Building a make-up business on good foundations

Inside Track Q&A: Annie Gribbin of Make Up For Ever

Annie Gribbin is the owner and creative director of Make Up For Ever – a boutique cosmetics shop and make-up academy in Dublin that is celebrating 25 years in business. Gribben specialises in make-up artistry training for professionals and amateurs and special-effects make-up and is the sole retailer of LVMH brand Make Up For Ever, as well as retailing her own brand of cosmetics, Face2.

What’s sets your business apart from the competition?

We concentrate only on make- up and haven’t diluted our offering to include other aspects of the beauty industry such as hair and nails. My vision was always to offer people the opportunity to have their make-up done by a professional without the pressure of having to purchase products. This is quite different to many competitors.

On the retail front, we are the only distributor of the Make Up For Ever cosmetics brand in the country – a high- quality brand that I introduced to Ireland 25 years ago. At that time I was one the first distributors in the world. I was also one of the first people in the country to develop my own make-up brand, Face 2.

What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone starting a business?

One piece of advice would be to get an expert financial controller. The other would be to stick to what you know and what you are good at. The more you do something, the better you become at it and with repetition it becomes second nature. Being a jack of all trades is not a good idea.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in business?

The one major mistake I made was to open a second store in close proximity to my existing shop just as the recession was taking hold. It diluted the trade rather than concentrating it and I had to pay for two premises, two sets of rates and wages. I should have invested that money into an excellent e-commerce site at the time instead, which would have added value to the business back then.

And your major success to date?

My major success has been surviving 25 years in an increasingly competitive industry. It is an achievement to have kept going during the last five years too. I’m proud of the fact that I have maintained a good reputation over the years and have trained some of the best make- up artists to come out of Ireland and that a wide diversity of people come to avail of those products and services.

Who do you most admire in business and why?

I admire people who have made their creativity a success through hard work and good business acumen. People like U2 – it's incredible what they have achieved. Also Philip Treacy, whom I hugely admire for sticking to his creativity while making an enormous success of it. I also admire Lainey Keogh, who was so out-there in terms of creativity but really made it work for her.

Based on your experience in the downturn, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs?

I think that in the past few years, while the big boys were running for the hills, the small businesses were easier to bully, which is foolish as the small businessperson doesn’t tend to want to run away – they want to pay their way and grow their businesses and economic growth happens with SMEs. There’s a conflict between what the Government is saying about the economy and what the banks are willing to provide.

What one piece of advice would you give the Government to help stimulate the economy?

If they want to create vibrant city centres, they need to do something about parking and clamping. Business owners are paying huge rates – we are not planning the city but we are paying for the city. There have been some moves on rents but not on rates. There’s a lot of talk about the upturn but business just doesn’t turn that fast – you need people on the streets shopping.

The amount of red tape that is inherent in employing people is problematic too.

What’s been the biggest challenge you have had to face?

Definitely keeping the business going in the recession. I think there were a lot of Titanic scenarios for people where they didn't realise how big the hole was in their business and went down with the ship. The life force has been taken out of many businesspeople and there has to be a huge recovery from that. To be intact after the tidal wave of the recession is amazing.

How do you see the short- term future for your business?

The future is very bright. I’ve lots of ideas for the business in terms of targeting different markets and age groups with our products. I think I have gained enough experience over the past 25 years to know what I’m at. We are focusing on the educational aspect of our business too and are really busy. It’s about never keeping still.

What’s your business worth and would you sell it?

It’s priceless to me. It’s always been like my baby, my child who’s grown up with me. I am not ready to sell at the moment, although I trust myself to make the right decision when the time comes.

Ruth O’Connor