This week’s Small Business Star is Martine Burford, who founded Ruby Red Cosmetics with her husband Mike Ruby in 2012.
Martine and Mike combined their respective skills in skincare and design to grow their award-winning brand of natural beauty and skincare products.
While Martine admits they “started a business by accident,” she tells us how they’ve developed and refined their brand as the business has grown in unexpected ways.
“Mike had run a design agency in London and I’d worked in luxury skincare marketing. We’d reached a stage where our children had left home and were established, so we decided to take off and go travelling for a year. We rented out our home and went to South East Asia. It was all very liberating. We enjoyed the way of life and healthy food and it made us think about the importance of healthy living and eating.
“We returned home to a blank page. We could do anything we wanted, so using our knowledge and existing skills we created a cosmetic brand. Our passion is for natural skin and body care and a conviction that natural should mean just that.
“This is a very competitive business and it can be difficult to make an impression. You need a good understanding of the market and the consumer. So we spent a long time researching and developing our product range.”
“We started selling on Portbello Road market. We loved what we were doing and didn’t have plans to grow. That happened by accident, when we were approached by a retailer.
“As the company grew, we saw that there was a real demand for authentic products. So we went to trade fairs and were approached by Fortnum & Mason and Harvey Nichols.”
“We’d started out as a handmade cottage brand, but as interest in our products grew and we knew we were on to something, we had to go back to the drawing board. So in 2012 we rebranded. Our products now combine traditional apothecary with contemporary design-led packaging. They’re aimed at the consumer who is looking for high-performance, natural products, who also appreciate good design.
“We’ve created what retailers call a cult brand. But this means we can’t stand still. We constantly have to move with the market, which can be exhausting.
“We’re immensely proud of working with leading UK retailers like Fortnum & Mason and Harvey Nichols, not only because of their retailing heritage, but because these guys are just so professional and clued up about the market.
“When I first saw our products on the shelves I was elated and petrified at the same time. It’s like holding your new-born baby. I was ecstatic, but knew this was just the beginning and we had a big responsibility to get it right.
“We were at the Natural Organic Show and decided to put forward our new product, the Reviving Body Cleanser. We were up against lots of bigger brands and didn’t think we had a chance. So when our name was called out, I thought I’d misheard. This was our Oscar moment. We’ve since been finalists for three other awards.”
“Work is our passion and we find it fun. Mike and I both enjoy running Ruby Red so although it’s work in the conventional sense, it’s also very enjoyable. I really enjoy the fact that I don’t have to compromise and I feel enthusiastic about all of the products we sell.
“I think our age has been an advantage. We have a lot of experience behind us and a greater understanding of the risks involved in running a business. We can’t leave anything to chance and constantly plan for the future and consider what our energy levels may be like in five or ten years’ time. If we were younger, we probably wouldn’t think about this at all.”
“The next 12 months are going to be very busy. We have new products launching in June – a body cleanser and moisturiser. These have been 24 months in development and we are looking forward to seeing them on the shelf and making them available to the consumer.
“We also plan to start exporting to the US and Middle East this year. Although we do a bit of exporting now to independent shops, we are actively going to grow our export business which will give me the opportunity to practice languages as well.”
“If you have passion and drive, it’s a great idea to start up a business. I would advise all start-ups to be properly funded and to keep their finger on the financial pulse of the business.
“Not all businesses require large financial investments and some business get started on next to nothing but you need to be aware how much cash it is going to cost you to grow if that’s your strategy. Luckily there is so much good information out there with organisations and people happy to help.
“Also, outsource what you don’t have the skills, experience, or time to do yourself. For me, that’s social media.”