Natalie Bloom started her cosmetics business in a garage, went on to build a global brand, and is now embracing the digital marketplace.
Here the former RMIT Alumnus of the Year, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Visual Communication) in 1992, shares how she managed the challenges of a growing business.
My company, Bloom, started in an unconventional way. I was 23 and had no intention of starting a business; I just wanted to use my graphic design skills, and created some products more out of love than with the intention to start a business.
Six months later, I committed to do a trade fair and got the smallest stand that was available. In the last hour of the day, the buyer from Myer placed an order for 5000 pieces.
I was lucky - today it couldn't happen as easily. I didn't even know how to create an invoice, the buyer taught me! Today you have to buy a software package which is a huge investment.
I think I was just young and naïve and I think that's an asset. In my early twenties I had so much adrenalin and no fear. I think the key thing is that you're passionate about what you do.
First office, first staff
Employing staff was quite a challenge for me. It was a real learn-on-the-job experience and something that I didn't find easy. You have to play that role of being a leader and being able to set boundaries and being able to let go, and not to micro-manage.
People have to be the right cultural fit for the business. For example, people who have come from big businesses but then can't cope in a smaller-sized business.
The most simple interview questions helped me to identify staff who were the right fit. Questions like, "What magazines do you like?" or "What websites do you look at?"
Bloom as a brand is a real personality, and our people needed some of the same interests as the brand.
Developing a brand
It just felt natural to use botanical ingredients from the beginning [in 1993]. I love natural packaging too, and all of these earlier products were printed on craft paper which was really not in vogue at that time.
Printers hated me because it was all too much ink. They thought I was mad!
Even our very first lip balm was a beeswax base, whereas most lip balms at the time were Vaseline based, and they all had strawberry sundae flavouring.
My supplier said to me, "How much saccharin do you want in it?" and I just thought, "Saccharin? I don't want any saccharin in it!" That lip balm is still in our range today so we obviously did something right.
For me, I'm a bit cynical about the cosmetic industry and I'm almost too honest. I say what I believe in, and I guess it's what makes a brand stand the test of time.
Initially our products were all Australian made, and then we started to source product from various parts of the world. It depends on different factories and their expertise.
You've got to make sure that you're working with credible suppliers - if they're good enough for the big multinationals then they're good enough for us.
You can pay a bit more to have products Australian made, and the upside is that often the Australian manufacturers will make lower quantities; a lot of the Asian manufacturers laugh at 10,000 pieces.
But many Australian manufacturers just don't have the same research and development investment into new products. Many manufacturers in Asia have really invested in technology to improve quality, or to embrace trends. We just found more and more that we are going offshore.
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