Sisters make millions from simple idea
SISTERS Emma Henderson and Victoria Beattie had a problem.
They loved the flexible, laid-back lifestyle they lived in the NSW beachside town of Kingscliff.
But as far as job opportunities went, they were limited.
After working around town in cafes, they decided they needed to come up with a business idea, so they could make a decent living without having to move from their beloved home.
While sitting on the beach watching their husbands (who are best friends) surf, Emma had an idea.
"I think round beach towels would be cool," she mused.
"No one is doing that."
Emma decided she would go to Bali and find a manufacturer who could turn her concept into a small business. Victoria, who had a background in business and accounting, promptly announced that was a "terrible business plan".
So Emma invited her sister to create the product with her - Victoria could bring her strong business sense, and Emma could bring her creative flair.
With that "seaside luxe" brand The Beach People was born.
They started working out of the garden shed of Victoria's beach shack and turned her spare room into an office.
"It was pretty funny giving this address for our deliveries," recalls Victoria.
"I'd be out there in our quiet little beachside street with my orange witches hats to show the trucks where to park, because they kept thinking they had the address wrong."
The beauty of this unusual towel with its unique prints, is that it photographed well. It was therefore "very Instagrammable".
Within weeks of the Roundie being launched, the girls from Spell in Byron Bay posted a picture of the towel to their 872k Instagram followers saying "this is what I want for Christmas".
"After that happened, I think we got around 6-7K new followers ... at that point we'd been going for three or four weeks," Emma says.
Before they knew it, the towel was a hit with influencers and it was going viral on social media. Celeb fans of the product include Julianna Hough and Jimmy Fallon.
"After that first summer it was just wild ... we had people paying $100 and waiting six weeks through winter to get their hands on a towel, as we were running out of stock," Victoria says.
The towel was selling all over the globe, but it was particularly popular in the US and Japan.
"We broke the 100,000th Roundie sold in the summer of 2015 ... only two years after we'd launched. We also did our first million dollar month that year," Victoria says.
They were still to spend a single dollar on marketing.
When asked why the towel was so successful, Emma says, "I think it was just new ... A truly new to market product is really exciting. It was also designed to our aesthetics - people felt like they were going to have a nicer time at the beach ... that their experience would be enhanced with this beautiful towel."
Add to that the fact that the towel "feels amazing, gives you extra space when you're lying down and dries really well".
The sisters realised they were onto something.
"Straight away I realised there was a strong public reaction to our overall aesthetic," says Victoria.
They recognised that there was a market for a "luxury seaside coastal" brand, or as Victoria puts it, a "surf brand that wasn't surf ... something without the fluoro orange stripes".
They promptly threw everything including "our husbands' wages ... house deposits" into the business and expanded into other areas, including bath, homewares, linen and beach accessories.
These days, their business has a seven-figure annual turnover. They are selling their lifestyle products in over 600 stores in more than 30 countries. Stockists include luxury retailers Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale and Selfridges.
They now run two offices (one near their homes on the NSW north coast and one in Miami) and employ 20 staff.
With the success of the Roundie came the inevitable wave of copycats.
"I'm so glad that before we launched we secured our IP in every country ... we own the names 'Roundie', 'round towel' and 'circular towel,'" explains Victoria.
Despite that, they have had "battle after battle" with competitors copying their design.
"One season I had a lawyer representing us full-time," Victoria says.
"We had some key big-name retailers wanting a wholesale agreement with us. When we said no, they just went and blatantly bought our product and had it copied.
"It's been happening so much we've just had to figure out which battles are worth fighting."
Emma recalls walking through a shopping centre and noticing that a "huge retailer" had one of their images in their front window.
"The picture happened to be of me, so it was really easy for me to recognise it," she says.
"They had simply Photoshopped their design over our towel, but it was done so badly you could see our towel underneath it.
"I couldn't believe it ... I was thinking, 'Wait a minute, that photo was taken of me by my sister when we couldn't afford a model.'"
Some people baulk at the thought of working with a sibling, but The Beach People sisters seem to genuinely love it.
"When we started we did a 'sister contract,'" explains Emma.
"We wrote up our strengths and weaknesses and outlined our place in the organisation and we make sure we play to our strengths - we know what each other is good at, we know each other inside out and there would be no Beach People if it wasn't for Victoria ... because the girl gets stuff done and is unbelievably motivated. I'm more of the dreamy person looking at a Pantone colour chart. We have the perfect balance of logic and creativity.
"We work really well together. We knew it would work. When big things happen in our day I look at my sister and say, 'Thank goodness we're doing this together.'"
Emma and Victoria of The Beach People are finalists in the Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award, which recognises the success and vision of young entrepreneurial businesswomen. The winner will be announced on March 6.