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The CEO of Trinny London explains how she grew her DTC beauty brand to $52 million in annual revenues within 4 years

Business

Trinny Woodall London

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Trinny Woodall is best known as one half of the fashion duo Trinny and Susannah. The pair hosted the BBC makeover show “What Not To Wear” for five years, wrote fashion books, and worked as stylists for “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

But over the past seven years, Woodall has also been building a DTC cosmetics empire.

Woodall launched Trinny London in October 2017, and it’s already bringing in millions in revenues.

In the year to March 9 – which aligns almost exactly with when the UK’s lockdown first started – the brand’s gross revenue reached £42 million ($58.4 million), the company told Insider.

“The right amount of click”

Woodall dreamed up her brand around seven years ago, but she spent around three years researching and developing both formulas and technology before launching Trinny London in October 2017.

Woodall had spoken to hundreds of makeup artists during her career as a personal stylist, and from the start, she had a clear idea of what she wanted her brand to be.

She wanted a DTC brand, with some pop-up sites. She wanted personalized, premium, and cream-based products that were easy to use. 

Trinny London is competing in a crowded beauty space with DTC brands such as Glossier, Billie, and Ilia Beauty growing as shoppers stay at home and shop online.

And established beauty brands are also adopting new technologies to boost their DTC sales during the pandemic: L’Oréal, for example, has been ramping up spending on virtual try-on technology, social commerce, and personalization.

One differentiator for Trinny London is how the products are packaged — many come in small pots that click together to create a stack. Woodall said she was tired of carrying a makeup bag overflowing with products.

Trinny London Woodall

But the first prototype was made by 3D printer, and when it came back “I burst into tears because it was so far removed from that beautiful thing I wanted.”

She continuously tweaked the product until she got “the right amount of click,” she said. The pots also had to be suitable for hot pouring, which is used because the products, made in Italy, are cream-based.

The biggest challenge as a DTC was making online shopping easier, she said. Makeup personalization was previously limited. This personalization is important to make customers more comfortable with shopping online so that they can ensure the shades suit them, Woodall said.

Makeup personalization can be a challenge with online shopping, so Woodall’s team developed an algorithm called Match2Me to help guide shoppers to the right product and shade. She said the software asks clever questions, but “asks the easy things first.”

“We ask them their eye color first because we feel every woman knows her eye color, and then we ask we ask them hair color, and then we ask them skin,” Woodall said.

Trinny London's Match2Me algorithm

Around 50% of consumers use Match2Me to buy the products, she said.

And alongside its high-tech algorithms, Trinny London also uses a team of around 130 non-professional models aged from 17 to 83 to show what its products look like on people with different skin tones, hair colors, ages, and complexions.

“That sense of inclusivity was key,” Woodall said. “You wouldn’t just be looking at an 18-year-old.”

Beauty brands been embracing diversity by offering a wider range of shades and pledging to remove terms such as “normal” and “whitening” from their products. Rihanna’s brand Fenty Beauty became a market leader when it launched with 40 shades of foundation. 

Woodall’s started the business by raising £150,000 ($208,000) in a Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme from two investors, which she used for research and development towards the prototype. She also sold some personal possessions, including clothes, to raise money, and now counts Unilever as one of her investors.

And business has grown rapidly ever since.

The brand now has 141 employees and is actively hiring for more. Around a third of the staff work in tech, and the vast majority are women, including the scrum master.

“You want the scrum master to be a woman in tech,” Woodall said. “That’s a job that a woman can navigate incredibly well.”

Customers shape the brand

The brand has had a much more sustained growth than Woodall expected. When she launched the brand she initially projected that between 2% and 3% of her social media followers would buy products, and said this was her only basis for forecasting revenues prior to launch – but the brand now has a total customer base of around half a million, she told Insider.

This is primarily driven by returning customers. She never wanted hyper-growth, she told Insider. DTCs are about retention, and she wanted to build her brand using have loyal customers as “solid bricks,” she said.

“I’m not in the business to have a squillion customers with a very low retention rate,” she said.

A distinct part of Trinny London’s brand is the so-called Trinny Tribes, grassroots groups of supporters who created online communities to discuss the brand’s products and share makeup tips.

Trinny London didn’t launch the Tribes itself. Groups of fans across the world had created the Facebook groups, and Woodall didn’t actually discover them until around three months after the brand’s launch. But she knew these groups could be valuable to the brand.

“They’re your harshest critics, they’re your biggest champions,” she said. But they feel an autonomy that allows them to speak freely.”

So she decided to create a logo for the Tribes, and appoint some of the members as unpaid ambassadors. The ambassadors receive the products pre-launch, and in return, they send her feedback.

 

There are now more than 30 Facebook groups, split by geographical area, with almost 85,000 members in total. 

And the Tribes are having an influence on the brand.

Woodall said she thinks of the Tribes when she develops new products, calling them the “backbone” of her brand.

“Ready for the pandemic”

Trinny London was “inadvertently very ready for the pandemic,” Woodall said. When she launched the brand, she was set on it being DTC and having an online focus.

But she also wanted to offer pop-up stores within bigger stores for women unused to online.

Prior to the pandemic, around 10% employees of Trinny London’s staff worked in these pop-up stores, which generated around 10% of the brand’s revenues. They allowed women to get personalized recommendations and look at the shades of the products in person.

But when the UK entered lockdown in March 2020, the whole brand had to pivot online.

Trinny London began offering virtual appointments – and 3,000 slots were booked on the first-day appointments opened up.

Around 10% of the brand’s revenue now comes from these virtual appointments, Woodall said. They’re so successful that the brand is planning to continue running them even when the bricks-and-mortar stores reopen, she said.

And despite the pandemic causing many people to work at home and reduce socializing, people are still buying Trinny London’s products. In March 2020, when the UK entered lockdown, the brand stopped online adverts and went quiet on their social media accounts.

But sales didn’t go down, so the brand relaunched its adverts.

People were bored staying at home and had saved money from not commuting or buying coffees, so some took a “risk” by shopping online while non-essential stores were open, Woodall said. Between March and December, the brand’s revenues grew 233%.

Woodall is optimistic about the future of the brand. In particular, she hopes that Trinny London can continue working closely with the Trinny Tribes.

On International Women’s Day, the brand launched a new Lip2Cheek product named after Sherin, one of the Tribe members who has stage four breast cancer. Trinny London is donating 10% of every sale of the product to Sherin’s chosen charity, Breast Cancer Now.

“I hope this is going to be our best-selling Lip2Cheek ever,” Woodall said.

SEE ALSO: KFC, Burger King, and Smashburger are all bringing food lockers to their restaurants. Here’s why they’re poised to be the next big thing in fast food.

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