Marketing to women seems so easy, the way Erika Geraerts tells it. Women like taking selfies, right? They love talking to each other on social media, yes? And word of mouth is the best form of advertising you can have.
So when you have an idea for a product – say, body scrub made from leftover coffee grinds and a bit of oil – what better way to get it out there than have your potential customers sell it for you?
Geraerts, 25, and her partners – Bree Johnson, 27, and Jess Hatzis, 28 – smeared some of their frank body coffee scrub over themselves, took photos and flicked them out on to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
At the same time they started talking to influential bloggers. When Katerina Williams, who has the Katerina Beauty YouTube channel with more than 24,000 subscribers, decided to do a review it was viewed more than 72,000 times. On Instagram, the frank body account has nearly half a million followers who have filled it with their gritty naked selfies.
The resulting hype means the 18-month-old company is on track to collect $10 million in revenue this financial year.
“We have this little army of frank-furts all around the world doing the hard work for us,” says Geraerts. “Each of them has their own little network of friends. You tell one person and they tell their nine friends – times 1000 or 100,000, depending on their followers.”
Frank body is selling one scrub every 50 seconds from four distribution points worldwide: Melbourne, Los Angeles, London and Toronto. It is sold only online and orders have come from 133 countries.
Geraerts says the company has product development under way which is projected to increase revenue to $30 million to $40 million in the 2016-17 financial year.
So, who are the people behind frank body? The story starts with three friends who met while at university in Melbourne.
Geraerts and Johnson were studying journalism and Hatzis was earning a degree in arts commerce.
The young women dreamed of working together and got lucky when they won a competition to get a professionally designed website. That website (worth around $10,000) was the genesis of their first company, the Willow & Blake content writing and social media agency, which is now in its third year of trading. The company has 17 clients on retainer and an average of 15 ad hoc projects each month across Australia, the US and Europe. It was the their first client who provided the lesson that (later) powered frank body’s growth.
Developing a taste for jelly sandals
A friend of Geraerts’ had unsuccessfully tried to find some “jelly bean” sandals for his sister and ended up designing and ordering 20,000 of the PVC shoes from a manufacturer in China.
Jellies, popular for children in the 1990s, were the colourful forerunners of Croc shoes. The client Kristian Klein wanted the shoes to be “the new Havaianas” (thongs) and so Willow & Blake needed a strategy to encourage young women to buy the adult version of the shoes they wore as toddlers.
“For us, it was all about finding a campaign which allows users to create their own content and become ambassadors, without the brands having to pay for traditional advertising,” Geraerts says. The Willow & Blake crew created “adventures with Jelly Beans”, taking photos of their own feet in the shoes in every location they could think of, put them on social media, wrote fliers, invited customers to name each colour of shoe, launched competitions, and schmoozed bloggers and influencers.
“We noticed this trend where people like taking photos of their feet on Instagram.”
Getting influential bloggers to endorse a product costs money. Geraerts says about 75 per cent of bloggers expect to be paid and rates vary widely.
Finding the right influencers was a manual process of sifting through blogs and social media accounts and finding people who could represent the brand and approaching them one by one.
“You could get someone with 50,000 fans charging $1000 and someone with one million fans charging $100. It is about businesses shifting their perception of advertising formats,” she adds.
“Brands can pay an influencer to wear a specific style of skirt and, when they do that post, it can sell out within a day.”
Their chance to launch their own product came through Johnson’s partner, Steve Rowley, 30, who owns a cafe in Prahran.
A customer had asked for some of his old coffee grinds to use as a scrub to get rid of cellulite.
The initial goal – using fresh coffee grinds – was to find a new way to make money out of coffee and maybe make an extra $100 per week each for each of the women, Rowley, and Hatzis’ partner Alex Boffa, 29, who was roped in to help make the scrubs, which sell for $14.95 a bag.
“None of us ever thought we would do something in the beauty industry. It was more of a brand challenge and something fun we could do,” Geraerts says.
“It just went pretty crazy. Within a couple of months we were getting orders internationally and the boys were making it day in and day out,” she says.
The five partners have outsourced the manufacturing to a local company and four other people have been employed in customer service, international public relations and social media co-ordination.
1. Collaborate: The friends found a way to work together, bringing the strengths of their respective partners into the mix.Geraerts’ partner, Charl Laubscher has a branding agency, Love + Money, and helped with product design.
2. Recognise opportunity and grab it: Steve Rowley saw a demand for his old coffee grinds. The original three in Willow & Blake entered a competition to win their website.
3. Customers as salespeople: Create a positive social media trend, then Facebook and Instagram can do your marketing for you.
4. Tone: When frank body talks, he/she speaks the language of young people. It doesn’t feel obvious that they are being sold a product.
5. Influencers: Find out the most effective communicators for your market on social media and encourage or pay them to support you.
6. Prepare for disaster: The partners have signed agreements in case their personal relationships break down and they can no longer work together.
7. Leverage: The partners have a number of businesses between them and they assist each other. A recent addition is a cafe in Abbotsford, Melbourne, called Little Big Sugar Salt. Geraerts teamed up with a couple of other friends who are carpenters.
8. Funding: Willow & Blake and frank body were started with no outside funding, but the cafe was financed by personal loans.
By Fiona Smith