup into the cost of the product. By the end of it, I had only a few cents to dollars to spend across each of these categories. Supply vendors were chosen according to price allowances and quality.
My first major setback came with my print vendor who was responsible for labels. To my own folly, I did not choose the proper material for the type of plastic container I ordered. When I was hand applying labels, I wasn’t able to easily pull the label off and re-apply without destroying the label all together. Additionally, the print vendor sent the wrong spec size for labels. Since budget was tight, I couldn’t simply re-order without sharing proof that they printed the wrong size and ultimately the resolution path set me back by two weeks from the intended launch date.
To further push this idea of an ‘upscale product,’ I decided to go with a metal shell top for the Essentials Collection products. This boosted the cost for materials quite a bit. Since the quality of ingredients and labor were static costs, the hit initially came to the profit margin. As a result of this risky decision, we were able to move forward with the high end silver metal tops and it actually resulted in more customer attraction than if we were to move forward without them. I’ll speak more on that later.
Refining the Process
It was very important to me that the products be made fresh each week for customers. Part of this was because of the ingredients used and also because of the values of the natural hair subculture I was serving. I quickly figured out that while I was successfully creating the products on a consistent basis, it was sucking me of energy and time. I had to implement efficiencies quick especially if I planned to scale at a healthy rate.
I decided to make two major investments: a bottling machine and a label alignment applicator. Shopping for the proper machinery was a burden given there are little resources to help you make the right purchase decision. I spent time researching manufacturing sites to find machines that would fit both my materials, budget and volume. After several weeks of research and adding each to my ops, I was able to save approximately 30% of my time spent on product creation.
Once all of the products were created and I was ready to begin shipping, it was time to prepare for a soft launch. This involved creating the collections, photographing them and creating informative product descriptions.
For soft launch, I didn’t have a lot of money to dedicate to a $2,500 photo shoot for products that had not yet proved they’d sell at a justifiable volume for the cost. Instead, I decided to set up my own photography rig to get the job done for soft launch. Using poster board, IKEA tables and inexpensive lighting, I was able to get basic product photos for the e-commerce store and for social media. Since this was done in house, it saved my budget and allowed me experiment more with content creation for the brand overall.
Later, I hired Megan Weaver to help me with professional photography when the time was right. Since I luckily had an apartment with great light, Megan joined me in my home one Saturday afternoon and was able to elevate the brand photography available to us. Additionally, we grabbed photos of me, the creator, so that consumers could more closely connect with the handmade product line. As a result, the messages received across DM began to address me as a person rather than Lac Rose as a brand — something that always brought a smile to my face — and ask for my personal advice on their hair journey.
E-commerce Point of Sale
Everything is great when it’s just for you and your friends to observe. Releasing your vision into the wild comes at the cost of extreme vulnerability. I decided to use Shopify for Lac Rose’s store front since the fulfillment system was already in place. The store quickly went up and I admit, I spent a great deal of time designing the homepage only to decide to move forward with a simple template. I highly suggest using a modest template for the early part of any conceptual journey so that you can focus on the guts of the story — the real end product and not the tray you serve it on.
The store was more than a title and pictures but it required a various number of thoughts and hours of consideration to create descriptions, SEO keywords, copy, pages, etc. These things add up over time and can either become tedious details that stifle you from launching or can become a positive contribution to your store.
Lac Rose was a pilot project that ran for about 12 months from concept to profit. While there are many variables, lessons and challenges that can be emphasized, the best remnant of the product is knowing that curly haired women are thirsty for a brand that caters to them in an authentic and high-end way.
Lac Rose gathered roughly 4,000 Instagram supporters, many repeat customers, and crossed the profit line in less than six months. Out of the hundreds of messages I received from women who wanted to become brand ambassadors or wanted our product shipped to their home country, my favorite messages came from women who simply adored how our products looked on their bathroom sinks. In the product development stage, I was concerned that the extra splurge on silver metal containers would cut into profits however the additional investment in our supplies resulted in greater attraction and customers long term.
Part of me will always want to keep Lac Rose afloat as my baby and a testament to the unique challenge I faced in e-commerce and cosmetic manufacturing. However, I do know that other great projects are ahead where I can bring a concept to life and validate it to the point of profit. Perhaps in the future I will resurrect Lac Rose but for now I have chosen to sunset the brand.
In the meantime, I am still debating what I should do with Lac Rose – share the recipes, in depth series on how I bootstrapped, or any other ideas. What do you think I should do to help Lac Rose live on?