Find your niche. Figure out what it is that will separate your brand from countless others. When you’re competing in a crowded space, you have to know what makes you stand out. For Merlot, we started with a specific ingredient focus — grape seed — and expanded the product line by honing the product core. We knew that ingredient would be a central part of every product we developed.
As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Wayne Beckley, CEO & Founder of Merlot Skin Care.
Beckley founded Merlot Skin Care in 2001. In addition to his role as CEO, Beckley serves as the brand’s lead product developer. He has served on the advisory board for the Health and Beauty America (HBA) conference and brokered business partnerships in Japan, China, and other countries. He holds three U.S. patents and numerous trademarks, and has a B.S. from Purdue University and an M.A. in Education from Ball State University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Absolutely. I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life, in one way or another, but I’d never thought specifically about the beauty industry. In the 1980s and 90s, I’d developed a line of car care products, a brand called KolorKey, and I had experience with chemistry and product formulation.
In my personal life I’ve always had an interest in health and wellness. One night I was watching an episode of “60 Minutes,” which highlighted the features of red wine. I instantly became intrigued about the benefits of grape seeds and the power of antioxidants, and started to learn everything I could. I thought that if these antioxidants could be good for the inside, then it stood to reason they could be good for the outside as well.
Of course I didn’t know the first thing about the beauty industry. And most people in their late 50s aren’t looking to jump into something completely new. But if you’re an entrepreneur and have an idea you really believe in, you have no choice but to pursue it. That relentless belief in an idea is so essential, especially as your business grows — you can’t fake enthusiasm for a product you don’t believe in.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I grew up in Lynnville, Indiana, a rural town of around 400 people in the 1950s. I went from elementary through high school with the same 17 people. During high school I played basketball and played in the band, so at halftime during a game, I’d have to pick up my instrument, play a few songs, and then get back on the court for the second half.
In 2012 or 13 I was sitting in a hotel room in Tokyo watching TV and a commercial came on for First Crush, a facial wash I’d created. To be across the world and see a product I’d developed appear on television felt like a marker of how far I’d come; a little boy from Lynnville. It was an emotional moment.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
In terms of sales, the tipping point really came when we were able to figure out how to promote. We knew that customers were having a good experience with our products, but many people just didn’t know about the brand. After we’d gotten into Walgreens stores, we had to figure out the promotional piece. Getting accepted into a retailer is its own challenge, but that doesn’t instantly guarantee success. You have to make sure you can sell once you’re accepted. A retailer may provide visibility and access to customers, but the brand has to close the sale.
We realized we needed to provide educational training and incentives for beauty advisors who worked in-store. These were the folks interacting with customers, answering questions, and giving advice. One year I spent more than 30 weeks on the road, traveling to different cities to do brand education seminars. This made a big difference is increasing brand awareness, and adding a personal touch.
Giving beauty advisors the chance to meet the founder and ask questions really made them brand advocates. As a founder you’re your best evangelist, and really the one whose enthusiasm is going to carry over to other people.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My wife, Michele, has seen all the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur. In my previous business, developing car care products, I used our kitchen and garage for all kinds of experiments and she wasn’t always thrilled about the pots, pans, and towels I was using to test formulas.
In the early days of Merlot I shipped products out of our garage, until the volume necessitated a warehouse. When Merlot really started to get traction, at some point I convinced Michele to formally join the company. She has the patience for details that I don’t, and she’s been essential to growing the international piece of our business. As thrilling as it is to see your ideas come to life, sometimes there are a lot of detailed elements needed to make it come together, and I really couldn’t do that without her.
Plus, we’ve made Merlot a family company, with our children, Nicole and Drew, bringing their expertise to the business — building out our digital and ecommerce channels.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The global beauty industry today has grown to more than a half a trillion dollar business. Can you tell us about the innovations that you are bringing to the industry? How do you think that will help people?
We are always researching new ingredients to develop the best formulas we can. Every new concept starts with the ingredients and we really want to deliver results for people.
This year we’ve been working on new delivery systems for combating environmental damage, utilizing a spray for our Anti-Pollution Mist, and releasing a large sized full body lotion — something we’ve seen a big demand for.
Ultimately it’s always our goal to create products people will love and be able to use for a long time. People like to try new things, but when they find something that really works for them, they want to stick with it.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry?
- The number of indie skin care brands has grown tremendously, and most are utilizing new ingredients. To survive as an indie brand, you have to have a niche, and often that means an ingredient focus. That’s definitely how Merlot started and it’s encouraging to see other brands using that methodology. It encourages innovation.
- There’s room for more targeted products. We’re starting to see more formulas developed to respond to specific needs — eczema, psoriasis, sensitivity — rather just than broad catch-all products. That’s really providing a benefit to the consumer by responding to their specific needs.
- Customers are more engaged than ever. Thanks to social media and online retail channels, customers have more education about ingredients and care about what goes into their products and how they are made. There’s more of a two-way conversation happening with customers and it helps meet their needs and makes for better products.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?
1) Where traditional retail is concerned, the space is still centered on large brands. It’s hard to be a small player and break in to those larger retail channels. Small brands need more opportunities to reach larger audiences, with the awareness that they don’t have the same spending budgets. As much as possible small brands really have to develop their fan base, customers who will advocate for them and help expand their reach. And, it’s in a retailer’s interest to welcome a brand that may invite a new type of customer.
2) There needs to be heightened awareness about fraudulent products or product imitators. When a product reaches a certain level of success there are often imitators and those products may be created with lower quality ingredients. Making sure that your customers are savvy and trying to own your space as much as possible is really important.
3)Keep an eye on digital shopping channels and how they may be gamed. As a trusted brand you should be the go-to source for your product, but re-sellers and diverters can undercut brands, sell old product, do reputational damage, or create price erosion. Keep track of your inventory and shipping and handling policies, and monitor your Amazon store and other digital storefronts you may have.
You are an expert about beauty. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”?
It’s been said many times, but confidence is beautiful. When we feel good about ourselves, that really contributes to how we appear.
We’re hearing a lot of people now talk about “self care,” and taking care of ourselves, as much as possible, is always important. That goes beyond applying products. It also includes how we think about our diet, what we do to exercise, and how we spend our free time.
And, it’s something we have to do over the long haul. I’m 76 now and I try to eat healthy, ride my bike and get exercise every day and keep my body feeling good.
We have customers who are in their 80s and they’ll call or write in to us and tell us that they’ve been using our Moisturizer for years and they get compliments on their skin. Everybody wants to feel good — when you feel good, it goes a long way to looking good.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, Can you please share “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry.” Please share a story or an example, for each.
- Find your niche. Figure out what it is that will separate your brand from countless others. When you’re competing in a crowded space, you have to know what makes you stand out. For Merlot, we started with a specific ingredient focus — grape seed — and expanded the product line by honing the product core. We knew that ingredient would be a central part of every product we developed.
- Define your brand identity. Before a customer can get to know your brand, you have to know what you’re about — from the name of your company to your logo to your mission statement. Clearly definite all of the identity pieces.
- Continually learn as much as you can about what’s happening in the industry. Subscribe to newsletters, read trade publications, engage in networking and education opportunities. Trends and shifts are constantly evolving and it’s always important to keep a pulse on what’s going on. With so much virtual programming happening now there are new ways to be involved in the industry and gain insights. And many people are happy to give advice and help as they can.
- Develop a marketing strategy. So much of a brand’s success can come down to getting in front of the right audience with the right message. It’s especially challenging at the beginning when you may have a small or nonexistent budget. Do some small tests to see what will move the needle for you — it might be engaging people through an email newsletter, providing sampling opportunities, or doing weekly live video product demonstrations. There’s a large variety of ways (some even free) to reach people. Make an action plan.
- Probably the most important thing currently is defining your digital presence and sales channels. The direct-to-consumer ecommerce space is exploding and will continue to grow. Over the past few years we’ve seen how consumers in Asia are using TMall and Taobao and in the US, social shopping integrations are deepening on platforms like Amazon and Instagram. Shopping will truly be everywhere, so you have to make sure that your brand is ready for it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
For our brand ingredient quality has always been really important. We use ethically sourced ingredients and don’t conduct animal testing. Our products are all manufactured in the USA. As a consumer I think educating yourself about where and how your products are made is important.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t know that I have a specific quote, but I’ve always tried to adhere to a version of the golden rule, to treat others the way you want to be treated. Certainly this applies to business as well — you want to treat your customers the way that you would want to be treated and to give them the best experience you can.
How can our readers follow you online?
Our website: https://www.merlotskincare.com
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
About the Interviewer: Jilea Hemmings is a staunch believer in the power of entrepreneurship. A successful career revamping Fortune 500 companies was not enough for her entrepreneurial spirit, so Jilea began focusing her passion in startups. She has successfully built 6 startups to date. Her passion for entrepreneurship continues to ﬂourish with the development of Stretchy Hair Care, focusing on relieving the pain associated with detangling and styling natural black hair. For far too long, people with tender heads have suffered in pain. Until now.