formulas — fits the bill of the new age organization. Co-owner Trae Bodge (Scott Catto and Chad Hayduk are the two other specialists) talked to Jason Campbell about Three Custom’s products, business strategy, and Monica Lewinsky.
JCR: What are women seeking from their beauty brands?
TB: There’s so many brands out there right now, I think women are looking for great products. Not only cool packaging and something that they feel fabulous pulling out of their purse but something with great quality to it, a brand that has consistently good colors. That’s what we’re noticing people are looking for.
JCR: What about the brand image of the company, how important is that story?
TB: We have a ready-to-wear range as well as custom so our demographic is quite broad. It’s hard to nail down exactly what people are looking for in terms of image because for us, with the Custom Blended service, we’re servicing a need that women can’t really find anywhere else. That’s part of it. But in terms of the ready-to-wear line I think people respond to us because they see us a lot in magazines, they like our packaging, and they hear stories about us as founders making the product by hand. I think that they are responding to the stories behind the brand and the integrity of the products and the packaging.
JCR: And you don’t use glossy, flashy models wearing your line in ad campaigns? That’s unusual if you’re going up against the behemoths.
TB: We are dabbling with models on our website, but we’re not doing that to be more competitive, we’re doing it to further educate our customers. The models that we’ve chosen are all pretty women but they aren’t models per se. They are not intimidating or unattainable. What’s happening now with the behemoths and their image is that most women out there see these models [in the ad campaigns] and they can’t be them, they can’t look like them, they’ll never have that beautiful skin or that perfect body. What I think is important is for women is see images that they can identify with and that’s what we’re doing in terms of going the model route. It’s not to be more flashy but to be more real.
JCR: Do you consider the seeking out of lesser-known, specialized brands in and of itself a beauty trend?
TB: I think so. Since we launched in the late nineties, there have been so many new independent brands. And I think that first of all women get confused because there’s so much to choose from, so they look for something they can identify with, something with an interesting story. We talk to clients and we notice that they love our products and the other brands they like to use are usually our colleagues from other brands that we know and hang out with. The women who are looking at independent brands like independent brands in general. They may love a staple from an Estee Lauder or MAC, but I think that they like the idea of something secret from the indie labels that they can tell their friends about. That’s what we’re finding. There’s no way that we could compete with any of these larger brands. How do we compete? We try to make ourselves more special and what we have found is that real people are important to real people.
JCR: Was the strategy since Three Custom Color’s inception that the Custom Blended makeup was unlikely to be copied by competitors?
TB: We definitely knew that we had a niche. My partner Chad and I in the early nineties worked with Visage Beauté, which was the premier custom blending line at the time. They grew really quickly and were bought out by Revlon and went out of business in the blink of an eye. It was at that time that Chad and I, kids right out of college, learned to hand-blend makeup and we saw how important it was to the industry and how tricky it can be in terms of training and quality control. It’s very difficult to mass-manufacture the custom concept which is what we thought about when we launched. We want to have a custom blending service that people can rely on. That for us is our niche. Larger brands can dabble in custom, or what they call custom. There are a couple larger companies saying that they do custom, which in effect is simply a broad range of colors to choose from. Which is fine too. The profit margin in custom is not huge but it’s a niche that brings people to us. But then we have to find a way to sell our ready-to-wear range as well. And often people who have dabbled in our custom service will then be introduced to our other products once they’ve tried the quality, and if they like the packaging.
JCR: So the Custom Blended makeup is the major distinguishing feature of Three Custom from other brands?
TB: I think so. On a number of levels. And because we do receive different colors from clients every single day, we actually see what women are wearing. We don’t do any other market research besides what we see in our lab. We have serious insight into what the average woman is wearing today.
JCR: So it informs your ready-to-wear selection?
TB: Absolutely. We take so much information from that. We’ll notice that we’re seeing a lot of purples lately and we’re going into spring. Customers know what’s trendy whether they know it or not. We watch trends in terms of what people are wearing and respond to that in turn.
JCR: Tell us about your label amassing shades that other brands have discarded.
TB: We keep an archive specifically for clients who remember the brand name and color name of their desired shade but they don’t have a sample to provide to us. The archive is specifically for that customer. When we started out we certainly didn’t think it would be as valuable as it is now but we don’t actively market those shades at all. We keep a sample of the shade on file so if a customer is looking for it we can reference it and make a batch. We don’t actively sell it in stores or on our website.
JCR: Your archival system must be robust.
TB: It’s robust but archaic. It’s literally 30 small file boxes. For anyone who’s ever had a fire in their house the question is always, when are you going to computerize that?
JCR: A great deal of emphasis, even for the ready-to-wear selection, surrounds educating the consumer.
TB: My partner Chad and I were makeup artists for a long time and we worked for other brands doing freelance and came across situations where we couldn’t find the right color for a certain client. A client is sitting in your chair who’s extremely fair or extremely dark skinned and we didn’t have colors to address her needs and so we really wanted to create a line that was appropriate for women of all skin tones. And from that basis we wanted to provide education for women so they could learn more about their individual skin tones so they could make better choices, not only from our brand but from other brands, which is where we came up with our cool and warm concept. We have a little quiz on our site that people find very helpful in terms of learning about the undertones of your skin and how to make the proper choices for that particular skin tone. I think a lot of women are confused about what their skin tone is and every brand obviously has a different approach. But we hope and feel that we’ve broken it down to a very basic level. The more they understand, the better they’re going to look when they’re out there buying products for themselves.
JCR: Another upside is of course the brand loyalty you secure from these customers.
TB: As you know, it’s an incredibly crowded playing field and a lot of people realized at about the same time we did, “Hey, who’s that girl Poppy from Australia who started a lipstick line? We can do that too!” And now I can’t even count how many independent lines are out there, and there’s always something new and fresh and you can’t only have that. You gotta have things that customers rely on, and so we really focus on customer service, consistent service, great product, great packaging, an informative website, and we don’t discontinue, which is another thing that makes us special. When Monica Lewinsky was on Barbara Walters years ago there was a mad rush for her lip color because she looked so fabulous that day and Club Monaco had made the color and ran out really quickly, so we reproduced it for our clients who were asking and it sold like hotcakes. Club Monaco had it back in stock a couple months later and then we referred customers back to them.
JCR: It appears that it’s been a concerted effort from the beginning to tailor your offering in different areas, which has solidified a strong business plan.
TB: We hope so. We’ve been in the business a long time. There’s so much coming and going in trends, in products, in brands, the random discontinuing. We wanted to be solid from the beginning and we’re not funded by any outside sources so it’s myself and my two partners taking one baby step at a time. This is our baby, so everything has to be to our satisfaction; it has to be to a quality that we feel comfortable using on our clients or on a shoot. It’s all based on that integrity.
Photos: Trae Bodge
Three Custom Color products