How I Grew Fake Bake to a £9.5m Turnover

Scottish entrepreneur Sandra McClumpha introduced Fake Bake, the self-tanning product to the UK in 2000 with a turnover of £38,000.  Within a decade the Company had matched the long established US financial figures with a £9.5million turnover.

In 2008 Sandra acquired Fake Bake USA, turning her business into the world’s largest independent self-tan company.  Since then, Sandra has accomplished a decade of personally overseeing every aspect of her company – this has led to accolades including ‘NatWest’s Every Woman of the Year’ Award and a personal invitation to Buckingham Palace by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as ‘Britain’s Most Successful Women.’  

Sandra is committed to her latest initiative to attract more women back to work and working as their own bosses with the ‘home tanning franchise scheme’. She is also using Fake Bake’s status and name in the industry to make a positive difference to people who have been affected by skin cancer, by launching the ‘Save Your Skin’ in support of the RAFT charity (Restoration of Appearance and Function Trust).

In 2000 the dangers of UV light and the sun were becoming regularly documented in the press leading to people thinking more about the safer alternatives available to achieve that sun-kissed look. This is when the self-tan market started to become more accepted as formulations became more advanced and the colour that the products produced became more natural looking.

As a salon owner myself, this publicity alongside a family cancer scare prompted me to look into the self-tan products available. At this time the products on the market were limited which led my search onto the internet and further afield than the UK. After extensive research I stumbled upon a small American brand called Fake Bake. In the beginning I was amazed at just how fantastic the Fake Bake products were but never thought in my wildest dreams that they would become as popular as they have.

At the time I was just interested in people experiencing the incredible results they could achieve safely, from a bottle.

Initially I began selling the Fake Bake products from my bedroom with no employees. The business has since grown to employ up to 80 people in the UK at any one time. Fortunately, this growth process has been organic and has developed with very basic plans put in place.

The critical element to ensure the successful scaling of any business is to ensure you plan for the future taking valuable advice from the right professionals. I would advise anyone looking to grow their business to regularly meet with specialists in fields such as banking and accountancy to keep you on track and utilise their knowledge and guidance as a foundation to build on.

The valuable advice I received alongside the high quality products quickly led to Fake Bake receiving regular recognition in the press. This coverage was built on by focussing time, effort and money on successful publicity, with minimal expenditure on expensive advertising. From the start at Fake Bake we have always invested in a strong PR team to support in-house ideas and help promote the business as a whole. It is important to seek a PR company that specialise in the area you work, that way they have a strong understanding and experience of how to expose the brand to the right audience through the best channels.

To ensure consistent press coverage it is vital to maintain interest amongst journalists in your brand/product. We have achieved this by ensuring regular new product development, to keep up with fashions and trends in the market, and building relationships with celebrities whose recommendations and endorsements have led to increased interest in the brand and products.

The success of Fake Bake has not been a simple transition and it is important to recognise that building a business from scratch means you have to be prepared to work hard and take risks to further advance your brand. These risks might work but they also might fail. It is vital to not be discouraged and admit your mistakes so as to be able to learn from them and move forward. Though there is a possibility of mistakes, risks can also lead to recognising strengths and opportunities available to drive your business forward.

No matter how amazing your product or service the above cannot be implemented without strong entrepreneurial leadership. I have heard people say many times ‘I want to study to be an entrepreneur’. I personally don’t believe the skills involved to be successful in entrepreneurship can be delivered in a course.

To be an entrepreneur takes more than something that can just be taught.

The drive, determination and the creativity that successful entrepreneurs have usually comes from their natural abilities. Education is still vital to an entrepreneur’s success as schooling provides the foundations for an entrepreneur’s natural skills to shine through. I think one of the first things we should be taught from school is the basic understanding of managing finances and acknowledging the simple concept that you have to earn more than you spend.

Starting my business on my own allowed me to have total control over every element of the brand. As Fake Bake has grown and developed I have had to learn to trust my team of managers to action my plans and ideas leading to my appreciation of the fact that not everyone thinks like me.

If I feel at any point that my managers are not doing their jobs it is vital for me to ask myself whether I am doing mine and managing them first. It is easy to tell your staff to do something, but inspiring them to see for themselves is something different altogether.

Finally, a philosophy that I would pass onto anyone looking to pursue an entrepreneurial career is that ‘the harder you work the luckier you get’.

Nothing in this world comes for free, if you have the drive and determination for success good things will happen.

We are living in a generation where people expect opportunities to present themselves with little effort. Starting your own business is not 9-5, it’s more 24/7 and the sooner this is recognised the sooner your business can develop into the brand you want it to be.

Sandra McClumpha is the CEO of Fake Bake UK Ltd, the world’s largest independent self-tan company. 

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