On Bauer Business Focus – A conversation on entrepreneurship and building businesses in niche markets with Ed Mayberry, business reporter for KUHF 88.7 FM.
Sometimes, entrepreneurship is about coming up with an entirely new product or service, but most times, it’s tapping in to an existing market and finding out ways to improve on what others have already done, according to Janet Gurwitch, who founded Gurwitch Products, manufacturer of Laura Mercier Cosmetics.
Laura Mercier is to women’s cosmetics lines as Tiffany is to jewelry. For makeup and skincare consumers, the name evokes one of the most desired brands, and there’s a reason for that. KUHF business reporter caught up with the woman who built the brand, the buzz and the panache for an upcoming Bauer Business Focus on KUHF 88.7 FM.
“You must have a point of difference if you’re going into a mature industry,” she said. “Most of us (entrepreneurs) come up with ideas in mature industries — a better oven, like Viking; a better shoe, like Nike; a better cosmetic, like Laura Mercier.”
Here are highlights from the discussion and Gurwitch’s tips for starting and growing a business:
- Take something and make it better. “Cosmetics was a very mature industry when I started Laura Mercier. There wasn’t going to be a shortage of mascara. But I did see an opportunity and seized it — in 1995, if you walked the shelves of cosmetics in department stores, there was no one living behind the names. But if you walked the fashion design floors, all those names…Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger…they were all living.” She found Laura Mercier, a makeup artist to Hollywood celebrities and a favorite of fashion magazine editors, and used her industry clout to bring high-end makeup products to consumers.
- Do your homework. Even though her business was in cosmetics, Gurwitch quickly learned that running any company requires a wide range of knowledge. “You have to be a student. I had to learn everything from how to buy a forklift to how to price the products.”
- Use your network. When Gurwitch was raising capital in the early days of Laura Mercier Cosmetics, she turned to a familiar place: Neiman Marcus, where she’d previously been an executive vice president. She eventually sold 51 percent of Gurwitch Products to Neiman Marcus, allowing her to expand Laura Mercier Cosmetics into a much larger market. “As an entrepreneur, sometimes you have to make the personal decision, do you want to own 100 percent of a little thing or 49 percent of a big thing?”
- Know when to step away and sell. Gurwitch and Neiman Marcus sold Gurwitch Products, and Laura Mercier Cosmetics along with it, in 2006 to Alticor Inc., a privately-held company. “To have an idea and see it develop, to build a brand in 27 countries, was a great experience. It’s exciting even now (that I’m no longer involved) to see it has great longevity.”
Click here to hear the full Bauer Business Focus interview.