Customized Cosmetics

by Mr. Cheap

I’ve talked to women who have all told me this wouldn’t work. Since I’ve never bought cosmetics, I’ll defer to their wisdom, but I still think its a good idea.

Years ago one of my ex-girlfriends was talking about how personal perfumes are (and how she’d lie if anyone ever asked her the name of her perfume because she didn’t want anyone else to wear the same scent). This lead to the idea of a website, something like CafePress where people can customize perfumes, colognes, shampoos, etc. There would be a variety of bases, to which various amount of scents and other additives could be mixed in, in amounts determined by the customer. The final, totally unique, product would be mixed up and sent out on demand.

Lipsticks, mascaras, blushes, etc could all be “tweaked” to subtly different shades.

The site could purchase discontinued products, and continue offering them on a “made for you” basis. A friend of mine has a hair gel she is very loyal to. The company that makes it has fallen on hard times and stopped selling retail. For a while she was ordering cases of it directly from the company, until they recently shut their doors for good. She ended up tracking down the guy who developed it, and she’s trying a new product he’s developed at his new company.

Clearly when a customer is at this point, they aren’t trying to save $0.50 off of their next purchase. They know what they want and they’re willing to pay to get it. If you had the equipment to mix up other products, you could probably also continue to make them their “discontinued” product.

“Tester” packs could be offered with certain mixtures that could be used as a “base” for people experimenting with creating their own (they could take the default option, then add a bit of “apple” scent to it for example). Once someone had a formula they were happy with, they could get a better price by ordering a larger volume. There’s always the possibility of people not being happy with the product when they receive it (especially if they get wildly experimental) which could be handled by encouraging them to try very small batches when they’re first experimenting.

While its obviously more expensive to create customized versions of a product, they would still probably be cheaper than some of the super-pricey name brand cosmetics (its shocking to me what people sometimes pay for a bottle of perfume).

Like CafePress, if someone wanted to share their creation, the site would let them advertise it and send a portion of the profit to the creator. People who wanted to keep it secret could do that as well.

As I said in the introduction, this is a type of product I have *NO* understanding of. I never wear cologne, and I buy whatever shampoo is the cheapest. My highest aspiration is not to smell bad. For those who do buy products along these lines, would you ever be tempted to order completely customized creations?

For this post, or any other of the wacky business ideas I post, obviously I’m releasing any ownership claims I may have over these ideas. If you like something I post and feel like you can make money from it, please feel free to do so! Let me know when you’re opening and we’ll do a post on it to give you some free advertising.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Four Pillars

For what it’s worth – I think this is a good idea. No idea if it would be successful or not though!

The hair gel story is funny. Maybe just buying discontinued products (and selling at 10x the price) is another way to do it?

2 Mr. Cheap

Mike: But what does Mrs. Pillars think? That’s the important opinion! (how often do you buy cosmetics?) 😉

3 Mrs Pillars

Me? I’ve never bought a bottle of perfume. A walk through the cosmetic section in those big stores always makes me hold me breath and hurry. As for your friend the gel sleuth, I can understand her desire to find the right product although I am way too lazy to go to the trouble. I do get annoyed when the shampoo I use gets “improved” with a new scent. A couple of times, I have gone searching for something new just because I dislike the “improvement” of the old. Now as for your idea, I’m not sure I could use such a site. How would you name the additives? Their scientific names? The way they name paint colours? (Like “cougar” or “autumn sunrise”).

4 jim of Blueprint for Financial Prosperity

It’s a clever idea but the first question I ask myself is, why hasn’t the cosmetic industry done this already? Chances are I bet they’ve figured out that consumers won’t buy new cosmetics without trying it first. I know that perfume is very subtle and changes depending on the body chemistry and temp of the wearer, perhaps the same can be said about stuff.

I’m not dogging your idea though, just because it hasn’t been done by a megacorporation doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done; but my first step would be to figure out why… I’d peg it to buying habits.

Perhaps if we had Smellovision on the computer… 🙂

5 guinness416

Google Oliver Creed, they do personalized scents but they sure as hell ain’t mass market. “My highest aspiration is not to smell bad” would be quite the company slogan though.

I’ve got one for you, Mr Cheap. I was talking to a friend the other day who has a family member who is making a killing cleaning out wheelie bins (what Irish people call Toronto-style green and recycling bins) for home owners. Apparently he started small-time, going house to house with a hose and a tank or something, but it became quite the keeping up with the joneses thing. Everyone felt compelled to use him if all their neighbours were, and because it’s a mucky job it’s worth paying the fifteen euro or whatever once a month. And so the story goes, he’s making the big bucks now.

6 Gates VP

Hey Cheap, your ex-girlfriend is a little odd: …shed lie if anyone ever asked her the name of her perfume because she didnt want anyone else to wear the same scent…. As a guy who does use cologne (typically received as an x-mas gift, you frugal people), I can tell you that she’s really missing something.

You don’t smell like your cologne, you smell like you plus your cologne. The scent is only part of the equation. What smells good on me, doesn’t necessarily smell good on you.

And really, it’s more than just your cologne, it’s also the rest of the scents you’re wearing. Underarm deodorant, hair gel, shaving gel, etc. This is especially true for men as we tend to wear less cologne than women wear perfume. So where a women spends lots of money on the variety of scented cosmetics, she then often “drowns it out” with her perfume (kind of funny folk these women 🙂

Of course, the thing with scent mixing is simply that it’s not easy. It’s way easier to make something that smells horrible than it is to make something that smells really good. It’s much easier to let a pro find the right mix and then re-create from scratch.

If anything, I think that the sweet spot would be to offer a quality set of “unscented” products with a “pick your flavor” option. This fills two niches: those who need unscented products and those who don’t want to smell like 5 different products. If your soap, shampoo, hair gel, underarm deodorant, etc. could all be made to smell the same or smell like “nothing”, that would definitely be something that adds value.

Of course, it’s a tough market. People tend to be very loyal to their product of choice. It’s also not something you can just advertise online. It would likely need to be sold direct (“Mary Kay-style”) as you’d need people to be able to use the product and hunt through scents. You’d need to cover a range of products, but not too many (or it quickly gets out of hand). And there are several considerations for that range as you can’t just sell “the one shampoo”, different hair / scalp types need different product mixes.

So yeah, it’s not so whacky, it just has a high barrier to entry. In fact given the high barrier to entry it’s likely to be a very good business b/c it’s not like somebody else can just “move in”.

7 Mr. Cheap

Mrs. Pillars: Good question. Maybe have a “beginner” interface where they can add a dash of “apple blossom”, then an advance interface where they can increase linalool content to .07%?

Guinness416: That reminds me of an episode of “king of the hill” where Bobby meets an entrepreneur who cleans dog feces off of rich peoples lawns. He tells Bobby he thought of the job people hate to do the most, then offered to do it for them. Bobby runs with the idea and sets up a business clean up frat-boy vomit.

Gates: Yeah, I think the product loyalty is the killer. Pulling back to a more simple “mix and match” might work (although I suspect quite a few lines already offer all the different combinations)

8 Mr. Cheap

Jim: yeah, its always a fair question “why isn’t someone else already doing this?” I really believe that there are infinite ways to make the world a better place, and no one company or person has thought of them all and had the time to develop them all.

That being said, you’re absolutely right if an idea seems like the natural progression of existing products / services and its not being offered, there’s probably a good reason why.

9 ThickenMyWallet

From what a client once told me, shampoo, perfume, soap etc. are mixed and made in huge batches so I am not sure where your economies of scale are. Someone would have to literally buy hundreds of boxes before the manufacturer could make any money. But, like you, I am pretty much ignorant on the subject and only passing along 2nd hand information.

10 deepali

This could work on some level – if you could customize colors and scents. But anything more than that would be difficult, because the various chemicals have to be mixed in certain proportions. I know Aveda does the personalized scent thing, as does the Body Shop. They might do personalized colors as well. But the base product is the same.

And what do you mean by additives?

11 Mr. Cheap

deepali: just the ingredients that make up the final product (some of which would be optional).

12 Taline

Dear Mr.Cheap!

That is exactly what I am thinking/willing to do for a year now! I am a cosmetic chemist and I know I can customized product to make people (cosmetics addicted) HAPPY! Instead of working for Big Brands I would like to do it for each individual following exactly what they want…either it is their dicontinued lipstick or a new lipstick that they want to have. Their unique signature lipstick (or any color cosmetics)….only problems: money to buy few raw materials.
But I am working on it…one day may be!

13 Stacey StClair

Dear Mr. Cheap:

Hi. I am VERY interested in buying customized cosmetics for several reasons. I am critcially ill in lung failure and am alos very allergic to the point of having to have dye-free Benadryl and Yes to Carrots cleansing cloths on hands as well as my Nitroglyercin when I try on makeup.

I am extremely fair with pink tones and my skin is changing due to my illness. The salespeople want to sell me the beige foundation, even though my neck is ivory. No on listens to me and the saleswoman wants me to buy several products to match my neck when I only need one.

I want “green” products in every aspect of my life.

Right now I would buy a green product of Coffee Bean lipstick from Revlon and from Alexandre de Markoff I used to wear its lightest shade of 92 mixed with 0. As you can read, I am ready to go.

Thank you for you for your time.

Yours Sincerely,

Stacey M. St. St.Clair

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