"You can’t beat the feeling of receiving a tweet from a customer who just bought your product."
It takes some smarts to get your product into the hands of one of Kris Jenner’s kids, but Marissa Carter has been there, done that. In 2015 Kylie Jenner shared a picture of herself wearing Marissa’s now iconic Cocoa Brown 1 Hour Tan, and within 24 hours it had sold out across the US. But Marissa’s business success story began long before Kylie Jenner got her hands on that hot pink bottle.
Few people would throw caution to the wind and set up their own business in the midst of a recession, but in 2012 that’s exactly what Marissa did, and today her trademark-pink brain child and its offshoots have taken the beauty world by storm. The tan sells approximately two bottles every 15 seconds, and has netted the impressive achievement of being the number one selling bottle of express tan in three countries across the globe. And to think it all started from a hunch.
“I had been running my own beauty salon Carter Beauty for nine years and had been to a Cosmetic Chemistry course in 2007 that gave me a flavour for what it would be like to have my own brand and create my own products,” Marissa tells me when I catch up with her over the phone.
“It wasn’t until 2012 when I was on maternity leave that I went to my salon
to have a spray tan, and when I woke up the next morning, I was bronzed but so too was my three-week-old baby boy!” she laughs.
I just remembered thinking two things. ‘Oh my god, How am I going to hide this from my husband?’ and secondly, I’m going to do something about this. I recognised that it was super inconvenient for tan to have to be left on for six to eight hours before you could shower it off, so I began working with a cosmetic chemist in the UK and together we created the world’s first one hour tan.
“It took St Tropez, the world’s leading tan brand at the time, about a year before they brought out their own version.”
The success that followed was remarkable. “The first batch of tan I made was 25,000 bottles and that sold out in Ireland in nine weeks,” Marissa explains. “The next order was 50,000 bottles and they sold within five weeks. Now we manufacture in batches of 250,000 bottles at a time.”
Despite all this success, Marissa is incredibly down to earth when I ask her what her career highlight has been to date with the brand. “You can’t beat the feeling of receiving a tweet from a customer who just bought your product. It’s such a buzz,” she enthuses.
But what of the woman behind the brand? Marissa is best known in a professional context, so I want to know more about her outside of work. First up, her social media hiatus. In January of this year, she announced that she was taking a step back from her social accounts. She makes it clear to me that it’s only a break, not a case of quitting for good. “I think I just felt over-connected and I felt like I was coming close to burning out from that,” she reveals to me. “I just really felt like I wanted more time in my life, and that social media was taking up a lot of my time.”
On this break I’ve found I’m much more productive, and less reactive. I also find that I’m switching off much faster when I’m not in work, and I feel more mindful and more present. When I’m with my family and my friends, I’m not distracted.
That’s another thing I want to ask Marissa; what she’s like when she’s at home with her husband and kids. Is it hard sometimes striking a balance between business and her home life?
“I like to be outside a lot with the kids (son Charlie and daughter Belle). We spend a lot of time outside going for walks, and down by the sea. We like to get out and about. We don’t really watch too much TV. The two children are under six so we like to get out with them a bit, and tire them out. I think anyone who works full time and has a family will say the same thing, that there is no perfect balance you just do the best that you can and try not to feel guilty. That’s all you can do.”
With a success story as inspirational as hers, it’s only natural that I should ask Marissa what she would say to women who want to follow in her footsteps. Her advice is threefold. “My first and most important bit of advice is this: I truly believe that self-belief is the strongest factor for success. Be careful who you share your dreams with. In the early days it’s very easy to become discouraged. The more you believe in your own ideas the less you need other people to love them,” she tells me.
“My second piece of advice is to have resilience,” Marissa continues.
Regardless of how successful you are there will always be knock-backs, there will always be problems, there’ll always be rejections. The only guarantee in business is that you will have the stuffing knocked out of you. So you need to be able to dust yourself off and get back up after you fail. You need to be tough.
“I don’t mean tough as in hardened, I mean made of metal on the inside so that you can handle it when things don’t go the way you expect them to.”
Her third and final piece of business advice is a good ‘un. “Don’t compare yourself to other women and their businesses, and remind yourself that their success is not your failure. Remember to focus on the new, too, on things that haven’t already been done.”
Perhaps the best bit of business counsel is to take inspo from Marissa’s own personal career trajectory: she’s living proof that you don’t need a degree to succeed and she’s certainly an advocate for rolling with the punches and learning business acumen as you go along.
“When I finished my leaving cert I went to DIT Aungier street to do Management And Marketing and after my first year in college I failed four out of my seven end of year exams, so I decided to take a year out and go back and repeat. But in my year out I got a job working in a beauty college doing admin,” Marissa recalls. “At night I started studying beauty therapy and I just found my passion.”
Then at 21, Marissa opened up her own beauty salon in what was the laundry room of a house she was renting with four other professionals (one of whom
she later married), before saving up enough cash and securing a bank loan
to move premises.
“Carter Beaty moved locations a couple of times, and it just kept growing and growing. I sold that salon two or three years after setting up Cocoa Brown because I felt I wasn’t fully able to concentrate on both businesses. It’s great for me to see it’s still going strong today. I learned a lot on the ground running that beauty salon. I learned from experience rather than formal education.”
These days Marissa keeps flexing her learning muscle with one simple pastime: reading. “I read a lot. I read at least one book a week. I alternate between reading a book for pure pleasure and entertainment and reading for business purposes, for learning and developing as a business person.”
So what’s next for Marissa? World domination? Close. First, her personal life. “I’m trying to convince my husband to have another baby but he’s having none of it. We’ll see who wins that battle,”she laughs. As for professional projects, Marissa has plans to diversify.
“I’m launching 130 new products this summer, not as part of Cocoa Brown, something different, but equally as exciting.” Yep, you read that right – 130 new products. As you’ve probably guessed by now, Marissa is not faint-hearted when it comes to business – and she’s an example to us all.
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