We sit down with rising star of the cosmetics industry, Charlotte Miskell and discuss the success of her growing business – Contour Cosmetics.
I first read about Charlotte Miskell in September 2016 after she won Best B2C E-Commerce website at the Northern E-Commerce awards following the launch of her make-up brand, Contour Cosmetics.
Disappointingly, her achievement was not the reason why Miskell was featured in the press. Instead, like many women, Miskell was subjected to an online barrage of tasteless and misogynistic comments on LinkedIn in response to a picture she posted holding her award from the night. Perhaps even more frustratingly, Miskell’s achievements and success in business were glossed over in the subsequent press-frenzy. Undoubtedly, online harassment and sexism deserve condemnation but not at the loss of the individual success story that prompts such responses.
Miskell herself is all too aware of this. When I first approached her, she made it quite clear that she is ‘not interested in the focus being on anything negative like sexism in business.’ Whilst others might stick to the old adage that any publicity is good publicity, Miskell has declined interviews discussing the LinkedIn controversy, explaining that ‘it’s a distraction from what I am about and what I’m trying to achieve.’
So who exactly is Charlotte Miskell? For those that don’t know, she’s an entrepreneur that owns the brands Contour Cosmetics and Niko Pro Tools. Both are successful beauty brands and e-commerce businesses. In her own words, ‘e-commerce is my thing and I am looking to constantly stay on trend with new products coming to market and grow my offering for my customers.’
Miskell’s story is inspirational for any entrepreneur seeking an example to follow. There is never a blueprint for success, but if there was Miskell’s example would be a contender. What’s most impressive is the simplicity in her approach and the acute awareness of an already competitive and crowded market. Miskell first identified a gap in the cosmetics market after trying to source a contour palette online. At that time the only product available was a powder contour kit from a business in the USA.
‘The shipping was horrendous and there was no stock available,’ explains Miskell but she spotted the opportunity immediately. In her own words, Miskell knew ‘these guys were onto something’ and immediately started her market research. Once she had found her gap, she sourced a UK manufacturer and Contour Cosmetics was born.
From the outset, Miskell was quite clear in her ambitions. ‘I didn’t want anything white-labelled, I wanted to create a great quality, unique product,’ she explains. For that reason Miskell ensured that ‘the name, logo, packaging, shades within the palette, smell of the make up – everything was developed to my exact specifications.’
After a development process lasting 12 months, Miskell’s patience was rewarded with a product that she was proud to sell. She admits, however, that patience did not come naturally to her. ‘The most frustrating thing about creating products has to be the wait, it’s so frustrating when you want to get going,’ but with experience ‘I have learnt to be more patient now, thankfully for my suppliers!’
Miskell doesn’t shy away from admitting her naivety. Once the product was ready to sell, she ‘imagined I would turn my website on with my amazing new product and it would fly out of the door.’ As the business grew, so did Miskell’s experience and she quickly learnt ‘that isn’t how it works. It takes day after day plugging the products in as many different and creative ways as you can to get it to your target audience.’
By all accounts, Contour Cosmetics truly was an amazing new product. In Miskell’s terms, the first month in sales may have been frustratingly slow but in only her second month of trading the business turned over 5 figures and within 6 months this had grown into a 6 figure income. To put this into perspective, many business would consider themselves lucky to break even in the first 12 months and even more go out of business within this time. These figures only further act to reinforce that Miskell has identified and capitalized upon a gap in the market with single-minded determinedness and hard work.
The product was given a boost after a social media post by MUA Mario Dedivanovic who used Contour Cosmetics to create a flawless look for Kim Kardashian, but Miskell realised just how popular her product was in the first Christmas after its launch. ‘Our first Christmas was insane, that’s when it hit me.’ At that time, Miskell was still running a relatively unsophisticated and small outfit, using a small desk printer to print orders. ‘One day we had 1,100 orders and I had 2 members of staff. It was crazy!’
Business wasn’t always at the forefront of Miskell’s aspirations. At school she harboured ambitions of becoming an actress and subsequently completed a degree in performing arts. Try as she might, her career in acting never took off. Instead, Miskell landed a role in a marketing company but admits that she always had ambitions of working for herself after witnessing first-hand her brother James’ success in e-commerce. ‘I loved seeing him grow so quickly and he really inspired me.’
This further propelled her desire to start her own business. ‘I would sit and draw logos and think of brand names as if I had my own company. I decided, after chatting to my Dad one day, that the best place to start would be to start a company doing something I was already involved in.’
In 2012, Sweetheart Marketing was formed and led to Miskell’s e-commerce companies. Whilst SM grew from a conversation with her father, Miskell is keen to impress that his influence was far greater than just her first business. ‘My biggest influencer has been my Dad. I have always wanted to be in business and he has certainly been a massive part of that.’
The pair’s personal relationship continues to thrive. Not only was he the first to invest in the business, a decision that Miskell considers to be ‘the best thing I ever did’ for the business, but for her ‘he’s just like my best mate.’
Whilst her business life has grown from strength to strength, it’s also quite clear that Miskell has kept firmly grounded. After growing in the Yorkshire countryside, the family moved to Burnley where all her business activities started. ‘I have a great relationship with all my brothers and my parents. My friends are super supportive too, I am very lucky I have all my friends from school still.’
Contour Cosmetics continues to grow at a relentless pace. Given Miskell’s background in digital marketing, the products were sold via website and social media accounts but last year moved into retail in the UK. ‘I’d have like to have moved into retail quicker,’ she admits. ‘but I just didn’t have a strong enough supply chain at that time.’
Miskell has also been surprised by the demand from the UAE. ‘It wasn’t a market I knew well so its great to see how much we send out to places like Qatar and Dubai.’ This year there are plans to move into retail in the US, China and further into Europe.
Advertising changes on social media platforms such as Instagram have made life difficult for Miskell to direct traffic to her websites. ‘Followers and fans aren’t seeing posts as often so that’s a challenge as it affects website hits which of course in turn can affect sales, so its more important than ever to be creative with your marketing.’
I get the impression that such an obstacle is one that Miskell only sees as an inconvenience to expanding her business empire. ‘One thing I have never been scared of is risks or failure. If my gut tells me something is a good idea I just go for it, no questions asked. I think this is woman’s intuition!’
This drive and determination is clearly palpable. Miskell seems too positive to have a chip on her shoulder that many entrepreneurs have, but she admits that ‘people have always underestimated me but I quite like that. I have always had the attitude that I can do anything, I still do.’
Whilst Miskell’s positivity shines through, her success is not down to accident. Her team would describe her as ‘bossy but fair’ and whilst the team have fun in the office, Miskell ‘expects a certain level of work and I am not shy in asking for that.’
One thing that makes Miskell’s achievements even more impressive is that they have not come at the cost of her personal life. Her partner and she have recently bought their first home and she has ‘got over feeling guilty every time I am not in the office or going in late. Now if I want to work from home I will. I do love being in the office though I get bored on my own!’
Whilst Contour Cosmetic may be a jewel in the Miskell crown and Niko Pro continues to grow, she doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon. ‘In 10 years I would love to have a portfolio of lots of different companies and brands. I get so excited by trends and new products. I have nearly started many companies from wine to phone cases. There’s so much I want to do and try.’
There’s no doubt that in a decade with her drive, energy and enthusiasm the Miskell brand, companies and business interest will be continuing to grow strong. Her final piece of advice for entrepreneurs?
‘I think if you know you can do something and you’re good at it or your product is good just have faith and go for it. People will tell you it’s a bad idea, but look at the person that’s telling you that. If it an industry professional I would probably listen to them, if its Bob from down the local I wouldn’t pay any attention, just believe in yourself and get ready to work bloody hard and learn even more.’
Contour Cosmetics are available online at www.contourcosmetics.co.uk
Niko Pro brushes are available online at www.nikopro.co.uk