So, you’re wondering how to break into the luxury skincare market? Most business advisors won’t recommend you base your operations in the far north woods of Maine. And they may raise a brow when you tell them your active ingredient is a rare mushroom. Fortunately for Heather Lux, business advisors at UpStart Maine love to help entrepreneurs like her launch innovative products from unlikely places.
Heather manufactures her True North Beauty skincare line in Lakeview Plantation, an hour north of Bangor. When Heather learned the black Chaga mushrooms dotting her property’s birch trees had medicinal properties a decade ago, she had her proverbial “a-ha” moment.
At the time she had a burgeoning soap and candle side-hustle. She longed to make it her full-time business. Heather began to focus on skincare formulas that benefitted from Chaga’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. She got rave feedback from friends and family, and at over forty years old, her own aging skin appeared much healthier.
Heather knew the healing properties of Chaga are an untapped breakthrough in skincare. But for years, she didn’t have time to scale her beauty business alongside her corporate career at a Fortune 100 Company.
“I attended Upstart Maine’s Top Gun program prep-class but decided not to take part in the full program. I was still working a demanding full-time job. It was not the right time.”
Facing a layoff eighteen months later, Heather reached out to UpStart Maine again. This time she was even more invested in making sure her small business was ready for scale. She enrolled in UpStart Maine’s Scratchpad Accelerator, a 6-month program designed for early-stage, growth-driven companies.
Heather is grateful for the support. “Thanks to Scratchpad I understand the different levers that can be pulled. I have a greater appreciation for the order in which things need to happen [to scale a business]. My view of the world is much broader.”
Heather says she struggles with how to reach new customers on a national scale from a rural state. Regardless, she feels the upsides of starting her business in Maine far outweigh any negatives.
“The beauty industry network is much stronger in major metros such as NYC, Boston, and LA, making it challenging to stay connected with industry influencers. But there are so many resources available in Maine. The knowledge is vast, and people are supportive and generous with their time. Scratchpad introduced me to so many amazing people that I still connect with. These relationships have been invaluable.”
Heather wants to reach people who desire the confidence that comes with healthy, clear skin. She’s always understood the importance of branding to attract her target customers. She worked with a professional designer to develop high-end design and messaging.
Scratchpad also helped Heather talk about her business in a new way. “I spent most of my career talking about the companies I worked for. For the first time, I had to learn how to do the same but with my business. This was the most valuable lesson I learned from Scratchpad.”
Advertising and PR are expensive, especially for small businesses. True North’s growth is largely due to returning satisfied customers and their referrals. “We have grown organically through the support and loyalty of our customer base,” Heather shared. “Our happy customers, showing off their healthy, clear skin is our best form of advertising.”
Sales are a mix of retail via the True North Beauty website and wholesale to 15 small and medium-size shops and spas mostly in Maine. More wholesale partners, especially in southern Maine and out of state, are a goal for Heather. Unfortunately, COVID-19 had a negative impact on wholesale orders. She is improving the online customer experience to more closely resemble the in-store buying experience. The website will feature a guided survey to help customers identify their ideal True North skincare ritual. A “zoom-style” consultation staffed by a True North skincare expert will help buyers who want a more personal, one-on-one experience.
More people than ever are shopping online. Heather hopes her investment in web technologies will “bridge the brick-and-mortar gap.” With the internet as a great equalizer, her investment may also shrink the 3,225-mile gap between rural Maine and beauty-hub Los Angeles.
Heather credits the Scratchpad Accelerator for teaching her how to think strategically beyond the next couple of years. They helped her understand her position and potential and build a roadmap for her business. COVID-19 was not part of the roadmap and it required she take some tactical detours, but she says the road ahead for True North Beauty is clear. The solid foundation she established with Scratchpad is still paving the way.
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UpStart Maine is a coalition of programs and facilities striving to build the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Greater Bangor Region. Upstart Maine works to build a community that fuels entrepreneurship from within by filling the gaps in the entrepreneurial landscape, forging connections with the larger community, and connecting startups with the people, services, and resources they need. To involve your business in any of the UpStart programs or to align your established business with UpStart to support Maine’s entrepreneurial landscape, visit UpstartMaine.org for more information.
This article is made possible in part by a generous grant from the Maine Technology Institute, supporting UpStart Maine’s effort to increase awareness of its programs and facilities available to start-up entrepreneurs in the Bangor Region.