9 Years and 9 Lessons
Never let anyone tell you that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ because this old dog has been on the steepest learning curve of her life since launching Look Fabulous Forever in October 2013.
At 65 years old, I was about to embark on a voyage of discovery which has frequently tested me to the limit of my capabilities. Knowing what I know now, would I take that gamble again? Probably. Fortunately I was incredibly naive back then. My plan was to offer makeovers to older women at home having developed my own brand of specially formulated makeup. Look Fabulous Forever would therefore be local, personal, and easy to fit in around the rest of my life. I had no great ambitions for it. To be honest I just wanted something more interesting to do than watching daytime TV!
Nine years on, Look Fabulous Forever is a global online business which is professionally run by a team of ten, and has pretty much taken over my whole life.
Please don’t get me wrong; most of the time I absolutely love the excitement and purpose that LFF gives me. But being the ‘front person’ of a business is sometimes challenging and overwhelming. The business is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and, yes, we do get some orders on Christmas Day. Is it always on my mind? Yes it is, but I have learnt to dial down the attention I give it so that I can enjoy time spent with friends and family and moments when I am alone and just want to switch off and relax. I suppose that is one of my key learnings; to know how and when to foreground what is happening at LFF and when to push it firmly into the background. Here are the rest of the things that LFF has taught me...
My 9 Lessons from 9 Years of LFF
1. Businesses are collections of people, they are not entities in themselves
People will talk about M&S or British Gas as if it’s an independent ‘thing’. Each business is the sum total of all the people who have some connection to it. Happy productive businesses tend to work better for everyone than ones which are run for the benefit of a particular group, say the shareholders or the people at the top. We are a small team but I would hope that every LFF stakeholder would say that it's a pleasure to be part of our story, either as employees, investors, suppliers or, of course, customers.
2. I made a decision at the outset that our customers would be at the very heart of all that we do
Everything flows from that decision. Some businesses are so big that the people in ‘HQ’, become so far removed from their actual customers that they completely forget that their wages are paid by the people who buy their products or services. The best thing about Super Troopers is that a great many of our customers have become as familiar as best friends. We see their faces, we listen to stories about their lives, and they feel ever present which constantly reminds us how central these fabulous women are to our business.
3. We are an all female team serving an all female customer base
This is unusual but I feel that it’s our greatest strength. I love working with women who tend to be empathetic and kind to each other. We understand that women’s working lives are complicated by the demands of children, grandchildren and ageing parents. We also understand that our customers’ lives are also complicated by various concerns including widowhood and health problems. Julie and Caroline, our Customer Service team, occasionally have to console tearful customers who may have called for reasons other than their product return. We might be selling makeup but hopefully in a compassionate way and from a female perspective.
4. Working with my two daughters is the cherry on the cake
By which I mean that my (almost) daily contact with them via their roles within LFF has created a very special bond formed because we’ve all shared the same learning curve. We have gradually learnt the importance of compartmentalisation. If I am at their house as ‘Mum’ or ‘Granny’ then that is who I am and they are ‘Daughter’, rather than LFF Managing Director (Anna) or Operations Director (Suzy). Counter-intuitively this has become easier the bigger the business has grown. In the early days every contact with them became an impromptu discussion about stock, cashflow or a customer issue. Now we leave work to weekdays and office hours which makes our relationships much healthier (and stops my five grandchildren and sons-in-law getting cross with us!)
5. Nine years ago LFF offered 12 products in total
Now we sell 34 different items with a vastly increased range of colours in blushers, eyeshadows and lipsticks. I was adamant that extending the range should never compromise the quality of our products nor our USP that everything is formulated with the needs of older skin, faces and hair in mind. I still test everything on myself before we send it off to any testing panel. Sometimes I love a new item so much I wish I didn’t have to wait the several months it takes from that initial test to launch on the website.
6. The fact that our target demographic is exclusively older women adds an extra dimension of pleasure to our business
Why? Because I think that our customers tend to be more loyal and appreciative than fickle youngsters who are chasing after the ‘latest’ fad and don’t really care where it comes from. We do our best to keep producing our most popular colours because we know you like reliability, quality and consistency more than novelty. Having said that, we do also listen to what you tell us so that we can refresh our offering from time to time with new and exciting additions like our two newly launched Lip Balms see here (coming soon to the US/CA).
7. Ups and downs are inevitable
All businesses go through cycles of growth and retrenchment. A huge ‘up’ for LFF would include my appearing on BBC Breakfast on New Year’s Eve 2015 at 7.50 am which was immediately followed by a tsunami of new customer orders. I honestly thought that we would run out of all stock for several weeks (happily averted). The first lockdown in March 2020 also felt extremely perilous for LFF, but we trimmed our sails and took a different tack with daily Teatime at the Ritz videos and Super Troopers, and our lovely customers helped us to stay afloat.
8. Success is elusive - it keeps disappearing round the corner
I doubt I will ever think ‘this is it - we’ve finally made it’. Business just doesn’t work that way. That’s why birthdays like this are so important to me. They are a moment to stop, take stock and celebrate the fact that we have come through another year in good spirits and with undimmed determination and enthusiasm for what we do.
9. What next?
Honestly, who can know? Obviously we have ideas, plans and dreams for LFF, but at the moment the business environment is as tough as I have known it in the past nine years. Never has our lockdown motto of KBO (Keep Buggering On) been more apt. So we will do just that by engaging with you, our wonderful customers via videos, emails, this weekly blog, Zoom talks and all our other social media channels, including Super Troopers. As ever, you will always remain at the very heart of everything that we do.
So, if you have one handy, maybe you’d like to raise a glass with me to wish Look Fabulous Forever a very happy 9th Birthday. And I would also like to raise a toast to every one of you reading this. There would be no LFF without all of you, so a huge thank you for your continued love and support.
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