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Lessons Learned: 35 Years in Beauty

Following the success of The Beauty Symposium, held this week at Making Cosmetics in Coventry,  we hear from Founder and CEO of The Red Tree Stirling Murray who shares some of his most significant lessons learned after 35 years in the beauty industry.

Rather than write on a particular issue affecting the beauty industry I thought I’d mention some lessons I’ve learnt after 35 years (yikes!) in beauty.

1. I have always been a great advocate of business coaching both in my corporate career and in running my own business. However there comes a point when you realise that the answer to a question or the solution to a problem can only come from within. No amount of external help will provide the answer. We have an aggressive growth plan for 2014. I sought advice on how we might achieve that from my networks, joined a business club, and employed a business coach – all in the month of January! None asked the right questions so none provided the right answers. And then very simply the answer came to me on how we might achieve our goals. Does that mean that all the meetings were of no value, or did they provide a greater focus for my thinking? Who knows? What I have learnt is that you can’t expect someone else to answer a question that with your accumulated experience and time you should be able to answer yourself.

2. Everything takes longer then you expect. The reality is that no matter how well planned you need to plan in more time. You want to launch in 12 months – plan 15! Completing an acquisition – double the length of time you expect!

3. Always make sure that others understand clearly what your business is about. It is never enough that you know. The articulation of what your business or brand is about, what function it fills, what it does, has to be so clearly understood that others – your unpaid and very powerful advocates – can spread your message with ease.

A running conversation I had with an investment fund was focussed purely on business but it became clear during our sixth conversation over the course of 2 years that we had both been talking at tangents. They hadn’t understood how we might help their client’s business. No one else to blame but me!! What was important is that they hadn’t understood what we do and as a consequence couldn’t explain it to others. Take a look at skincare brands – do you really understand the messages on front of pack, are the benefits in using the product clear, is the terminology confusing and alienating? On my many store visits I pick up beauty brands that I just don’t get! It’s irrelevant that I may not be the brands target market – if I only understood what it does I could be its greatest advocate!

4. Keep learning. The act of learning, of gaining knowledge of unfamiliar things is an activity that should never cease. By having a learning attitude you gain positively from mistakes, and are willing to dig deep to put into practice learnings from the past. It’s an attitude that should pervade everything. There are always new ways of doing things, different ways to resolve problems and new insights to gain from others. And that which didn’t work in the past may work now because the time or circumstances are different. Learning for me means listening, reading, watching and talking and should not be restricted to business only – it should form part of the structure of your normal life. I count myself lucky to work in the beauty industry where the sheer dynamism and variety of the business means I have the opportunity to learn every day.

For more information on The Beauty Symposium or
The Red Tree, contact Stirling on +44 (0)844 858 8860 or email

The Red Tree is the UK’s leading international beauty brand consultancy and a powerhouse of ideas, insight and inspiration. For an informal discussion on how we might help you, please contact us.

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