This KC Chemist-Turned-Entrepreneur Helps Clients Break into $89B Cosmetics IndustryDavid Cawthon
The life of an entrepreneur isn’t always pretty — not even if you’re in the cosmetics industry.
Carrissa Dowdy leveraged her knowhow as a longtime cosmetics chemical engineer to create her own business, The Cosmetic Launchpad. But her journey wasn’t without a few bumps along the way.
In fact, those setbacks actually helped Carrissa nail down a big problem her business could solve: If you want to start your own makeup line, she says most manufacturers want a minimum order that’s not so minimal: 25,000 units. She says after she explored starting her own lipstick line, 15 manufacturers ballparked that same high quantity.
Carrissa knew this barrier kept many prospective entrepreneurs, like her, on the outside of the $89 billion beauty industry.
“That just seemed so daunting for someone who wants to get into this space,” she says.
But thinking small doesn’t mean you can’t make a big impact. Carrissa gleaned from her interactions that the cosmetic chemistry is not one-size-fits-all, and instead of making her own cosmetic line, she could make smaller, customized production runs for other entrepreneurs who had dreams of starting their own beauty businesses: B2B was the key.
“Everybody doesn’t necessarily want to sell 25,000 units,” she says. “That might not be where people are in their business, and so [I’m] trying to meet cosmetic businesses where they actually are to help them get to the next level.”
A mentor to move forward
After she started The Cosmetic Launchpad, Carrissa jumped at the chance to help entrepreneurs navigate their way from cosmetics inception, to product development, to market.
She started by finding direction and mentorship with the Entrepreneurial Mindset Training, an ELEVATIONLAB course she took with a scholarship for just $75, thanks to the Missouri Small Business Development Center at UMKC and the Urban Business Growth Initiative. Joel Barrett, a business coach with the Missouri SBDC who teaches the course, helped shape her business idea.
“Joel was able to listen to my problems and the challenges I’m having in my business,” she says. “He’s very big on helping you change your behaviors as an entrepreneur versus telling you, ‘Hey, just go research this,’ or, ‘Just go look at business plans,’ or, ‘Go look at website development.’ He truly helps affect behavioral change in entrepreneurs. He really helps play on your strengths and improve your weaknesses, so he’s helped transform my business.”
And part of that business transformation required a shift in mindset: less is more.
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“I had a clear picture in my mind of what I thought I wanted to do with my business, and I was resistant to anything that did not work like that picture, and that picture required millions of dollars in capital for a building and equipment,” she says. “Now, my business model is a bit different. It doesn’t require what I consider the white-glove treatment. It requires kind of a bare-bones structure, and I think that that helps me meet my customers and my clients where they are.”
All this primed her for when the coronavirus pandemic hit, which has forced many in the traditionally hands-on cosmetic industry to get creative.
Getting creative during COVID-19
Carrissa’s entrepreneur clients not only want to control the look of a product, but also the fragrance, feel, consistency, ingredient claims and other criteria that are often experienced face-to-face, but the pandemic has limited travel and opportunities for this kind of in-person cosmetics review and testing.
“In the cosmetic space, you don’t get to touch and feel the products with your customer right now,” she says. “Six feet is a bit hard when you’re trying to apply cosmetics or test on their skin. It’s difficult to do with social distancing.”
But she found a way around those difficulties, too, using Zoom to connect with potential clients, which allows her to meet with anyone, anywhere—and gave her a way to expand her customer base.
“Through the Entrepreneur Mindset Class, through COVID-19 and a lot of other things that have happened, I was able to pivot that idea into a consulting business that still does the same thing, but we do a little more now, where it’s not just manufacturing products, which is what I initially thought that I wanted to do. It’s helping people start a business, helping people maintain a business and helping people grow a business and what all that entails.”
Setting up for the future
Speaking of expansion, Carrissa has big ideas for the future of her small business, like creating a brick-and-mortar cosmetics test kitchen and manufacturing facility and a business incubator, where her clients can create, test and send their products to market and where students can learn and watch live product creation and demonstrations.
“I plan on putting a manufacturing space directly in the urban core and having it be a very walkable, visitor-friendly space so that entrepreneurs can make their products there, as well as photograph and film content to promote their cosmetics brands,” Carrissa says.
But until then, Carrissa is employing the advice, courage and motivation she’s gotten on her journey so far, which helped her shed fear and move forward.
“A lot of us have seen during COVID that nothing’s promised, and regardless of what happens, being an entrepreneur, you have the ability to control your destiny and your future,” she says. “I think that regardless of what happens, if you’re an entrepreneur, you have the skillset to either change your business model or pivot into a different type of business. You have the ability to chart your own course.”