Success is more than skin deep at SLG Beauty

Miles Dunkley & Zoella

Miles Dunkley & Zoella - Credit: Archant

If there is one company that truly epitomises technical, creative and manufacturing brilliance of Cotswold business, it’s Gloucestershire’s SLG

Shop for trend-led cosmetics in Boots, Superdrug, Superdry or Next, in fact any number of the UK’s biggest retail brands, and you’ll have bought products SLG has designed in Cheltenham and, increasingly, manufactured in Gloucester.

This is a unique British business, a hybrid. Most companies operating in this sector either design, manufacture or market. SLG does all three, making high fashion beauty products for international brands and high street retailers. It is also collaborating with some of the world’s most prolific bloggers, including Zoella and Tanya Burr, who between them have tens of millions of followers.

“Essentially, we are a design-led manufacturing company,” explains the company’s CEO Miles Dunkley. “We use creativity to differentiate our company, our products and our brands.”

Currently turning over around £24 million annually, SLG Beauty is set to turnover circa £50 million within five years as it continues on its present growth trajectory.

Miles’ father Graham launched SLG in 1985. Graham was an entrepreneur who scoured the world discovering new products to sell. On one particular trip, his wife, Bobbie, spotted make-up applicators not sold in the UK. Persuaded that these were truly revolutionary, Graham returned home, found a supplier and began manufacturing cosmetic applicators. Over the next 30 years SLG manufactured and sold many tens of millions. It still does. Graham also invented the original self-tanning mitt, Velvotan, which continues to sell spectacularly well. In the last 12 months alone, the company has made and sold five million mitts from its manufacturing site, next door to Gloucester Rugby Club at Kingsholm.

Miles joined the business 18 years ago, after a decade within the brand design industry. “The SLG I joined in 1996 was a successful company but it was making largely commodity beauty products and so to my eye, we looked vulnerable. Ten years in the design industry had taught me about the power of creativity as a business tool and so my natural instinct was to introduce a design agenda into what we were doing.

“What we saw was interesting. The more we used creativity in our business the faster the growth came and so we intensified that strategy over the years. Creativity is now evident at all touch points of my company – the brands and products of course, but also in the working environment, the staff mindset, everything.”

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Recent successful collaborations include a cosmetic range for one of the world’s fastest growing fashion retailers, Superdry (see our interview with Julian Dunkerton in issue) and product ranges for international blogging superstars, Zoella and Tanya Burr.

So how do such collaborations come about? “Superdry were naturally on our radar, because we saw its huge potential as a beauty brand,” says Miles. “Superdry’s colourful fashion sensibility fitted well with colour cosmetic trends.” As it turned out, Superdry were thinking the same thing and they made the approach to us.”

The debut collection was a range of nail lacquers coordinated to key Superdry tee-shirt colours, before a wider cosmetic line was rolled out, first in Superdry stores and then in John Lewis. Earlier this year the range was introduced exclusively into Boots in a significant new deal. “This has put the remarkable Superdry Beauty brand on the biggest beauty stage in Europe, where it belongs.” says Miles.

SLG Beauty’s own brands are also taking off. One of these, COLAB dry shampoo, has sold a staggering 1 million units in its first 12 months. It sells in the UK, Australia, Canada, South Africa and Scandinavia, and is just launching in Spain and Russia. “COLAB is a breakthrough dry shampoo formula and underscores our increasing technical capability,” says Miles. It helps that co-creator of the brand is Ruth Crilly, the successful blogger behind A Model Recommends. Her vast on-line audience gives the brand immediate social media outreach.

Miles was quick to take advantage of the huge opportunities that social media now presents. “Because of our deep interest in design and trend, we continually look at what’s going on in fashion, popular culture and celebrity. SLG have a sharp eye in that respect. It’s all about ensuring that our ranges are relevant, vital and on-point.

“For example, it was clear that a shift was occurring in terms of where consumer buying influence was coming from. It used to be magazines or TV but the power base has shifted to online commentators and bloggers like Zoella or Tanya Burr.

“For us it felt like the really big opportunity was to work directly with bloggers, creating their own brilliantly designed ranges, rather than queuing up with all the other big brands in the hope that they would give our own range or product a mention.”

This led to the securing of long-term licensing deals with Zoella, Tanya Burr and Ruth Crilly and in doing so, a new blogger beauty brand category was born and pretty much owned by SLG.

When the Zoella Beauty range was launched last year, through Superdrug and, it was an absolute sellout. Within a year the brand has an unprecedented retail value of £20 million, something that might normally be expected to take years and vast marketing budgets to achieve.

The Zoella brand needed virtually no price promotions to achieve this stellar performance as consumer demand is so intense. At Superdrug, a Zoella branded product now sells every two seconds, all from a range designed and created in Cheltenham.

How a new brand develops

It can take from 12 to 18 months to develop a product range. Each product has to be formulated, tested, user trialed and claims validated. A gift collection can be launched quicker. “It’s possible to go from blank page to gift range on shelf in nine months,” adds Miles. The company doesn’t test its products on animals. When a product has been created, it has to be tested and safety assessed. It must last for three years without separating or degrading. At the same time, negotiations take place with retailers to secure a listing of the product ranges. The UK’s beauty industry is dominated by Boots and Superdrug, two of SLG Beauty’s biggest customers, but it designs and develops for many of the UK’s biggest retail brands.

SLG Beauty

The company employs 150 people, including 100 at its 60,000 sq ft manufacturing facility in Gloucester. While 70% of what it sells is made in subcontracted factories around the world, 30% is made in Gloucester and this percentage is growing as the cost differential between manufacturing in Asia and Europe reduces. This year, SLG Beauty has invested £100,000 in new lab and other facilities in its Gloucester factory, and recruited a high-flying research and development team, two of whom moved from Molton Brown. “SLG offers lots of opportunities in its dynamic and fast paced environment. The working tempo is quick and best suits those who are creative, entrepreneurial and dynamic, ” says Miles. “There’s definitely a passion at SLG. Everyone wants to create products that they and their friends would really want to use, that’s very important to us. It means we demand a lot of ourselves, we have very high standards.”