The Collective Magazine gets up close and personal with ModelCo CEO and founder, Shelley Barrett.
Shelley Barrett was recently profiled about the history of ModelCo, what makes the brand so successful and her personal advice for budding entrepreneurs. Read the article Next Top ModelCo, featured in The Collective (June 2015) below.
For Coco Chanel it was hats, saddlebags for Gucci, and for Shelley Barrett, it all started with a heated eyelash curler. “It was a pet project,” she says of the contraption that would come to launch her AU$15 million business. “I had no idea it was going to become the phenomenon that it is or evolve into being the global ModelCo beauty brand we know today.” But as history would have it, she does have a knack for picking a winner.
The idea for the eyelash curler in question came to Shelley in the midst of running her second business venture (after launching a production company at 18), a modelling agency she started at 21 with a lone model (“who wasn’t even tall. She was about five foot five, but she was gorgeous”), which grew over 10 years to have 1200 talent on the books.
“All my models used to come in with these red blow dryer burns on their eyes,” she laughs. “I asked them what it was and they said they were trying to curl their eyelashes. They were heating their oldstyle eyelash curlers with their hairdryers and then applying hair spray! So I thought, wouldn’t it be amazing if I could create this innovative blow dryer for the eyelashes? I really believed in the concept.
“When we launched it into [department store] Myer, we sold about 10,000 in a month, it was huge. Looking back, I can attribute the success of this product to three things: the sheer innovation of the concept; celebrity endorsement – Kylie Minogue and Elle Macpherson said that they loved it; and we launched it during fashion week and in beauty magazines, which gave it credibility in the industry.
“It was at that point I realised that there is a need in the beauty industry for innovative beauty products,” says Shelley. Not the least of which would be ModelCo’s pièce de résistance, the world’s very first tan-in-a-can. “We literally could not keep up with the demand for orders and to this day, one Tan Airbrush in a Can is sold every 36 seconds worldwide.”
But Shelley, who confesses she has a relentless drive to succeed, fuelled by personal ambition and determination, wasn’t always on a winning streak (or streak-free win, in this case). In the midst of the financial crisis, Shelley came close to losing the business when international distribution closed down almost immediately.
“Back then I thought I knew it all, but I actually knew nothing compared to what I know now,” she recalls. “I thank god for the hard times like the [financial crisis]. We had 80 per cent of our sales internationally and 20 per cent locally and I thought, ‘Isn’t this great, I’m just sitting back and everyone around the world is selling my product’, but that was probably the thing that nearly ruined my business.
“The lesson learned? “Keep control of your business and don’t ever let anyone else drive the ship for you – that way you’ll always pull through,” she says, which she did, by refocusing her sights closer to home.
Today, the figures have flipped, with 80 per cent of ModelCo’s turnover coming from Australia, where her products have broadened from more exclusive stores like Myer and David Jones to the shelves of Priceline and chain supermarkets. ModelCo’s prices also dropped by 30 per cent (as did many big beauty brands’ around this time, including L’Oréal) in response to customers’ purse strings tightening.
“I’m constantly thinking about our consumer and trying to understand what she wants,” says Shelley, who trawls social media channels for clues.
“We also have a strategic social media strategy to communicate with our customers and collectively have over 250,000 social media following,” she says.
This feedback loop informs ModelCo’s product – because when the people speak, Shelley says she listens.
“I was driven to enter the skincare beauty category when the results from a recent survey we conducted showed more than 89 per cent of the 8000 respondents wanted to see a natural skincare line added to the ModelCo range,” says Shelley. Thus, last year’s launch of a natural skincare range incorporating pomegranate, acai extract and essential oils.
“I always deliver what my customers want and need,” she says. As for her own needs, Shelley admits, like all working mothers, it’s “incredibly challenging” to strike a healthy balance between work and play.
“I make it a priority to sit down and have breakfast with my girls before the hectic day takes over… [And] I try not to overcommit too far in advance and keep my diary as free as possible. I also strongly believe in taking time out for yourself every week, even if it is just a couple of hours. [It] makes all the difference to managing a hectic schedule,” she offers.
Back to business, and Shelley has this advice for budding entrepreneurs: know the business you’re getting into, back-to-front. “Surround yourself with people who have more knowledge than you and who can guide you through the process.
“Work out the funds you need to start up and then double them! My motto is to never give in, never give up and never take no for an answer,” she says, before turning on her heel. “Oh, and also trust your instinct – it has never failed me before.”
ModelCo recently teamed up with the Collective Hub to create a limited edition lip essentials pack. Three delectable lip gloss shades for $39.95. Shop the product here.