Have you ever thought to yourself that you’d love to create your own product line?
To be able to use and recommend your own products to your clients?
At nearly every industry conference and trade show we attend, as well as during our signature CIT/Microneedling and Dermaplaning trainings across the U.S., I hear sentiments from other ambitious estheticians on how they dream of having their own product line one day, but wouldn’t know where to begin.
First of all, let me say that if I did it, so can you…nothing is impossible, the word itself says, “I’m possible!”
However, when it comes to actually diving into that dream, there are SO many factors you have to take into account, many of which I didn’t realize in the beginning, even after extensive research.
So, in an effort to show you the real behind-the-scenes of product research, development, and creation, and give you a leg up if you are serious about taking the plunge into product creation, I want to give you a breakdown of the resources you need to consider and have lined up beforehand.
This list is a luxury I didn’t have when starting…it took countless hours of research, funds that were hard earned from my esthetic practice, and partnering with other product developers to learn through experience, but I believe that when we share our learned experiences that have helped us grow individually, we elevate collectively.
So, whether the idea of developing your own product line is just a fun thought you’re considering, or it’s a serious goal you’re set to achieve, this is my ultimate checklist to help you decide whether this journey is one you want to travel, and if it is, how to do it with far fewer roadblocks.
Protect Your Most Valuable Resource
First and foremost, before jumping into this endeavor of creating your own product line, you must consider your greatest commitment and most valuable resource of them all, your time.
You can invest money and make it back, but time is the ultimate currency that cannot be tangibly returned to you.
If I could rewind four years back to when Herbal Skin Solutions was in the wee stages of coming to life, I would tell that naïve, driven, young woman to always overestimate the amount of time each product’s creation takes (in fact, multiple times by double what the lab says if you are going the contract manufacturing route), and I’d tell her to make a realistic decision on where to focus her time.
You see, Herbal Skin Solutions was born out of a need.
I was working full-time in my own esthetic practice, Herbal Skin Solutions at Wellness in the Park, and before that OrthoRejuvaskin, and in the little time I had between clients, I would make calls to the professional companies I ordered from to place product orders only to get the run around when I asked about protocol and specific questions related to skin types.
It was then that I felt the responsibility to elevate the level of our industry and fill this need with a professional company that provided natural, results-oriented and cost-effective products and tools with a team comprised of skin care professionals who have an understanding of the skin from an esthetician’s in-treatment room perspective and can offer helpful advice.
Little did I know at the time, but saying “yes” to this venture into manufacturing and distribution would have me bidding a painful farewell to the many clients who felt akin to family and had trusted me for years as we had journeyed together into their deepest skin concerns, goals, as well as personal dreams and lives.
Then, after the first year of Herbal Skin Solutions was in the works, I began creating curriculum for DBPR-approved education through The Esthetics Academy, and between those ventures plus trying to balance a book full of clients, I hit a wall of utter exhaustion and overwhelm.
I missed the soul reset that spending time with family and friends gives you, and it was then that I knew it was time to find another service provider for my beloved clients.
Some were proud of me for following what I felt called to share to the industry, but others did not take the news so well and expressed that they felt abandoned, which, as an empath by nature, was very emotionally taxing.
I was over-committed because I wanted to do it all, but by saying “yes” to everything, I was really saying no to the things that my focus best served.
So, while it requires a ton of ambition and energy to embark on this journey of creating your own product line, also be realistic about the amount of time you will need to put into not only creating your products and brand, but also building your team and community, and launching, growing, and running your business effectively.
Added note: In addition to protecting your time, protect your relationships by not being afraid of having crucial conversations!
Take my former say-yes-to-it-all attitude and client relationships, for example.
I would have felt much healthier had I made the decision to offer another esthetician’s services to my clients from the beginning of the business venture instead of being fearful of the non-approval and feelings of guilt from some.
Avoidance leads to a snow-ball effect of overwhelm and anxiety. Transparency through open, honest conversation about where you are in your journey breeds compassion!
Put the “Who” Before the “How”
Before you jump straight into product development, first you need to get crystal clear on who you are serving and why.
Remember, people buy products that solve a need or products that are better than existing ones, so it’s crucial you understand your target market to inform your product creation before you begin figuring out the logistics of manufacturing.
So, begin by answering these questions:
- Who is your customer?
- What problems do they have?
- How are they solving those problems now?
- What do they like and dislike about the current product or products they’re using to solve their problem?
- What benefits are they looking for out of the types of products you’re looking to create?
- What are the demographics of the people who are searching for these benefits?
- What is their lifestyle like? Their shopping habits? What drives their purchasing decisions?
With all the insight you glean from the answers to these questions, you can take the problems your ideal customer market is facing, examine the current solutions available, and come up with something new that fills a gap and need in the current marketplace.
Also, when thinking about the details of who your customer is, keep in mind that major conglomerate companies often ignore small markets, which gives you the opportunity as a new brand to have a leg up if you’re looking to specialize in a niche market segment.
This is your opportunity to pave your way as an innovator!
Challenge yourself to an “idea quota,” where you carve out time to come up with fresh, new ideas every day (and write them down) because the best way to have one good idea is to have a lot of ideas.
Funny story (I can laugh at it now, but at the time I was devastated), I thought I was the only person in the world who had the brilliant idea of the name “FaceFood” for a skin care brand.
I was creating and selling naturally-derived skin care scrubs and body polishes under that name at farmers markets and local events for years even before going to esthetic school.
During my time in esthetics training, we had an assignment that inspired me to pick up my love for creating these products, but after learning how to make the idea a “real business” with a tax ID and all that jazz, I realized the brand name had already been taken, and not only was it taken, it looked to be an awesome brand.
Knowing what I know now, I want to encourage you to not throw your hands up in defeat if you find your idea or your brand name is already taken.
With 7.4 billion+ people in the world, and experts estimating that the mind thinks between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day (an average of 2500 – 3,300 thoughts per hour), It’s highly unlikely that we are to come up with a 100% original idea, however the most successful products are often not a brand new invention, but a refined and elevated version of something that already exists, whether it be in mechanics, formulations, or outcomes.
Some of my favorite resources for coming up with fresh creative inspiration is The Creativity Pool as well as Google Trends because as important as artistic creativity is, so is analytical and strategic input.
Google Trends has been one of my most helpful resources in understanding the information associated with certain interests over time as well as IRI data, which is very helpful in tracking insights into analytics and market segment trends.
So, start by answering those questions on your ideal customer, get extremely clear on your target market’s problems, get creative with solutions, and do some Blue Ocean Strategizing or Blue sky Imagineering meetings of the mind so that you can map out your full vision and see what factors you may want to eliminate, reduce, create, or raise before going into the next piece of the puzzle…
Here Comes the “How” aka Manufacturing
Now that you have an idea of who you are creating for and what problems you are solving with your product idea, you need to figure out how it will be made.
Will you use a lab for contract manufacturing from start to finish?
Or will you have the product made in a lab sent to a filling and labeling companies?
If you want to get the best price, you will likely be working with multiple companies for the various processes, which can get a little tricky with the amount of coordination required, but that’s why you’re about to become BFFs with Excel.
First, you’ll need to figure out what the bulk cost of product (including shipping), as well as the cost of bottles, lids, labels, label design, testing, marketing, and divide that cost by the quantity of bottles you will get out of the bulk order to figure your cost per bottle.
Keep in mind, this does not include the cost of commercial office space to store and ship the product (outsourcing fulfillment is another option you could go with, and if you read our other article, 3 Steps to Boosting Your Spa’s Bottom Line With E-Commerce, you can find additional recommendations).
Also, you’ll need to factor in any certifications you may need to apply for.
Then comes the piece of finding which lab(s) you want to work with, that is, unless you plan on sourcing ingredients yourself and setting up your own lab, which requires applying for all the necessary cosmetic manufacturer permits (and that’s a topic for a whole other blog post).
I’ve found that decision is one of the most important regarding your brand because you and your brand’s reputation depends on the quality of the product, which is why I highly recommend selecting a lab with a great reputation that is CGMP compliant for quality assurance.
This ensures that the lab conducts microbiological and stability testing to verify that the product can withstand cold and heat without degrading or growing bacteria or mold is another key factor.
Some labs offer this in-house or work with third party testing companies.
Finally, in-person professional conventions such as New York Society of Cosmetic Chemists Suppliers’ Day or Indie Beauty Expo are great opportunities to meet many third party testing companies, labs, and suppliers for bulk ingredients.
NY Suppliers Day specifically is sponsored by Global Cosmetic Industries Magazine (GCI), which is another helpful resource.
In the early stages of setting up Herbal Skin Solutions, I contacted GCI directly and asked for their directory of manufacturers, and they sent me a directory of thousands of reputable global manufacturers that they vet.
From there, I researched the labs and narrowed down which ones I wanted to work with, reach out and conducted interviews to make sure they met all of our needs for what I was looking to develop.
Marketing Your Product to Sell
Once your product development is in motion, then comes the marketing…
What marketing story will you tell?
What will your message be for why your product is the best that your target market needs? (Again, this comes back to your target research!)
The “claims” you make about your product will ideally support your marketing and these claims should be used to explain the functionality of your product and differentiate your brand from other similar products on the market.
Keep in mind, certain claims can increase your risk.
The Personal Care Products Council Labeling Manual, 9th edition is a guide to cosmetic and OTC drug labeling and advertising that takes an in-depth look at U.S. regulations for labeling cosmetics and is an easy-to-use resource that puts regulations, explanations, charts, and illustrations at your fingertips for labeling and advertising questions.
Plus, it translates complex government regulations into plain English, and I can’t recommend this resource enough.
Each chapter of the Labeling Manual is dedicated to one important labeling requirement, such as warning statements or ingredient labeling with easy-to-follow illustrations provide examples of where information should be placed on a label.
Speaking of labels, people buy pretty packaging!
Whether you use Canva, Photoshop, or Adobe Pro, there are no shortage of tools you can use to create label designs, but if design isn’t your forté or you do not have an in-house designer, outsourcing a designer via Thumbtack and Fiverr are great for hiring self-contractors that specialize in packaging design.
For printing your labels, you can always start simple with Avery labels and print them yourself at Fedex. Or, if you would like labels professionally made, contact a print house and know going in that the more you order, the lower the cost in most cases.
Also, make sure to get waterproof labels if the product has a chance of being used around water.
Once you’ve got the message and the look of your products nailed down, and before going live with your launch, you’ll want to plan out your strategic marketing plan and include your strategies for advertisements, events, webinars, etc.
No matter what methods you use to launch and spread the word, you need to have an e-commerce platform and business phone line set up and ready to go so your customers not only have a place to purchase, but can get in touch for support.
The ABCs of Business
So, to tie this up in a nice bow with a recap:
- Come up with a game plan for how you’re going to carve out the time to make your product line dream a reality…goals are dreams with a plan, so make a plan
- Get to know your target market inside out
- Find and line up all your manufacturing pieces to bring your product to life
- Create the marketing message and strategy that is going to lead to sales
And finally, make sure your business ABCs are squared away so you’re doing everything legally and by the book… file with your city and/or state to obtain a license to do business and charge tax, get a tax id, and resale certificate.
If you are selling wholesale like we do, you will need copies of all of your customer’s tax resale certificates (I highly suggest doing yourself a favor and working with a CPA or accountant).
With fulfillment being the final mile marker on your product’s journey into the hands of your customer, I’ll end on this note:
Don’t leave support as an afterthought.
Have a clear system for how customers will receive their products, how your team will handle returns, and how your brand will be represented from your social media to your customer support line.
At the end of the day, your product line’s success all comes down to whether it effectively solves the need of your customers, so while this might be the last piece of the puzzle in creating your product line, it’s the first and most foundational piece to growing your brand.