20.09.12 | Posted in People I Love
ModelCo’s Shelley Barrett juggles motherhood with her self-confessed workaholic schedule. She talks to Emma Isaacs about celebrating ten years in business.
It’s raining on the morning I meet up with Shelley Barrett, CEO and founder of Australian beauty brand, ModelCo. As I park my car, I watch her tentatively poke her head outside of the café, being cautious not to get wet. She’s looking anxiously from left to right as if she’s lost something. I quickly surmise that it’s me she’s lost. For a second, panic sets in as I realise I may have gotten our meeting time wrong. A quick check of my phone and email tells me I’m not late and as we sit down for breakfast, she calls her publicist to say I’m found, and we begin.
For me, talking to Shelley is like talking into a mirror. She talks just as quickly as I do and you can tell she’s got a lot running through her head by the way she orders her thoughts and verbally delivers them, sometimes not even completely finishing sentences. She does her best to ignore her mobile that buzzes incessantly on the table throughout our interview, eventually switching it to silent.
Shelley was an only child and grew up in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney and never left. Her mum always had multiple jobs – everything from nursing to working as a diving instructor – and for the past few decades she’s worked in Shelley’s businesses. Her father was always involved in horse racing, and still is today, which is where Shelley’s love of racing and socialising comes from too. “Growing up, everyone around me was self made and self motivated, which had a big impact on me,” Shelley says. “My uncle was CEO of George Patterson Bates (an advertising agency) so growing up I was always around people who were creative.”
Shelley says she never even contemplated heading to university. “When school finished I didn’t want to go to uni. I actually wanted to just get on with it and do something that was creative too. While all my friends were travelling, or going to uni, I decided to open my first business, Elite Productions. I’d put together fashion shows and parades – things like the original Miss Bondi.”
Shelley turned the skills she’d honed here into another business. “I was finding all these amazing girls who I’d then send on to agencies like Viviens and Chadwicks. After a while I thought ‘why am I doing this when I could be doing it for myself?’ which is what springboarded me to start my own modelling agency, Shelley’s Management Group.”
“From day one, it was me on one side of the office, and my mum on the other. We had 1200 talent on the books – everyone from models and actors through to kids and celebrities.”
Working with her talent was the seed that planted the idea for the Lash Wand Heated Eyelash Curler, which would go on to be ModelCo’s first ever product. “I was close with the models and they were always telling me what they wished they had in their beauty bags, and that’s when I dreamt up the idea of the heated eyelash curler. It went off like a firecracker!”
That first innovation in 2002 took just six months to go from concept to production and in just a few months, the heated eyelash curler had sold out of stock worldwide, amassing a cult following amongst the fashion and beauty set. The experience taught Shelley that her instincts were spot on, and it led her to think there was a real opportunity for innovative, quick-fix beauty solutions. ModelCo, the brand and the business was born, and soon after, Shelley developed the next product, Tan Airbrush in a Can. This product was a direct result of Shelley listening to the models – they’d come in with tan-stained palms which obviously didn’t bode well for photos.
“I was sitting in my office one day thinking about this and there was a can of Rexona on my desk. That’s where the idea came from.”
The idea proved a winner with even greater sales than the heated eyelash curler, and changed the way women would self-tan forever.
This is where Shelley shines. She listens to women – whether it’s the models in her talent agency, her girlfriends, or now the women in her offices at ModelCo – Shelley is constantly listening for problems that she can solve.
Selling like hot cakes
Shelley attributes the fast growth and seemingly instant success of the brand to the power of celebrity. “Celebs including Kylie Minogue and Elle Macpherson began talking about ModelCo products in interviews, which really helped garner international attention. This led to some great stockists such as Collette in Paris, and Henri Bende New York and major department stores. Before I knew it, Victoria Beckham was photographed using the hot pink ModelCo compact at David Beckham’s very first LA Galaxy game which made front page news”.
These celebrities provided global reach and attention. The brand now boasts 120 products, is sold in 11 countries and is stocked in over 1800 stores worldwide.
While it’s taken off around the world, the local market here is still the strongest. “80% of our revenue comes from Australia, with the second biggest market being the UK, followed by the US”, says Shelley.
As with most brands, retail is the current challenge that keeps Shelley up at night. “Where do I start?” she laughs. “There are challenges with stock management, not having enough stock, having too much stock, no customers instore, customers continually wanting discounted product, the stores giving less shelf space – the list goes on! We’ve definitely seen a shift with consumer shopping patterns in the past two years – you read the newspaper and it’s all about online. People do still want to go in to a store and try the products but then they’re going home and buying online.”
Shelley’s strategy for combatting this change in consumer behaviour is to build the digital side of her business. “We’ll continue to provide innovative products, and will soon be launching a new online beauty concept,” she offers.
Shelley’s a self-confessed workaholic and, like all working mums, the 39 year old spends her time trying to keep all the balls in the air. Shelley has two daughters – Lucy, 7 and Emily, 6 – and says they are also obsessed make up fans. “They’ll say to me ‘Mummy can you bring me home a lip gloss?’ and I’ll say ‘you’ve got about 300 in your drawer – no more lip glosses.’”
A typical day for Shelley requires energy in spades. “I normally get up and exercise when possible, and cannot think without a coffee. I’m usually at the local café first thing, and then I’ll make half a dozen phone calls in the car. I call overseas to the US in the morning and then get to the office. I try and have no meetings until 10am and I try and keep on top of my inbox. If I have any more than 40 emails then I’m not in control. I’ll spend all day working with the different departments, and then in the evening I’ll work with London. I try get home at a reasonable hour so I can see the kids and I pretty much continue all forms of communication until 10pm, when generally I crash!”
Shelley’s a fan of kinesiology (which involves muscle testing and is based on the science and movement of the human body) having been twice a week for ten or so years. “It helps me get in tune with what’s right or wrong – I’ve made so many mistakes when I’ve listened to other people and not tuned in to what my gut is trying to tell me.”
“I once listened to someone who told me that I should always hire people that are smarter than me, but in fact it’s been the worst thing I’ve ever done. There was a time there that I’d look for people who came from the big multinational brands. After a while I realised that they’re actually just one spoke in the wheel but when they come to me I need them to be the whole wheel.” Shelley says she lost a lot of time with employing people like that and has a different strategy these days. “I look for people who’ve got an energy about them – they take risks and are go getters. They may have done a few different things in their career and now I’ll never employ people who’ve been in the same box with the one big company for a very long time.”
A decade worth celebrating
In March this year ModelCo celebrated their 10th anniversary and in true Shelley style, they went all out. Shelley hosted a week-long extravaganza at Hayman Island with brand ambassadors Dannii Minogue, model Cheyenne Tozzi and surfer Sally Fitzgibbons. For the entire week, ModelCo painted Hayman with the brand’s signature pink, and guests, a mixture of VIPs and media, partied day and night. No expense was spared – guests were given luxurious gift bags including Marc Jacobs sunglasses and Elie Saab perfume.
Shelley choose the island to be the backdrop for ModelCo’s upcoming summer 2012 campaign which was shot by international photographer Simon Upton. Dannii Minogue starred in the shoot which showcased the island’s beauty. The pinnacle of the celebration was a beauty-inspired dining experience in the surrounds of the Hayman rainforest gardens featuring sparkling lights and a long table glowing neon pink as guests feasted on seafood. “I was thrilled to have celebrated ModelCo’s 10th birthday milestone in such beautiful surrounds”, she says. And if the last decade is anything to go by, there’ll be plenty more to celebrate in the future.
This article was first published in Latte, the Business Chicks magazine for Premium members. It’s reproduced here with full permission.