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‘Bar Conversation’ Becomes a Startup Business

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The conversation at a Baltimore bar in 2013 started off with the typical small talk: “What do you do?” That’s when Christian Dean met Lindsay Ebbin, who talked about his career as a celebrity makeup artist and his 16 years with Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door Spas in New York City.

“Of course this was intriguing,” said Dean. “So we hung out a couple weeks later, and from there we became friends.”

Dean has a diverse background of experience that spans insurance, investment services, banking and sales management, along with a decade of military service. In 2011, he earned a Commendation Medal for Leadership during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and cleanup efforts in Louisiana. He was also been recognized as Business Development Officer of the Year in Maryland in 2014.

Making Up a Team

In further conversations, Dean learned that two German makeup manufacturers had been approaching Ebbin, who lives in Baltimore, for more than five years, trying to convince him to market their brands — Make up Factory and BeYu — in the United States.

“In years past, for Lindsay it just wasn’t the right time,” said Dean. But as the two continued talking, they realized the time was right to combine Dean’s background in finance and leadership with Ebbin’s background in sales, training and overall knowledge of the cosmetic industry.

In May 2014, Dean and Ebbin formed BAM BrandsUSA and negotiated the distribution rights for both Make up Factory and BeYu for the United States.

It’s not that Dean knew nothing about the cosmetics industry. During his military service, he said, “I became interested in men’s fashion and lifestyle brands.” Still, he added, “I never imagined I would be the co-owner of a cosmetic company that distributes and sells makeup.”

At the time he and Ebbin met, Dean was enrolled in the Executive MBA program at Loyola University Maryland’s Sellinger School of Business. He discovered a passion for entrepreneurship in his first year in the program, and the opportunity with Ebbin seemed fortuitous.

Dean considered his professors as consultants to help him nurture his startup. “Why not use these resources — all this knowledge and coursework — to start a business?” Dean reflected. “If we had to pay for the knowledge and experience these professors have on a consulting basis, we could never afford it.”

Now about to graduate, Dean plans to keep growing the business, but will turn day-to-day operations over to Ebbin.

The Story Behind the Brands

Since Ebbin had been in the cosmetics industry for a long time, he was familiar with many brands on the market, including Make up Factory and BeYu. Both brands were founded by Helmut Baurecht, and both are part of the Artdeco Cosmetic Group in Germany.

“We knew these two brands were quality,” said Dean. “Both brands are dermatologically approved for sensitive skin. The manufacturer does not conduct animal testing, and most of the products are paraben free and fragrance free.” Paraben is a widely-used preservative in cosmetic products.

“Ingredients are very important, as women want a product that is good for their skin,” said Dean.

In early 2014, Dean and Ebbin conducted a “concept test” at Ebbin’s home during which women filled out survey sheets as they tested the products. “We invited women who were using very prestige makeup already,” said Dean. “The feedback was overwhelming: These women loved the makeup. We also reviewed beauty blogs from overseas to see what women were saying about the products in Europe and Russia. The feedback was very positive.”

The two brands have some significant differences that have impacted their U.S. markets. BAM BrandsUSA is pairing Make up Factory with spas, hoteliers and boutique luxury retailers, Dean explained, “because it is a prestige, high-end brand that offers an accessible luxury for women.”

BeYu, on the other hand, sits in what Dean terms “a semi-selective market.”

“This is one step above a mass market product, but one step below the prestige brands like Make up Factory.”

BAM BrandsUSA has a unique marketing plan for BeYu in the United States, he added. “We believe that women will pay a slightly higher price for a product like BeYu, in a traditionally cheaper mass market space.”

Why? Because they are busy and don’t have a lot of time to travel to a retailer like Ulta or Sephora to purchase a product. “Most of the time this involves going to the mall, dealing with parking and crowds in order to purchase makeup. This can consume a lot of time for an already busy woman.”

Yet, Dean said, women traditionally will go to a local pharmacy, like CVS, or a grocery store, about twice a week. “In the past, high-quality, semi-selective brands were not sold in these locations. We believe women deserve the opportunity to purchase a high-quality European makeup from these types of stores.”

That’s why, for the BeYu brand, Dean teams up with chains like CVS and Pennsylvania-based Giant Eagle.

Making Connections

Dean and Ebbin make connections with spas and store chains through walk-in visits, referrals from other spas and connections that Ebbin has garnered over the years. “Our first launch was with the Salamander Resorts,” said Dean. “It came about through a meeting Lindsay had with the owner, Sheila Johnson, at her resort in Middleburg, Va. She liked the product and gave us an opportunity.

“The spa world is a close-knit industry,” he added. “A lot of the spa directors know each other. So when you have a great product like Make up Factory, the word gets spread around.”

When Dean was enrolled in Associate Professor of Marketing Jason Zhang’s class at Loyola, he told Zhang that he was starting a business on the first day of the semester. “He shared his big business idea, and at first he didn’t give me very many specifics about it,” said Zhang.

When Dean began to meet with him almost weekly though, Zhang thought, “Wow, this guy’s onto something.”

The timing was important, said Zhang. “I think it was a critical time to launch the business and set the stage to sign a major contract.

“The team is terrific,” he said. “They have a balance of a lot of field knowledge and a willingness to interact among themselves extensively.”

In the classroom, Zhang added, students are encouraged to work that way. “They are supposed to work in teams, helping businesses to resolve issues.”