I have long admired Liz Earle MBE, so when the opportunity to hear her speak at the FoundHER Festival, I leapt at the opportunity. Liz co-founded one of my favourite skincare brands, Liz Earle Beauty, which she later sold to Avon for an undisclosed sum. In 2015, the Walgreens Boots Alliance acquired the brand for £140 million.
Liz Earle is a powerhouse. A respected and award-winning authority in the world of beauty, nutrition and well-being for over thirty years, Liz is the bestselling author of more than 30 books. A researcher, writer and television broadcaster, made her name on ITV’s This Morning, and the BBC. Her latest ventures include a quarterly magazine, Liz Earle Wellbeing, and an award-winning range of Fairtrade gold and silver botanical jewellery, Liz Earle Fair and Fine.
The Origins Of Liz Earle Beauty
The company was co-founded by Liz and Kim Buckland, a former marketing executive at the hairdressing giant, John Frieda haircare range. Kim spotted a gap in the skincare market following the explosion of professional haircare ranges like John Frieda, Trevor Sorbie and Charles Worthington. Meanwhile Liz had struggled to find products that were suitable for her eczema prone skin. It was only when a nutritionist advised her to take evening primrose oil to treat the condition that she realised that what we can control our skin through what we put in our bodies and on our skin.
With just four products initially, Liz and Kim began selling their products by mail order in 1995, at a time when, as Earle puts it, “mail order was a dirty word.” They produced beautiful brochures and sent these to friends and family who spread the word. The White Company and Boden both adopted a similar approach around that time.
The company was founded in the kitchen of Liz’s Putney home. The ‘office’ was the guest room. And Liz’s student brother stuffed jiffy bags in the basement.
The following year, the range became the first beauty brand to launch on the television shopping channel QVC, following a call from friend Liz McKnight . The products sold out within 20 minutes of Liz making her first appearance.
When Kim moved to the Isle of Wight, the company set up headquarters there. They employed five operators to man the phones, take down orders, and beautifully hand-tissue-wrap every product before popping them in the post. It was this attention to detail that helped the products to sell like hot cakes.
Build It Slow To Grow It Strong
“Build it slow to grow it strong” is Liz’s mantra. She and Kim self-funded the company, which meant working on a limited marketing budget. Like The White Company, they only opened retail stores once they had built up a solid customer base and reputation through mail order, recommendation and repeat business. And they never advertised.
It was word of mouth recommendation that saw the company grow from the humble beginnings of four products first sold by mail order, to a multi-million pound brand where millions of women – and increasingly men – buy the products in 82 different countries at a rate of more than one a minute.
Exceptional Products Are The Foundation Of Every Successful Brand
‘People aren’t stupid’ says Liz in her typically frank style. They know whether a product is good, and whether it’s over-priced for what it is. The concept was simple. Harness the power of botanicals to offer a dependable, fuss-free beauty regime, and back this up with excellent customer service and honest, expert advice.
The cleanse and polish hot cloth cleanser is a flagship, multi-award winning product. And the company routinely wins awards, recently clocking up its 125th.
You Can Change The World Through The Way You Do Business
Back when she was a journalist for Women’s Journal, Liz started writing about organics ‘when green was a colour, not a political statement.’ She and Kim were advocates for using organic, botanical and ethically sourced ingredients long before eco-warriorism and provenance became fashionable.
Wherever possible, ingredients were sourced from British farmers while the more exotic materials such as argan oil, shea butter and eucalyptus, were sourced from developing countries like Morocco, Sudan, Somalia and Kenya, where Liz also has a home.
The company also employed a team of ethnobotanists who assessed the impact of sourcing a product on its surrounding environment and community to make sure it was sustainable, reliably sourced and fairly traded. While environmental expert Geoff Day has worked with the company to reduce its environmental footprint, and ‘tread lightly.’
Create A Culture Where Everybody Has Ownership
The growth of the brand is in no small part due to the brilliant management team Liz and Kim brought in to run the company. Liz is a fan of the John Lewis employee owned partnership model where staff share in the profits and a say in how the business is run.
At Liz Earle Wellbeing, the majority of staff work from home. This is because Liz doesn’t want her staff, the majority of whom are women and mums, to feel stressed because they have to make a long, unnecessary commute to work or fork out for expensive childcare. When Liz and Kim started out, they stopped work every day at 3pm to pick up their kids from school, and resumed work again after 7pm once they’d gone to bed.
Passion Is What Sustains You
There’s a lot of debate about whether you have to be passionate about what you do or not. Liz is very firmly of the view that you do have to be passionate about your business, because once it takes off, it will become all consuming.
At the point that Liz and Kim sold the company, they had 1.000 employees. Even with a strong management team, running a company of this scale is demanding. And may well take you away from what you really love doing.
It seems this was the case for Liz whose first loves are writing, research and TV. Writing about her decision to step down as global ambassador for the brand she nurtured with such care, Liz said that:
… returning to my first love of writing and TV, with the launch of Liz Earle Wellbeing and a regular spot back on This Morning, the first TV programme I worked on. I feel like I’ve come home.”
What’s Next for Liz Earle?
As I said at the outset of this article, Liz is a powerhouse. I asked her where she wants to take Liz Earle Wellbeing, having already built up one phenomenal brand. She replied that she would like to take the brand global, and spread her wellbeing message. But she did not necessarily see herself growing a huge team.
One thing is for certain, Liz will continue to be a powerful champion for the causes that she’s so passionate about, and she will continue innovating and leading the way, while staying true to her roots.
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I’m Denyse Whillier, a Sussex and London based business coach and consultant. I work with responsible business leaders to build profitable and successful brands that do good, make money and help to change the world. I draw on Built To Succeed™, my proven success system, developed during my 8 years in the trenches as a CEO, to help my clients to achieve their goals.
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