I always take great pride in how I serve my customers. Today in my own business I like simple. I like simple because I’m able to move fast without having to wait on other people. I know it’s one of my strengths and in my own business I’ve been able to turn things around several times. I know when I need to shift or step up and I move.
As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Charlotte Fnug, Founder of the 100% natural makeup brand https://organicmake.com/ . In 2004 , she left a high paid international sales management position at a conglomerate beauty company. Travel demand was way too high with 2 small children. She then started her own beauty company from scratch without funding.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
How I ended up in the beauty industry is still a mystery to me. I think it happened naturally. For 10 years I travelled the world. In every airport I hang out in the beauty department. Playing some might call it addiction. In, July 1993, I returned to Denmark with 2 black suitcases and no place to live. I was simply starting my new life back in Copenhagen. My aunt offered me to stay with her and I was in need of a job.
I knew one girl she worked for Clarins at Illum department store in central Copenhagen. On a Friday afternoon I went to see if she’s at work. As we talk, it hit me and I ask “Whom do I need to speak to if I want a job here?” literally as I ask, the lady in charge “the red haired” comes down the escalator and the Clarins lady calls her over.
“Charlotte looks for a job.” she says. We hit it off and in a matter of minutes I’m offered a job responsible for their toiletry department. “Can you start Monday?”
“Yes”, I reply.
It was such a surreal experience for me I knew nothing but I think she must have felt my enthusiasm for beauty and my energy. Today I think that must be why I had that job, right on the spot.
That job first job kicked off my successful beauty career and in 95–97 I was head of the biggest cosmetic store in North Europe, Copenhagen Airport with a team 150.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I was then headhunted by one of the conglomerate beauty companies and for 7 years I was the International Sales Manager for the Nordic region and travel demand was high.
I never forget. Friday 19th December 2003 I had a call at 15.00 from my lady boss from conglomerate head office in Geneva, the call came as I was about to leave for the weekend.
Lady boss spoke in an exciting and uplifting voice as if she was about to whisper a secret. I had the feeling something was up. I felt someone was in the background so she was our HR lady.
I liked her, she was a friend.
In fact the HR lady had previously offered me another job within the organization. I had declined. It didn’t meet my salary expectations. I would have to give up my company car.
Why would I?
I’m a firm believer if you move up the ladder in an organization then they need to acknowledge your performance. Never give up your perks.
Suddenly Lady Boss says “I’ll put you on speaker”.
“Charlotte, we are so pleased with your work and want to expand your responsibility. As of Monday you will cover Holland Domestic, Holland Travel Retail, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Those will be your new markets”.
“Isn’t this great news, Charlotte?”
I can’t remember if I sit down or not. To me this meant more travel, more times spend in airports.
HR lady starts to ramble.
She positions herself over the speaker. A position of power. No doubt this is nothing new to her always promoting people by phone when you work with an international team.
I hear in her voice she is smiling through the phone, as if she is right in front of me. You know, when someone smiles on the phone. You hear and feel it.
“Charlotte, we really want you to take on more markets. You have the experience”.
Back in my head I know she is trying to sell me the idea. Big conglomerate beauty always seems to look at things from their point of view to please shareholders.
I’ve seen it so many times. To them you are a head count. They move you around like chess players.
Like Friday afternoon, more markets. To them it means — problem solved. Salary — no raise mentioned.
I sit down at my desk. I’m all alone and most people have left the office.
I feel pressure on my chest and tightness. I don’t feel happy at all. I already feel more stress coming and more sales pressure on my back.
It was a hard decision but right there I choose my family with 2 children of 2.5 and 1 year.
That moment made me leave the corporate rat race. I took the decision I was better of being self-employed and I’ve never looked back. I’ve now had my own business 16 years.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
After I worked 6 months at the toiletry department and I was transferred to be the Assistant Sales Manager at the beauty department. I was suddenly number two in the beauty department where my responsibility was all the beauty floor, staff and rotators schedules, stock issues, promotions and new launches. I was like if this is what I’m supposed to do then I need more knowledge. So besides I worked full time and weekends I took a cosmetology course in the evenings, for a year. Not that I ever wanted to work as a beauty therapist but I wanted to gain more knowledge of skin types, skin problems and treatments.
I’m happy I did, it has served me as self-employed, because most of my customers are beauty salons and SPA’s. Being a trained beauty therapist make me ”part of the club”. I’ve often been asked by a beauty salon owner “Are you a trained beauty therapist?” “Yes” and immediately it built trust. I know their language, how they work and their pain points. You never know when something serves you later so never leave things out in your career. Always take on more.
And every time we were offered trainings on new launches, sales courses by suppliers I went. I’ve always been very curious of things and wanted to learn more to better my skills.
What I learned on shop floors about women buying habits is invaluable. So much human psychology goes on from how you approach a woman to how you gain immediate trust. I’ve learned in sales you go way longer being honest and trustworthy than pushing sales figures to get a bonus, this applies both for B2B and B2C. Always play the long game and aim for happy long-term customers, not shareholders.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I was hungry and eager to learn and study. One day the sales manager, Mrs. Wilky, the head of beauty department at the department store in central Copenhagen said to me. “Charlotte, today I have a meeting with Estee Lauder. I want you to come and listen.”
Most of the girls on the shop floor had such respect for her to which they were slightly scared of her. She had a natural authoritative aura around her.
Mrs. Wilky she was one of those persons, once you gained her trust she would take you inside her world “I think she saw that I walked the talk.” I’ve always been pro-active in my approach, a step ahead and she liked it. Once she started to take me inside her world where she would negotiate terms with brands I was like…wow. She taught me everything I know and her huge knowledge powered me, when I later was head of the beauty department at Copenhagen Airport.
Today I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to learn directly from her. She’s an icon within our Industry. A huge lesson here is never being afraid to go that extra mile in the moment. You never know who sees you on your way up.
I’ve later come to learn even beauty brands had huge respect for her. When she said no, nothing you could do. I’ll always be grateful.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The global beauty industry today has grown to more than a half a trillion dollar business. Can you tell us about the innovations that you are bringing to the industry? How do you think that will help people?
I’ve always found our industry want to sell women too many beauty products, for the sake of a sale. I’ve been through sales courses and know how they work. Not always with integrity. I still meet women who come up and say to me “Charlotte, I cleanse my skin with skin tonic? Is that fine?” It hurts me. “Who says you can’t. If that works for you it’s okay”. Back in her head she thinks she not doing it good enough which is so wrong. I wish women would trust own needs more.
We forget to look at the woman in front of us. What type is she? I understand sales staff has been trained to sell more products but if a woman goes straight home and feel “I don’t know how to apply 3 different foundations” then we’ve lost her.
I still do makeup classes. I simply want to stay in touch with my market. Last night I had 8 women in the room. They’d all given up on makeup because of a bad foundation choice for their skin, wrong makeup colour or feeling unnatural and too made up wearing makeup. Our industry has for years talked down at women to the verge where we’ve been shaming them to believe beauty is all about being perfect. Here I mean sell women to believe ageing is wrong, grey hair is wrong, you’ll first look perfect when this cream is reducing wrinkles by 24% in 2 weeks. Come on.
I understand women feel lost. We see on social media young girls show up with face filters scared to show who they truly are. Time has come where we as brands must take responsibility.
Why my makeup brand is all about how you need one pot of foundation. I’ll rather create one quality product than doing 50. It’s better for my customer and our environment. I take great pride in the ingredients I use I’ll rather pay more for quality. I’ve too often seen women cover their face with too heavy foundation and the reason why the end up with clogged pores, red itchy skin or more breakouts.
We are in human to human business we shouldn’t forget that and women feel lost by the choice of products we offer.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry?
I love talking to ingredient suppliers. I love how more and more consumers look for natural products. It’s pushing the boundaries for suppliers to develop new green chemistry which I think is a good thing. In future we’ll see more innovation. I’m all in for that. Once I recall how marketing came with a new fancy face cream and as soon as I had it on my skin it turned red and itchy I was like, I’m not wearing that. It didn’t go with my sensitive skin.
I love how face oils have exploded. I prefer oils on my face it’s best for my skin. I see vitality in my skin when I use oils. I always look for small suppliers from South America and Africa that’s where they have cool oils.
I’m a sucker for niche fragrances. In my next life I want to be a “nose” and live in Grasse in France. I love to watch how niche fragrances slowly become powerhouses. Some new fragrance brands are creating art with unique experiences. Fragrances evoke emotions and memory it’s a beautiful touch point with people, if you understand to do it right. One of my favorites is Narcotic by Nasomatto.
I’ve just been to Brussels in a niche fragrance store, gosh that guy had a nose for picking art. I remember how big it was, when a house like Chanel would launch a new fragrance. I was at the launch of Allure in Paris and after that they started to launch more often. I hope sometime soon it’s over where beauty houses launch fragrances for the sake of meeting sales figures for 1H and 2H. I feel the fragrance market has gone overboard and lost its soul where they push line extensions or new summer extensions. Who doesn’t recall Charlie from Revlon. It was almost the only one we could get. Not sure if it’s still out there, I’m sure with right marketing it would bring back nostalgia in most women.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?
I’ve touched on it. The pressure women and particular young girls have to look perfect on Instagram. We see young girls, very young girls, with fillers in their lips. They show up covering themselves in too much makeup. I don’t like it. All has started to happen since Instagram launched. I’m glad I’m not a young girl today. But I do notice some women start to speak up and start to show their real self. I like that.
We as beauty brand founders have a moral responsibility. I prefer to speak in an honest voice to my customers. If I see a foundation colour or a product is not right for her I’ll always tell her not to buy. I know it sounds counterintuitive but I’ll rather optimize for happy customers than shareholders profit. In my company I have the ability and freedom to make my own decisions and I happily do so.
We as brand founders can easily get distracted by next new hack like should my buy button be red or green. How many social channels shall I be on? How to optimize web conversions? Every day because I’m a business owner I get ads right up my face. I try to focus on my business and focus how I can make a difference in my part of the world. I sell beauty products and in the end it’s a woman on the other side who buys my product. I always ask myself — How would I feel myself? This has been my guide stone for 16 years and I’m still in business. I wish more businesses would be more human and not focus on numbers.
Since Covid-19 we’ve all had to look deeply at our businesses. Now everybody is talking about retail is dead. I’ll go one step further to say boring beauty retail is dead. When stores are forced to close yes, we all feel it, but we must not forget that beauty retail sales will not stop. Yes, many brands have seen a spike in online sales but we are in the human to human business and women love to feel, touch and smell beauty products. Something that is not easy to do online.
I do think soon we’ll see new retail innovations, like how to handle testers and payments in-store. Stores should think along “What can we do to make the experience in store even better?” Women will come to stores to get experiences, let’s not forget that. They can’t keep watching Netflix all day. I recall in mid-nineties when beauty retailers started to implement open-sell stores, everybody was like we can’t sell prestige beauty like that. See what happened, most beauty stores went open-sell.
A guy I can recommend is Martin Lindstrom, he’s a fellow Dane. He has great insights on consumer behaviors and culture transformations. I love his book ”Small Data” you’ll learn a lot from that book. Because I’ve worked beauty shop floors I still go out there “playing consumer” it’s where I study women, our consumers.
You are an expert about beauty. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”?
It’s not the stuff you put on your face that make you beautiful. It’s how you talk to yourself, how you eat and how you feel inside. Once you understand that you can put whatever on your face. Be who you are and show the world YOU.
Be proud of yourself. I’m starting to see grey hair I quite like it I’m not ashamed of it. Who cares we all get it. Sleep is more important than ever I see on my face if I haven’t’ slept well, those are days, I need to do more to my face. And I will.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, Can you please share “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”. Please share a story or an example, for each.
When you have a team of 150 people running a shop floor in 3 shifts and beauty stores stay open from early morning flights to delayed evening flights, sometimes long past midnight, you need to build trust in people and make them accountable responsible. We had a system where the 6 supervisors followed any issues through or would deliver task to next in charge. Almost like kanban. So we were always ahead of things. My boss was more focused on how long staff had coffee breaks and when. It was an ongoing topic between us. One day he turned around and said to me “Charlotte, you should realize what management is all about. It’s about check and control people.” To which I turned around and replied “What about communication and motivation?” I trusted my supervisors to manage coffee breaks. We delivered figures above budget. I felt squeezed between top management and a smooth running shop floor. In the end I left I had to stay true to my own integrity of how I like to treat people. I trust people till they show me otherwise and in my management positions, I’ve never been a micro manager.
I’ve never been afraid to speak up at management or board meetings, even if, I was only women in the room, to shop floor girls or suppliers. I believe you get way longer in business to tell the truth, than covering up. A lot of people spend too much time covering up. One of my suppliers at Copenhagen Airport would always tell all sorts of stories, why this or that went wrong, or he would promise me stuff that never would be followed through. Or a promoter didn’t arrive and he didn’t know why. In the end it went really so bad, that I had to involve the head buyer in London. He flew over from London and the “supplier guy”, his boss flew in from London. I told them what had to change and how and why and how his work put huge pressure on us. There I was, one woman in front of 3 men, telling what I did not like. After the “supplier guy” hated me for that meeting. He was one of those sales guys, who thought I would fall for his looks. He couldn’t keep a promise, because he was too busy running after the girls in the beauty department.
Once I felt so embarrassed towards my biggest B2B account, when I worked for a conglomerate beauty company. We were in a huge negotiation with them and New York and Geneva were involved. For months, I had to call the buyer several times to tell her “I haven’t forgotten you but”. I felt so bad that it took back office 5 months to work out a contract. I think sometimes things can get way too complicated. I always take great pride in how I serve my customers. Today in my own business I like simple. I like simple because I’m able to move fast without having to wait on other people. I know it’s one of my strengths and in my own business I’ve been able to turn things around several times. I know when I need to shift or step up and I move.
Starting my own business has been one of the most rewarding adventures in my life. Initially, in 2004, I started importing Organic Baby and Children products. My old colleagues looked at me as if I was from another planet. I saw a trend for green beauty products but soon I realized I was way ahead of the curve. Simply I wasn’t making any money. I had to expand my product portfolio and import conventional beauty brands too. It took me 2 .5 years till I was able to have a salary. I couldn’t have done it with my biggest support, my husband. He been there the moment I left corporate rat race and told him “I’m self-employed”. You need support. There are days you want to give up, there are days you get a new costumer, and there are days where you look at yourself thinking, why I ever did this. My husband is a banker and he has done my finance since day one. Don’t start a business without support from your spouse. Some days you work late nights and my children had a dad that could step in.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
You can hit us, kick us, bully us, emotionally ignore us but the one thing you can’t do is break us down. Women like us, are Rulebreakers, who munster up the courage to start a new life or movement because they have to. Women who go against the social norm and do not feel they have to wear 101 makeup to look good and confident in how they look. Women like us live by own rules. If that means move to the other side of the world, they’ll do it. If that means drop out of school to learn a specific craft by hand, they’ll do it. If that means to wear different size clothes, they’ll do it. If that means colour hair purple, they’ll do it. If that means show you are not ashamed of whom you are, they’ll do it. It that means insisting on existing, they’ll do it. Rulebreakers, like us, will not be held down by others because of sexual orientation, race, religion or by norms, no matter. Feel free to reach out if this resonates with you. I would love to hear and share your story.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Never be afraid to open a new door. I’ve always told my children “A stranger can be your next new friend”. Some of my best girlfriends live abroad, women I’ve met when I lived 10 years away from Denmark. I’ve kept those women close to me. They know me and I know them. Initially we wrote old school letters to keep in touch. Today we use Whatsapp, facetime and meet regularly. It’s so much easier now and those women go 30+ years back. Good friends are valuable in life and very precious to me.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thanks a lot. If in any way I can be at help to you. Feel free to reach out anytime.
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.