Oh My Cream founder Juliette Levy talks international expansion plans and UK debut
Juliette Levy founded Oh My Cream in 2013, a multi-brand beauty concept-store featuring premium and clean labels. A business school graduate, she nevertheless admits she did not have perfect attendance, taking five years instead of three to obtain her qualification.
To launch the project, beauty enthusiast Levy, who had previously interned at L'Oréal and Le Bon Marché, raised funds twice from business angels, before opening her capital to funds including Eutopia and Experienced Capital for a total amount of 20 million euros.
Today, Oh My Cream remains discreet about its turnover, but the company, which will celebrate its tenth anniversary next year, has 22 boutiques in France, and will open two boutiques in London in October, its first internationally.
Meet Levy, for whom entrepreneurship depends on one thing: self-confidence.
FashionNetwork.com: Eutopia became a shareholder of Oh My Cream in 2016, then Experienced Capital in 2019. Today, how much of Oh My Cream remains in your hands? And how do you work with your financial partners?
Juliette Levy: I own 25% of Oh My Cream, which is a lot. Everyone has their own entrepreneurial story, but the whole ‘go slow and be ultra profitable on day one, with both hands on the handlebars, no one in the capital’, was less interesting to me than being diluted financially but having the means to go fast and see our ideas come to life. Because we have a thousand ideas a minute at Oh My Cream. So I quickly made the choice to raise funds. And if you are aligned with your shareholders and share the same vision, it's a false premise to say that by raising funds, you lose the power to make decisions. Eutopia, our original fund, is very benevolent, very supportive, and is present when needed, but not very involved in operations. Experienced Capital is a bit of an alien in the world of investment funds. They are very invested in the operational side, if we have a logistics problem, we call their logistics expert; if we have a cash flow issue, we call their finance expert. And in the middle of all this, our participation director is the conductor with lots of extremely good ideas, so at the end of day I love the interference!
FNW: How did you manage to convince the first investors in 2013 when Oh My Cream didn't even exist?
JL: It's funny because I managed to convince people who were not at all in my target group of potential customers, i.e. retired men who wanted to defiscalize their ISF (wealth tax). This, to be quite frank and not to repeat the story, made things a little easier. Because this scheme, which no longer exists today, and which I think does not help new entrepreneurs, allowed 50% of the ISF to be exempt from tax by investing in a company. This limited the possible risk.
To convince them, I worked on my project a lot; I am a beauty freak, I spent my days and nights studying all the products. I was driven by my idea that department stores and Sephora did not meet everyone's needs, even if they were huge success stories. Some people wanted something else, a more expert, more intimate experience, more services and products that were a little different, with more transparency. All this in a more modern setting. Investors also rely on a personality, someone who is relentless but capable of questioning themselves. My first Powerpoint allowed me to raise 400,000 euros and to open the first boutique on Rue de Tournon in Paris, to create the website, to buy the first stocks and to finance the first hires. And it worked very well.
FNW: After almost ten years of existence, what does Oh My Cream represent today in terms of boutiques, employees, and what are the next steps in its development?
JL: Today, we have 22 boutiques in France, an Internet site that accounts for half of our sales and 100 employees, including about 50 at the head office. We've reached the end of our network in France, even though we'll be opening stores in Strasbourg and Biarritz by the end of the year, and there will certainly be two or three more openings next year, but from now on, the focus will be on international expansion.
FNW: You are opening two stores in London next month. Why this market which, since Brexit, seems more difficult to access, and is also very competitive?
JL: There are two things. The first is that when we started in France, we were told the same thing, "You're going to hit the wall, Marionnaud and Sephora are already there." I am convinced that there is always room for a new way of doing things, especially when we feel that there is a real need. And it's the same in London, yes there is Space NK, our main competitor. So I'm not saying that there is a boulevard for us, but even if the market is competitive, it is a country that suffers less from the crisis than the south of Europe, where there is purchasing power and where customers like novelty and new brands. And to take a common sense approach, it is a country that is geographically close, with a language that everyone speaks. So we go there in test-and-learn mode.
FNW: And why go there with two stores? To be more visible?
JL: That was a big debate. We were looking for stores in several neighborhoods. We came across two that were in our budget, as London rents are extremely expensive. At the beginning, my investors didn't want to do it, but London is a big deal, we aim to have 15 to 20 stores there, like in Paris. So I said "Look, if the first one works, we'll open a second one, and if it doesn't work, we'll test a second one anyway. So we might as well open two, we'll be more visible". So in mid-October we're opening in two key locations, Chelsea, on King's Road, and Notting Hill, on Westbourne Grove, next to Sézane and Bonpoint.
FWN: What is the roadmap for international development?
JL: It's still too early to talk about it but we're thinking about it. We say to ourselves that if it works this winter in London, we will expand next year. We are also looking at other countries in Europe, and another one in Asia where there is a big demand.
FWN: You recently launched a makeup line with your own brand. How is this brand, which has been around since 2017, positioned?
JL: We are positioning ourselves as a brand of clean and affordable beauty essentials. Skin care is our original core business but we also launched a line of body and hair care, sun care products and recently make-up. This winter, we will offer products for men, four to five items at most. Today, in volume and value, our own brand represents more than 20% of our turnover. The second brand represents 10% of our turnover.
We offer somewhat expensive brands, so our idea was to address a slightly younger clientele, a little less expert and with a little less budget, so that they would come to us. And once they are convinced, they buy Tata Harper or another brand.
FWN: Are in-cabin treatments also important at Oh My Cream?
JL: We really want to develop this axis. We have opened flagships, like in Montmartre, which are very oriented towards in-cabin treatments because we think that this is the future. Globally, people are going to consume fewer and fewer products, they are going to be more and more minimalist and that's great. On the other hand, they will have more complete, more holistic routines. That's why we launched beauty tools and food supplements. And in-store treatments are the perfect complement to a good home routine. We are therefore aiming to develop store layouts with five or six cabins to meet the demand. These spaces will coexist with our small neighborhood concept stores that still have one cabin.
FNW: Like many brands, are you concerned about recruitment problems?
JL: It's a real problem that sometimes delays our openings, especially for our care-oriented stores where we have to recruit facialists, who have real know-how. People are retraining, changing their lives, these field service jobs, where you are face to face with the customer, are physical and exhausting and not very compatible with a family life. In our company, we try to regularly review salaries, and we ask ourselves questions even if we don't always have the answers: like concentrating the schedules over four days so that mothers have a day during the week for their children, accepting more part-time work, or even freelance work, because many people want that. We're looking at a lot of things, but we don't have the magic formula yet.
FWN: The beauty market, despite the crisis, remains dynamic and in motion. How do you see it evolving?
JL: The beauty market has a bright future ahead of it, because people, and women, will always want to buy cosmetics, and the quest for well-being also has a bright future ahead of it. So on the market, globally, I am very confident. I am however not surprised that some retailers are struggling and trying to reinvent themselves, because people are turning to more human-sized and specialized experiences. Simply because when you have less purchasing power, less time and more stress, you are more demanding. In the skincare market, the one I know and where we find our expertise, impersonal places that lack humanity and service become almost prohibitive.
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