Trish Lucarino may sell skin products such as The Dolce Dreams whipped body lotion and Cattiva Diva silky hand cream, but the petite blonde with a penchant for pink and girly things has developed a tough skin when it comes to growing her Vancouver company, Principessa Beauty. That’s helped the self-described “beauty product junkie” deal with everything from naysayers to distribution disasters even as she’s moved her firm out of her basement to an 1,800 sq.-.ft.-facility and into 200 retail stores in Canada and the U.S.
Lucarino spent eight years in cosmetics retailing before launching Principessa (Italian for princess) in 2003. The goal, she says, was to create her own ultimate dream products. The result: a skin care line with a signature scent and sheer formulas designed to leave skin feeling luxuriously silky—wrapped up in pretty pink packaging designed for the feminine and whimsical urban princess.
Today, Principessa manufactures 14 products that can be found in niche boutiques such as LA’s trendy Surly Girl and Palmetto in Santa Monica. The products have also won fans among Hollywood celebrities including Lindsay Lohan, Terry Hatcher, Paris Hilton and Scarlett Johansson.
Still, the road to success hasn’t been easy, admits Lucarino. But each mishap, she says, “has been a really great learning experience.” We asked Lucarino to share her best lessons:
1. Passion can take you far
“Everyone, even Angelo (her husband), advised against getting into the beauty business because it is so competitive,” says Lucarino. But she was adamant that she could make it work. The key: a thoroughly thought-out brand complete with the best-quality, skin-nourishing ingredients (with no fillers), and a fresh, light scent, plus pretty, sexy packaging. “I wanted every aspect of buying and using the products to be so amazing that you just would want to buy it again.”
Eventually, even Angelo was convinced. “When he understood the passion I had for it, he said,You of all people have the drive to make this happen.’ And passion is critical, because there are so many roadblocks.”
2. Never give up
Lucarino was ecstatic when lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret invited Principessa to be part of a pilot project that would see the introduction of private-label beauty brands into 13 of its U.S. stores. But two weeks after shipping the first batch of scrubs, Lucarino opened a jar and realized the seal had disintegrated. “My knees literally buckled beneath me,” she says. “It wasn’t a huge quantity, but this was our first chance with them. I knew I had to call them before they found out, and I had to have a solution.”
After frantic conversations with seal suppliers and the lab, she braced herself and called Victoria’s Secret, offering a new batch at no cost. It in turn appreciated her honesty and, luckily, took a couple of weeks to arrange the logistics of the switch. That gave Lucarino the time to finish the new batch. While Victoria’s Secret eventually scrapped the idea of selling beauty products, Principessa’s relationship with them remained good. “You are always going to run into road blocks but you never give up, you keep on trying to find a solution,” says Lucarino, “because there always is one.”
3. Always trust your gut
Lucarino believed that if she could generate positive PR and snag some celebrity clients, then the choice accounts would follow. So she was eager to hire a New York publicist and sales agency recommended by a client. Lucarino’s due diligence didn’t raise any obvious red flags, yet she had a niggling feeling that the firm seemed too good to be true. She signed with them even though “every fibre of my being was screaming against it.” Four months later, with no results, she ended the contract. The parting of ways turned into a nasty fight that had Lucarino “literally feeling nauseous”—and cost the firm $10,000 and several months of lost opportunity.
4. Be open to advice
Lucarino worked with a local producer to formulate Principessa and the manufacturer’s CEO fell in love with her products and advised Lucarino to consider launching her products at a premier trade show in New York called Extracts. Lucarino knew Principessa would need to kick into overdrive to meet the deadline, but she trusted his judgement. Principessa debuted at Extracts in September 2003, and was named Best New Product of the show. Lucarino also received an invitation to put Principessa products in the Golden Globe pre-party goodie bags. Says Lucarino: “The support and advice of the people we work with has been absolutely critical and crucial.”