Direct-to-Consumer Spotlight: How One Haircare Brand is Taking Their Marketing Strategy to New Lengths

Only Curls Direct to consumer marketing haircare brand UK

Where do women with curly hair turn for a product that will transform their frizzy coils into silky spirals?

When Lizzie Carter, founder of Only Curls, was looking for the perfect solution for her own hair back in 2016, she quickly realized there was a huge gap in the market and curly hair had largely been neglected in the beauty sector, especially in the UK.

“I just felt that the haircare brands out there felt a little dated and just weren’t anywhere near the level of brands like Glossier and what they were doing with makeup. There were all these cool brands, but there was just nothing in the curly hair space and no one that was catering specifically towards curly hair,” said Lizzie.

"I just felt that the haircare brands out there felt a little dated and just weren't anywhere near the level of brands like Glossier and what they were doing with makeup."

Lizzie Carter, co-founder, Only Curls

“It’s such a niche market with such special needs. You really need a brand that caters towards curls and can offer great customer service, help people on their curly journey, and help them manage their curls because most people spend a lifetime trying to figure out how to do that,” she said.

Lizzie and her partner, Hugo Lewis, had always wanted to start a business, so with £500 and a Shopify URL, they got to work creating Only Curls, a London-based direct-to-consumer (DTC) haircare line made specifically to help people manage curly locks—all the while raising their newborn daughter.

Building a brand

The duo started by building the brand around a single product, a microfiber towel made for drying curly hair. By focusing on the towel, Lizzie said they were able to launch the business quickly and test out the market with a small sample of the product.

Starting out with the microfiber towel also helped them build up a following on Instagram among the curly hair community. 

“I used to have an hour commute to work and I would sit on the train and comment on and like pictures of girls with curly hair,” said Lizzie, who worked on Only Curls as a side-hustle at the time while she worked full-time in fashion.

“We built this following on Instagram because we set up our social channels with the towel and sent it out to influencers. And then we had an audience there ready and waiting for the rest of the product line when it launched. We already had an email list of quite a few thousand people when we launched the full line of products.”

"We already had an email list of quite a few thousand people when we launched the full line of products."

Lizzie Carter, co-founder, Only Curls

While Lizzie said they knew cosmetic products would take longer to develop, soon they were reinvesting the profits from the towel into finding a manufacturer to create the four haircare products they’re known for todaya shampoo, a conditioner, a cream, and a gel.

Meanwhile, they were also receiving accolades in the press, winning coverage in the Daily Mail and awards in Vogue, which were generating a huge buzz around the Only Curls brand. 

New customers were excited to try out the products that would give them curls like they were seeing in the viral photos, meanwhile current customers were excited to get their hands on the new line of products that were evidently producing amazing results.

“The business actually got much bigger when I was on my maternity leave. Our daughter was about two months old when we expanded our product line. I used to pack all the orders around my baby on our kitchen table and we were running the business from our living room. It really grew massively that year,” said Lizzie. 

Today, co-founders Lizzie and Hugo have both taken on Only Curls as their full-time jobs. And as they continued to build out their business, they also focused on growing their email lists and experimenting with segmentation.

“You can do the Facebook ads and all that stuff, but that costs money and for us, being able to actually just reach out to people that we know are fans of ours was huge. Email campaigns had a real impact on our business early on and that was when we thought, ‘Hang on, we need to focus more on our email audience,’” said Hugo.

"Being able to actually just reach out to people that we know are fans of ours was huge. Email campaigns had a real impact on our business early on and that was when we thought, ‘Hang on, we need to focus more on our email audience.'"

Hugo Lewis, co-founder, Only Curls

At first, they stuck to the basics like abandoned cart flows and a welcome series. But as they implemented those marketing automations, they were able to intuitively figure out how to build more complex flows and target more specific behaviors.

“If a customer purchases certain products, we’ll know what else they might like. For example, if they tried our shampoo and conditioner but they haven’t purchased the gel and the cream, there’s a good chance that they might like it. We can send them a really targeted email saying, ‘Hey, you might want to try this,’” said Hugo.

“Since we sell consumer goods, a lot of customers reorder the products. We’re able to see when people might typically like to purchase again with Expected Date of Next Order and use this in our replenishment campaigns to remind our customers that it’s time to place a new order.”

Lizzie and Hugo were also able to leverage back in stock campaigns around the time they were seeing demand outpace their inventory due to so much positive press coverage. As a small business, they were only able to order so much product at one time and found themselves frequently selling out, but these marketing automations allowed them to be transparent with their customers.

“We love that you can set these automations up and then they just work in the background. It’s generating income for us and once they’re set up, you just let them go and monitor them,” said Lizzie.

"We love that you can set these automations up and then they just work in the background. It's generating income for us and once they’re set up, you just let them go and monitor them."

Lizzie Carter, co-founder, Only Curls

The secret to outrageous open rates

Hugo and Lizzie enjoy a 30 percent open rate for most of their email campaigns, which they attribute to a few factors.

“One thing that I think is really helpful is being able to suppress lists and people who don’t want so many emails. We’re able to keep our lists very targeted that way and, typically, all the people who are receiving the emails we’re sending want them.”

Hugo also emphasized that a large part of their incredible open rates is not only the fact that they send them to engaged subscribers, but also because they make sure that what they send is helpful, relevant, and valuable to their curly-haired customerssubscribers know that emails from the brand will contain content that they want to open and learn more about.

One of the ways they do this is by matching their content to the season. For example, in the summer they’ll send blog posts about up-do ideas, whereas in the winter they’ll send a blog post about how to manage dry hair.

Lizzie says that, oftentimes, people will even reply directly to her emails to ask for her advice about managing curly hair, which she will often answer herself.

“We send out an automated email to shoppers who haven’t placed an order. They get a picture of me and it says that if they have any questions about your curls, I’m more than happy to help. And we get a lot of replies to that with people who are wondering where to begin.”

Customers have also found that the post-purchase emails from Only Curls are always relevant and assist them in mastering their hair care routines.

“Just before a customer receives our products, they get an email from us with our curly method and some other tips like that. We don’t necessarily use email just to try and sell stuff. We use it to keep our customers informed,” said Hugo.

"We don't necessarily use email just to try and sell stuff. We use it to keep our customers informed."

Hugo Lewis, co-founder, Only Curls

These post-purchase emails have also been effective in generating replies and engagement from customers who will send in pictures of their hair and thank the Only Curls team for the results they see after using the products.

“I had a customer email with a picture of three generations of curls. Her, her daughter, and then her granddaughter with their curly hair,” said Lizzie. “We get a lot really nice replies like that. I think that’s because people know that we’re a small business and the way that we write our emails, even though a lot of them are automated, are in a way that’s personal and comes from me, so the response to them is really positive.”

Keeping up with customers amid the coronavirus 

One of the most important qualities of being a successful entrepreneur is knowing when you need to pivot your business to adapt to the changes around you. 

Lizzie and Hugo were forced to react quickly when their products started selling out again amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Since people still need to look after their hair and can’t get to a salon, having the Only Curls products shipped directly to their front door definitely helps to solve the problem. On top of this, we’ve noticed that people are willing to try out a new hair routine and products while they’re at home during the lockdown,” said Hugo.

"Since people still need to look after their hair and can’t get to a salon, having the Only Curls products shipped directly to their front door definitely helps to solve the problem. On top of this, we’ve noticed that people are willing to try out a new hair routine and products while they’re at home during the lockdown."

Hugo Lewis, co-founder, Only Curls

But at the same time they were seeing an increase in traffic to their website and demand for their products, the Only Curls team was also experiencing supply chain issues since the lead times with manufacturers were much longer than normal. They needed a way to keep customers informed even if they were unable to fulfill orders as usual.

Fortunately, the team was well acquainted with back in stock email automations from the period of time they were trying to keep up with all the new customers coming in from the press coverage. Now, these back in stock campaigns have become a critical method of communication to keep customers informed. 

“We’re using a back in stock notification flow on the products that are sold out and as soon as they’re restocked our customers get notified immediately, which is really cool. We use a signup form so customers know that they are going to be kept in the loop and we can even identify our VIP customers and make sure they are top of the list,” said Hugo.

But while they have automation down to a science, they haven’t lost the personal touch that they’ve maintained throughout their business endeavorsLizzie still responds directly to customers who have ordered with any questions they have, whether it’s about the products themselves or business-critical updates.

Learn more about using back in stock campaigns
 

Advice to entrepreneurs 

While Lizzie and Hugo have evidently mastered many aspects of owning a business, from Instagram to email, there are still certain things they’re looking forward to trying in the coming years such as implementing more segmentation and rebranding their website.

But they’ve learned enough from their entrepreneurial experiences so far that they’re able to share some incredibly valuable insights for other business owners and marketers who are trying to decide what to focus on: 

 

1 | Prioritizing customer service

Lizzie finds that providing exceptional customer service is a huge advantage. It’s often a differentiator for small businesses that find themselves going up against big brands. 

“You email the big brand a question about your order and you get a very generic response. You email Only Curls a question about your order and you’ll get a reply on your order status or a detailed how-to for the products. That’s really taught me that the customer should be a focus for every small business,” said Lizzie. 

"You email the big brand a question about your order and you get a very generic response. You email Only Curls a question about your order and you'll get a reply on your order status or a detailed how-to for the products."

Lizzie Carter, co-founder, Only Curls

 

2 | Developing a DTC brand

Operating a direct-to-consumer business model rather than going through wholesale channels has also been foundational to Lizzie and Hugo’s marketing strategy. Because they have the ability to communicate with their customers directly through Only Curls, they’re able to better understand what’s working, collect feedback on their customers’ likes or dislikes, and home in on their preferences. 

 

3 | Creating value

For Hugo, it all comes back to creating a customer experience that offers value at every turn

“We don’t necessarily send an email that says look at us, look how great we are. We’ll send an email trying to match what the customer wants. We focus on the customer first and that’s what that counts for us,” he said. 

“One of the biggest things I see other companies doing wrong is talking about themselves. We try and focus everything in our emails on what our products can do for you as a customer and how they can change your life,” Hugo added.

"One of the biggest things I see other companies doing wrong is talking about themselves. We try and focus everything in our emails on what our products can do for you as a customer and how they can change your life."

Hugo Lewis, co-founder, Only Curls

One thing’s for certain though: women with curly hair can’t get enough Only Curls’ products. Perhaps Lizzie and Hugo’s biggest challenge in the years to come has less to do with their DTC marketing strategy and more to do with keeping up with customer demand. But with 43 percent of their revenue coming from their email marketing program, it’s evident that Lizzie and Hugo’s knack for building strong relationships with their customers has proven foundational to the growth of their business. 

Looking for more insights, inspiration, and resources to help you grow your business? Check out the Entrepreneur Growth Guide.

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