A small market, fierce competition & convincing brands are some challenges for Emily Hamilton, Co-CEO of Bellabox in Singapore. How’s she overcoming them…
Christmas now comes once a month for some 10,000 females in Australia and 3,000 in Singapore. But, instead of Santa Claus in a big red suit down a smoky chimney, a courier appears at their doorsteps with BellaBox, a curated box of cosmetic and skincare products.
Launched by Emily Hamilton along with her twin sister Sarah, BellaBox celebrates its second birthday this month. Its curation service, packs travel-sized products from big beauty brands like Laura Mercier and Estee Lauder into a box, which members can order with a subscription fee of S$19.95 (US$16.07) per month or S$219.45 (US$176.80) per annum. Customers receive a curated package, depending on their beauty profile, skin concerns, types and tones. Running these filters helps BellaBox to decide the products they send.
The service while primarily is used by females, Bellabox in Australia, claims to have a good number of men too as its customers, who can avail the service through Men’s Box. Surprise! There is a Baby Box too. In addition, there is an editorial team to curate tips and tricks, which compiles lists of recommended items, and an online store for members to purchase full-sized products.
Emily Hamilton, who runs BellaBox in Singapore – her sister manages the Australian office – tells e27 that she first started working on the idea in May 2011. A month later, she flew to New York, where Sarah was living in, and convinced her to run the Australian operations. Two years later, both offices now see about 12 employees respectively, under various departments.
Earlier this year, BellaBox received A$1.3 million (US$1.25 million) in funding from Lance Kalish, Trevor Folsom, Monash Private Capital, SquarePeg Ventures, Apex Capital Partners, and other investors.
Different markets, different outlooks
Singapore, as most could easily tell, is vastly different from Australia. The Southeast Asian city-state, Singapore, has a population of five million people, while the bigger continent, Australia, houses some 22 million people.
The former has a high population density while the latter is the world’s sixth largest country, in terms of land space. According to data from World Bank, as of 2012, Singapore has a gross domestic product (GDP) of US$274.7, whereas Australia has a GDP of US$1.321 trillion.
The Singapore-based entrepreneur shares that she first started the company knowing that “Australia is such a large market.” While Singapore, she feels, is a great market with its strategic location in Asia, the island nation is a bit small small a market for BellaBox. “These kind of businesses need to have a large base,” she says.
The island nation may have a smaller population or a lower rate of adoption, but the competition, by any means is not small. In the past two years, more beauty box services, like VanityTrove and StyleXStyle, have increased efforts to own the share of the curated-box pie.
VanityTrove, for one, charges S$25 (US$20.14) for a monthly subscription. StyleXStyle, on the other hand, sells each beauty box at a subscription fee of S$19.90 (US$16.03), just five cents less than BellaBox. Both companies do not operate or have a presence in Australia.
Furthermore, she notes, “The (Singapore) market is so small. It’s quite challenging. If there are more competitors, there are less samples to go around.”
In Australia, Bellabox faces competition from GlossyBox and Lust Have It. How stiff the competition is, can be gauged from the fact that while GlossyBox was acquired by Lust Have It, early last year; another, ILoveThisBox shut shop, around the same time.
Hamilton hopes that the company will be able to get 50,000 customers onboard in Australia by the end of next year. She doesn’t have a goal for Singapore though.
Users, merchants and e-commerce
A small market is not just the only challenge, the online beauty entrepreneur faces in Singapore. Getting merchants onboard is equally difficult. “It’s challenging to reach out to customers, but the more challenging job is to get brands involved; be trustworthy and get samples,” she says.
To overcome the challenges, the first job the startup did was to hire industry experts who have connections and local know-how. At the moment, the company manages samples from 250 well-known brands.
To keep its loyal userbase engaged and talk to the potential customers, BellaBox is relying on social media and other online services. “We work with bloggers. It’s really about creating viral marketing,” says the Singapore-based Hamilton. In Australia, BellaBox got local bloggers – Tash Sefton and Elle Ferguson who run, TheyAllHateUs – a blog on fashion and lifestyle – to curate its October offerings.
As compared to e-commerce companies, where customers purchase something and leave, BellaBox, according to Hamilton, has a committed userbase. “It is all about building a relationship. Our members stay for over a year. Most of them are really committed to the concept,” she appends.
She believes that she has been largely successful in converting short term members into long-term customers. “What we see is that people would subscribe for four, five months and when we ask them for an annual membership, and that works really well. People know the service and they’re more confident about what they’re going to get,” says Hamilton, adding, “We’re using a courier service. The boxes are delivered for free.”
But worries for Hamilton are far from over. There are new “box”-related services popping up in hoards. There are curated boxes for menswear, basic necessities, arts and crafts, fashion accessories and even tights and stockings.
“You just get to try different things…,” she says. Another challenge for her in Singapore and with this business model particularly, is that one needs a big database. “You can’t be just talking to a few thousand people,” says the Co-CEO. BellaBox has a team of beauty editors, brand managers, social media managers to reach out to a wider audience. The company doesn’t charge the brands any money. “It’s from the customers,” she says.
Can BellaBox outgrow its expectations for 2014? Keep a watch out on the e27 box.