Iman sits down with BusinessWeek and shares her mass market distribution model. She explains why she launched her cosmetics line and pushed for placement next to major brands instead of “ethnic” products.
“When I started my cosmetics company, I wanted to be the black Estée Lauder. I wanted to be big. I knew that there was a potentially huge niche market in cosmetics and skincare for women of color.
Initially I launched my brand with J.C. Penney. At the time, they were building their own cosmetics department. The decision made sense; they had the customer base and they were willing to support the brand.
In 2003 Penney decided to move in another direction and opted to phase out cosmetics. It forced me to quickly consider my next move. Yes, we were a huge success at the beginning, but I learned it is staying in business that is the difficult part. You have to keep your eye on the ball. With the end of my relationship with Penney, I had to determine what kind of sales distribution I needed going forward.
When we decided to go mass market, we were very strategic about it. We specifically chose partners located in areas where we already had a customer base that understood our product.
We didn’t jump in; we treaded carefully. Instead of selling the brand in every store of each chain, we sold our products in 50 doors for each retailer because we didn’t want to get lost in the shuffle. Don’t get me wrong, the distribution that mass chains can provide is great, but we wanted to do it carefully, so we didn’t lose our customers’ trust that we had worked so hard to develop. To do so, we mapped out where our clients were within the larger map of the chains. Once we knew where our customers were, we talked to the retailers about placing us in those stores.
We even told them where we wanted to be in the store. We told them to put us in the front with the other major brands. It gave the store credibility and told customers that the store valued them. Usually, they put our kind of product in the back with the “ethnic brands.” It was such an outdated concept. We also told the stores that we needed 3 feet of wall space. We wanted to keep the entire line together and not separate the skin and beauty lines. It made sense for customers who didn’t want to hunt it down all over the store. We explained that it would also be more profitable for the stores if the line was sold like this. It was also a lesson for the retailers – many said they never had people of color representing people of color.
There were other things to think about as well. We had to make some adjustments repositioning the line from a department store, such as changing the packaging to make it more visible on store shelves before, when we sold it at the counters at J.C. Penney, a sales clerk helped promote it. We also lowered the price points about 25%, but we ended up making up for the cut through volume. What we didn’t change was the quality of the formulations themselves.”