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Making It!

Two Businesses and a Wedding

The title of this week’s blog is a play on the fun 1994 film, “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” starring Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell, which always gets a smile from me. Well, thankfully I haven’t needed to attend a funeral in many years, but this past weekend I attended a lovely wedding in Newport Beach, California that was not only the bonding ceremony of two fine people, it introduced me to two great business stories.

So that I don’t slight the happy couple who pledged to remain together in good times and better times, they are delightful. She is a talented patent attorney from Scotland, and he is an able sales executive from New Jersey. They chose to be married outdoors adjacent to some of the largest motor yachts I’ve ever seen in one place in this country. That was a nice reminder of what the fruits of enterprise can be. Having a great setting, fine people, and a wonderful post ceremony reception is, I hope, a harbinger of a long and solid marriage.

But, wherever I go there are small business stories that sometimes surprise and almost always inspire me. From our work with the Making It! TV show and the Making It! Institute for the Advancement of Business, you’d be correct in assuming I want everyone to know about the entrepreneurs among us. The two stories I found at the wedding couldn’t have a greater contrast of personalities, but like most successful businesses, there are some common threads.

Since he’s the father of the bride, let me tell you a bit about Ed McLaughlin, the founder of Kelvin Cooperage. A cooper is a person who makes barrels, and because Scotland is the home of scotch whiskey, it would seem almost too easy to start a business making the barrels that Chivas Regal and the others age in. Well, it was 1963 when Ed started the business after completing a five year apprenticeship in the craft of coopering. Did it take a focus group to come up with the company name? The small shed he started in was on the banks for the river Kelvin in Glasgow, so he took that name. Working on the barrel staves and calling on the distilleries made for long days and very little money in the beginning, but with persistent hard work, he built a customer list that encompasses Scotland, Ireland, the U.S., and other countries.

Ed told me that the climate in Scotland wasn’t to his liking as the years went by. He decided to move to Louisville, Kentucky in 1991, which put Kelvin Cooperage closer to a supply of the necessary wood and of course, to the Kentucky whiskey makers. That move also put them closer to American wine makers and a supply of fine American oak for that industry’s barrel needs. So how did Ed and his wife Mary wind up living in Orange Country, California? Well, his eldest son, Kevin, and younger brother, Paul, joined the business in Kentucky so that dad could live in the glorious sunshine on the other side of the country near those impressive yachts bobbing in the harbor at Newport.

While I’ve got a nice friendship with the stuff that comes out of the wine and bourbon barrels, the other business story from the wedding involves a product that I’d never heard of until meeting Jerrod Blandino and Jeremy Johnson. They are business partners, life partners, and a whole bunch of fun. Their company, Too Faced Cosmetics, is totally new to me, but I learned that their products are a major hit with teens and twenties women.

Blandino had been a makeup artist in Hollywood, and being a proactive type “A” personality, he started the cosmetics business with a credit card and a microwave oven! His goal was to create one-of-a-kind formulations, colors, and textures. I think that what I call the “theory of positive naivety” applies here. It means that you don’t really know how truly difficult something will be, and therefore, you tackle it cheerfully. By the time you learn that it was impossible, you’ve done it!

Jeremy Johnson is the co-founder and President of Too Faced.  He’d worked as a manager with Armani and switched to beauty products with the prestige Chanel brand. With a move to Estee Lauder, he learned a lot about event planning and local strategy development for the Los Angeles area. Life changed in 1998 when he met Jerrod and they began to plan a business venture. You’ll find their products in stores such as Nordstrom and Sephora today. In his role as President, Jeremy oversees all business matters including daily operations, staff management, marketing, production, and sales. Jarrod is the outrageous personality, which brings a lot of media attention to their business and brands.

There I am, sharing the communal bliss of a wedding, which is a merger of sorts, with business founders who’d seem to be from different planets. One is a staid older gentleman with an old world presence in a business that adheres to traditions hundreds of years old. The other is a business & life partnership that is riding the glittery edge of trendy cosmetics where brands sometimes have the life cycle of fireflies. But, I’d bet that over lunch they’d all find common ground. There would be stories of fund raising, sales miracles, customer horror stories, and the satisfaction of solving the problems that show up with amazing regularity. The Scottish gentleman and the energetic gay couple would bond over business. The entrepreneurial spirit has no boundaries.

- Nelson Davis | Small Business Expert