OXFORDSHIRE, United Kingdom — Behind her bubbly and blithe personality, Marcia Kilgore is a buckled-down businesswoman who knows a thing or two about disrupting the beauty space. Taking the stage at VOICES, BoF's new annual gathering for big thinkers, held in partnership with QIC Global Real Estate, she spoke of how growing up in a working-class, suburban town in Saskatchewan, Canada, helped shape her path.
“I was a bored teenager, with not much to do. It was cold. I felt that I didn’t fit in there. There just wasn’t much stimulation,” she said. At 17, she moved to New York and worked as a personal trainer. But her financial situation was by no means rosy: “I was stranded with only $300.” So she decided it was time to kick-start her own projects to occupy — and fund — herself.
Kilgore’s first big project was reinventing the once-dull spa experience with Bliss Spa, which she launched in the 90s. Offering a unique blend of skincare expertise, downtown cool style and witty copy on its products, Bliss quickly became a New York hotspot, and attracted the eye of LVMH, which bought a majority stake in her company for $30 million just three years later.
The success of Bliss came down to providing the best experience for the customer. “I built Bliss Spa without enough money to pay contractors,” Kilgore admitted. “Vogue wrote something nice about us and 30,000 people called us up, because they wanted to buy our face cream,” which added a much-needed injection of cash into the business.
Yet, after the unexpected promotion, customers continued to return. “Listen to what your customer wants and provide the best for her,” she advised. “If you ever have to make a choice, the one that is best for the customer [and] increases trust is always the right one. Be patient and you’ll win in the long run.”
The beauty mogul had similar success with Soap & Glory, her second tongue-in-cheek product range, which she launched in 2006 and later sold to British beauty chain Boots. The following year, she launched the Fitflop brand, selling thick-soled, jaunty-coloured sandals that provide orthopaedic relief.
“I’ve sold three businesses now. I very often ask myself, why are you doing this? What it comes down to is the experience in my childhood. There are different experiences I’ve had that make me always want to be a part of something. I never want to be left out,” said Kilgore, explaining her early relationships with family and friends, in which she felt disconnected.
“It’s an attitude of whether you want to follow your own drum, or beat someone else’s,” she added. “[Not] everyone wants to be an entrepreneur.”
Now, Kilgore is working on a new project: Beauty Pie, launched this year, offers luxury beauty products at factory prices. By removing the middleman and selling cosmetics direct from the factory, Beauty Pie can charge $6 for a foundation that is made in the same factory as a premium beauty brand that charges over $40.
“Everyone can have an idea but you need to execute. So many people don’t have a starting point. I read books constantly. I listen to audio books and podcasts. There’s so much good information out there,” said Kilgore, adding that young entrepreneurs must do their research before reaching out for advice. “Work hard, do your homework, be ready.”
Pointing to a Bridget Riley image behind her, depicting circles laid out on a grid pattern, Kilgore said she had picked this specific image for the talk “because art is mathematical and it shows something I always use as an analogy, which is connect the dots.”
“I always tell people that what you’ve read, where you’ve been, the things that have gone right and wrong for you are like dots, and if you connect your dots, it’s very different from everyone else’s,” she explained. “So my advice is to meet as many people as you can [and] ask as many questions, because that's your opportunity in life.”
“Take your dots and put it all in a grid and execute it with rigour and discipline, so you can achieve something beautiful,” she concluded.