Women of Vision is a series of interviews with business women we admire. Visionary women are accessible and inspirational to others in daily life as mentors, friends, advisers, and role models. As part of our Women of vision series, we want to highlight the professional challenges and career aspirations of the women working here in Ireland. This doesn’t require a certain business title, specific wardrobe, or special permission. Women in Ireland have a strong entrepreneurial spirit: the rate of female early stage entrepreneurs in Ireland is the 5th highest in Europe. The agility and resilience of women in business in recent times has been a testament to their strength and courage. Today we interviewed Shelley, the CEO of 4Beauty Group.
Tell us a bit about you?
I’m 40 years old (I certainly don’t feel like we should have an 18-year-old tanning brand – I don’t know where the time has gone!) I am married and have 2 kids – Ryan 5 and Charlotte 4. I live for holidays, socializing and caravanning with family & friends.
Outside of my own work, I sit on the board of the Community Foundation Northern Ireland, which I find extremely rewarding and interesting.
Tell us about your business?
4Beauty Group are brand owners of he-shi Exceptional Tan and SKINICIAN skincare, we are based in Belfast and the company was founded by myself and my mother. We are both still involved in the business, and I have taken over as MD from Jan 2020. We have a professional salon background and over 20 years’ experience in distribution and sales in Ireland and further afield.
Have you always been entrepreneurial?
I grew up around our family business from when I was 10 years old. Mum ran her business from home, and I earned pocket money by helping with mailshots and typing up letters, my friends and I even did door to door flyer drops. So, I guess yes, I always knew I wanted to run my own business. I did a degree in Management and Information Systems followed by a Master’s in Business Development & Innovation. I was fiercely independent growing up and always wanted to be working. As soon as I could, I had my first job at 14 in Supervalu on the tills and stacking shelves.
It just happened that after a year out traveling in 2003, when I returned, my mum had developed He-Shi and grown the distribution business, so it was a natural progression to join full time.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
My mum and dad always had business side lines at home, they used to supply commercial sunbeds into salons, mum also had her own beauty & tanning salon. They started to then supply other products into salons including self-tan from a German company. It came to be that demand outweighed supply and mum approached our contract manufacturer (that we still use today) to help develop & make her 5000 units of a tan as our own brand. The rest is history from there, we started with the Express Liquid Tan in 2004 and a tanning mitt. I joined the company after traveling and helped develop the range from there.
Who has been your biggest inspiration in growing your business?
The iconic greats like Estee Lauder are inspirational – she changed the way women shopped for beauty – against all odds. Anita Roddick challenged the status quo on animal testing in the 1970’s, again a bold move that is now adhered to by most brands.
I also love to watch the women who start a business from home, grind day in day out and progress to running a business, employing people, and really having the backing of consumers in loving what they do.
My mother Hilary is my ultimate inspiration – she never gives up – she can work longer hours than anyone else in the company and always believes in the products that we have and the team around us.
What do you love most about having your own business?
I think as a mum myself; I enjoy the flexibility the most. I know that I can go to a sports day or be there when needed. We are a female-led company, and we have great flexibility across the team. I love working as a team and for those around me to see the vision I have for our fabulous brands.
If any, what challenges have you experienced as a woman in business during your overall career?
It’s not easy, especially when trying to be a wife, mum, sister, daughter, granddaughter, friend, leader – we get pulled in so many directions – but somehow, we find time to fit it all in. I find that a lot of networking events in the past have been male dominated, which can be challenging, especially in this industry. Up until 5 or 6 years ago there weren’t many beauty brands that were Irish owned, I do feel this is changing now and many more women are networking and connecting for the greater good.
What are the most important things to progressing as the owner/Director of a business?
Resilience is really important, especially in current times, there will be difficulties and you need great people around you, who can help you through challenging times. I always strive to be agile and adaptable, I’m always happy to try new things.
We as a team live by 4 values of – Beauty in is our DNA, We Deliver Excellence, Award Winning Quality and We Do the Right Thing, to be honest the most important skill is knowing to recruit someone better than you, the team around you need to be the best. I also think my team would describe me as fair, open, and honest, more than willing to give my time to help them achieve.
What has been the most significant thing you have done to grow your business?
Over the years, we have had to transition and sell in new channels, we originally set out as a Salon only brand, but as competition increased and people became more comfortable with tanning at home, we had to supply into retail and pharmacy. It has happened again in the past 5 years where online marketplaces and our own website is important. You need to invest in each channel as setting a product on the shelf simply does not work any longer.
What have been some make or break moments in your career? Important client meetings, presentations, procurement pitches etc.
To be honest when you think about it, my mum Hilary asking our manufacturer to make a product for us, almost 20 years ago was the biggest breakthrough – he still tells the story today – there is no way that will work in Ireland, little did he know that my mum would make sure that it worked. I also think that every new business partner from customers and suppliers to agencies are important moments and we always like to celebrate those moments internally and support each other. In recent times QVC was the biggest for me, as I really had to work hard for going on live TV!
What is your number 1 tip for anyone struggling to overcome entrepreneurial overwhelm and keep going?
It comes down to not letting fear overcome me, a decision made is better than overthinking, procrastinating, or worrying for extended periods of time. Be agile and adaptable always. Some things work and some things don’t – if it’s going to fail, pull the plug and keep moving, things don’t stay the same for long.