WYLDE Women

Each month, WYLDE MOON will be shining a light on women doing inspirational work in their field.

You can’t talk to Marcia Kilgore – even if it’s just for 30 seconds – and not feel inspired. The true definition of a powerhouse and an unbelievably impressive business woman, Marcia has built five of the biggest consumer brands out there, from Bliss to FitFlop to Beauty Pie, and she’s not showing any signs of slowing down. She’s a mother of two, an entrepreneur and a truly incredible pioneer who executes business ideas that others can only dream of having thought up. Here, we talk to her about her road to entrepreneurship, the process of selling her first company to LVMH just three years after she founded it, the lightbulb idea that led to her establishing Beauty Pie, her advice to others wanting to follow in her footsteps and more gems that you don’t want to miss. 

  On the piece of advice she would give her younger self.

“You’ll never look back and regret being kind to everyone. When people talk about karma, it’s about having to live with yourself and how you’ve treated other people. And, of course, you want to always feel that you’re a worthwhile person who has done their best to elevate everybody else as you went along. Do your best to treat everyone with respect. Treat yourself with respect.”

“You’ll never look back and regret being kind to everyone.”

 On discovering her eye for entrepreneurship.

“I grew up in a very small city in Canada and there weren’t really entrepreneurial opportunities for young people. But I did have three jobs in high school; I needed a car to get around and so I needed to earn money. If you didn’t have a car, you got the bus. And in the height of winter, waiting for a bus meant your eyelids froze shut, so I needed a car. I went to the bank to borrow $2,000 and I think I had about $400 saved up. I suppose that was the first time I was entrepreneurial – I had to figure out early on that if I wanted something, I had to find a way to make money to get it. And I suppose that just snowballed over the years.”

 On moving from Canada to New York aged 17.

“I moved to New York thinking that I was going to start at college – I had a place at Columbia University – but due to financial reasons I wasn’t able to start. So I found myself at 17 years old in New York without income and without any money to go to school. I slept in my sister’s apartment, so it was a case of being thrown into the deep end and figuring out how to make enough money to eat. I started off as a personal trainer, which I loved. Specifically, I loved the customer service part of it, of building something that was more than just a cash transaction and of making people feel really good. I realised that I really liked being able to create something that brings joy to someone for an hour. I loved being able to make people feel good.”

 On starting her first business, Bliss.

“I had quite bad skin from the age of about 12 and so one summer, when all of my personal training clients were on holiday in the Hamptons, I decided to take a skincare course and learn how to do facials. Then when my clients came back to New York, I would give them a facial after their personal training sessions, which I did continuously. I then decided to open a tiny room in a tiny building, which I named Let’s Face It. After a while, I managed to then move that place to a slightly larger location on Prince Street and Broadway in Soho which was still tiny, and still called Let’s Face It. It had three rooms, a manicure area and a waxing area. I was there for 5 years, training people to do the method that I wanted to use, giving people facials, learning about all of the cosmetic ingredients that could help fix people’s skin. And then, in 1996, I turned the business into Bliss. It was the 90s and word of mouth was everything. If you had one article mentioning you in Vogue, for example, half of the world would be calling for the next 18 months. And that’s how we got people in.”

 On standing out from the crowd enough to have continuous success.

“For me, it was all about providing excellent service, excellent treatments, having a friendly team, keeping the spa super clean, and just about great quality in all areas. It was about giving people what they wanted, but going above and beyond. Fantastic treatments were everything but we were always innovating and trying to make it more interesting than the basic commodity treatments that you could go anywhere for. We had a restaurant type menu, but for spa treatments; the triple oxygen facial, the hot milk and almond pedicure. Every technician was trained within an inch of their life; we sent thank you notes to people that had come in, we called them to apologise if they were still on the waiting list and we hadn’t managed to get them an appointment. At that time, we had waiting lists of about 200 people and once they got a spot, they would drop everything to come in and once they were in, they would book 18 months in advance. It wasn’t rocket science, it was just about trying harder than everybody else.”

“It wasn’t rocket science, it was just about trying harder than everybody else.”

 On being approached – and bought – by LVMH.

“In 1999, three years after I opened Bliss, I actually had three different companies trying to buy us. Two were large luxury cosmetic companies and the third was LVMH. They wanted to work with – and support – me, to help with the facilities needed to grow the brand. LVMH has a lab just outside of Paris, so it was amazing at the time to be able to go there and meet the chemists and see what they were working on – plus, they flew me to Paris on Concorde. I didn’t have the advantage of the chemists or the labs without them, so they seemed like a great partner. They bought the majority of the business in 1999, which enabled us to open another location on 57th street. But a few years later, after 9/11, the travel retail industry was terrible and so LVMH were looking to sell us on, and that’s when we were bought by W hotels in 2004.”

 On her drive to consistently innovate.

“If I can’t find something for myself, I make it. I take ownership of whatever I do, whether that’s a shoe or a beauty product. I want it to look how I really want it to look. I want it to be the best and to perform with excellence. If it doesn’t, I’m not going to put my name on it.”

“I want [a product] to be the best and to perform with excellence. If it doesn’t, I’m not going to put my name on it.”

 On why she doesn’t have one particular mentor.

“There is not one individual person out there who makes the same choices and decisions that I make, who has to deliver what I have to deliver. So instead, I read a tremendous amount and listen to a lot of podcasts from all kinds of people who are successful at what they do. That way, I find that I learn one thing from one person and one thing from another. So I guess everyone is a mentor because in every situation, you see something going well or devolving and you can learn the good and the bad and understand the root cause of success or failure. It’s then about knowing how to navigate and make sure your decisions are aligned with where and how you want to be.”

 On her simple advice for female entrepreneurs.

“I think that women should make sure that they are the very best of anything that’s out there, and not just think about whether they are female or not. Because at the end of the day, competition is competition. If you’re selling a new kind of Tesla that’s $10,000 less than the original, that’s smarter, cooler, cheaper and does everything just as well – if not better – people are going to buy it from you whether you’re a man or a woman.”

“I think that women should make sure that they are the very best of anything that’s out there, and not just think about whether they are female or not. Because at the end of the day, competition is competition.”

 On the true cost of producing products.

“I’ve worked in the beauty industry for almost 30 years and have been producing products with third party labs for a lot of that time. I’ve learnt a lot about the beauty industry and met a lot of the labs who make products for everybody else. But it’s not what you might think; not all of the luxury brands make their products in their own facilities. Some do, but most will use third party labs whose main reason for being is to create fantastic makeup products and then sell them by the thousands. If you’re making a beauty product, you have to think about the retailer that’s going to sell it for you. So, if a product costs $10 to make, you’re never going to be able to sell it for less than $100, because a retailer will take between $30 and $40 of that, and then you have to pay your staff, your overheads, your marketing, your advertising. If you’re lucky, you’ll make money. But it’s hard for anyone to make money under a certain scale. You need to be selling $15 million worth of product before you break even. And guess what? It’s never the customer who benefits the most – which is so wrong.”

 On the lightbulb moment that led to Beauty Pie.

“I was at one of these big beauty events where I could see all of the new products that were being made and coming in from these suppliers all over the world. I had some great conversations with the people who owned one of the best labs in the world, who produce for all of the premium cosmetic companies. Afterwards, on the way home to Switzerland with my bag of factory samples, I saw all the exact same products at the Sephora at the train station, complete with the knowledge of how much they cost to actually make, compared to what they were being sold for. I remember thinking: all of the women that I know would love to go and raid that factory and get all of these products, without paying extortionate prices for them. And then all of the hair on my body stood up and I thought ‘that’s my idea!’. I felt like it had just become so outdated to be hard-sold a product from an assistant in a shop who didn’t really know what they were doing. I had to take a big leap and think about how I could get enough people who were sick of paying ridiculous prices and essentially be able to shop ‘back of house’, without a retailer mark up. It’s about paying less, getting more, and still having access to all of the products that are being made by the best labs. Instead of thinking about what the price point of a product is going to be before we’ve even made it, Beauty Pie is all about working backwards and from the ground up. I have that experience, so I can really choose what goes into different formulas and know that we are going to be able to smash it out of the ballpark when it comes to the efficacy of the products. So if this is my last entrepreneurial gig, I’m happy because I really am doing what I want.”

“I remember thinking: all of the women that I know would love to go and raid that factory and get all of these products, without paying extortionate prices for them. And then all of the hair on my body stood up and I thought ‘that’s my idea!”

 On inclusion as a driving force for Beauty Pie.

“We’ve all been brainwashed to think that if something’s expensive, it has to be good. But I wanted to be able to bring Beauty Pie to everyone and I’m not a faker; I can’t pretend that something is worth £100 if it is only actually worth £8. I’ve been in the beauty industry for so long, I really didn’t want to have to take my products to a buyer anymore. I wanted to be able to make the product, to sell it to my customer for a really fair price, and to not have to play the game of telephone. And the internet makes that possible, which is such a wonderful thing. Our membership is like having an insider’s pass. You can buy one cream and still save enough for an annual membership. It really is a no brainer.”

 On what’s next.

“We might open some physical spaces where people can come and smell the products and get a feel for them, and our members would get the same prices that they do online. We’re also doing a lot of interesting things in wellness, which I can’t quite talk about now. But for now, it’s about building Beauty Pie and continually bringing excellent products to people for the best prices. We want to be keeping it fresh to make sure that people are always thrilled with what they can get. I want to expand that to as big of a universe as possible.”

Thank you, Marcia, for sharing your incredible insight with us.