Launching a male grooming brand 

Hair and makeup artist Lisa Hilton started men's grooming brand Rehab London in 2009 and now turns over £200,000.

SmallBusiness.co.uk talks to her about the journey.

How did you get started?

My background is in hair and makeup in film and TV, and in 2009 I was shaving men on a filmset and finding their faces were raw and in a bad way.

At the time I was using women’s natural products which were oily and viscous and there was nothing on the market that was natural and clean and specific to men’s skin to get their faces through the tough hours. 

I found a lab and I put to them what I wanted from a men’s grooming product, until I had six products i was overjoyed with.

How was it financed?

Development doesn’t represent a lot of upfront costs because a lot of scientists will develop the products for you for free in an attempt to win the manufacturing rights. I only needed £5,000 in savings to start – £1,000 to get a community trademark, which took a year to process, and £3,000 for a graphic designer to do the logo.

After that, I needed to raise proper funds to do my first manufacturing run. However, even though I was a property owner the banks didn’t want to lend, so I went to my locally-funded Business Link for some business planning advice. In the end I raised £25,000 through Hackney Business Ventures, supported by Hackney council. If you’re a property owner you still have to find a personal guarantee for it, but they do lend to higher-risk people in some circumstances.

How was it marketed?

After I manufactured my first run I had something to give to retailers and send out to various newspapers and magazines. We were lucky because the Metro picked us up straight away and profiled us twice, and when you get in there your online sales go through the roof.

We managed to get stocked in Harrods and Harvey Nichols and we gradually became a trusted brand in our space, which prompted an increase in online sales too. Also, we were doing a lot of PR activity in London and at various sports events, and that would feed through on Twitter. One of the newspapers picked up that we were backstage at the Brit Awards and that Robbie Williams loved us. That was translated into 27 languages and went viral.

How is trading in the UK?

The UK high street is so monopolised by the big players like Boots, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and it’s so tough to get established. As a small business, we have to build in 20 per cent VAT into our recommended retail price (RRP).

Even when VAT went up our RRP didn’t because that’s the RRP dictated by the high street. Also, they want all sorts of discounts and settlement fees. In the end with most big stores you deal with in Britain you’ll get about 33 per cent of the invoice actually paid to you after all their discounts and margins and requirements. Anyone who builds a business model just to trade on something only in Britain will have to build in a lot of spare cash flow. Most of our business has actually come from overseas.

Any other challenges?

We recently had a problem where a shipping port held two of our big containers holding 100,000 pieces, and said it’d cost us £4,000 to pick up. They said it was a ‘Chinese port fee’ so we had to legally challenge them for them to remove the fee which they had literally just made up. We had to challenge them legally and we got some money back, but it wasn’t a nice experience. There is a lack of regulation in the country with regards to logistics; it needs to be easier to ship goods in and out of the country.

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