Melissa Butler’s Lip Bar Journey From Brooklyn Kitchen To Target Stores

lip bar lips matter

When former Wall Street financial analyst Melissa Butler became frustrated with the beauty industry’s lip product offerings, she did what any entrepreneurial minded business person would do, create a solution. From the point where she had the idea to start her own lip line to now getting ready to launch in 44 target stores and online starting Sunday February 18 and hopefully more to come, Melissa Butler, Founder and CEO of Lip Bar talks to us about what it took, lessons learned from their Shark Tank appearance, how her network became her first marketing line plus advice she would give young up and comers. In celebration of the Target launch, The Lip Bar created 2 lip products as target exclusives: a lip gloss called Baddie & liquid matte called Unimpressed! exists to disrupt traditional beauty ideals. With it’s vegan friendly, cruelty-free products target exclusives, lip gloss Baddie & liquid matte Unimpressed!
melissa butler lipbar founder

SociaLifeChicago: What three lessons did you learn from the Shark Tank rejection
Melissa Butler: One was persistence. A lot of people talk about Shark Tank and are impressed that I kept going because public rejection makes you want to give up. Honestly it wasn’t a thought for me to stop, having a small business you are used to hearing no and used to some form of failure, or at least you should be. One of the biggest things I’ve learned from being a small business owner is you have to be persistent in order to succeed because often times there’s going to be a big fat no in your face, or you’re not going to have the budget as the big guys but if you believe in it and have that persistence, then you’ll stick it out.

Second lesson I learned is that failure inspires. It inspires you to do better. It inspires you to look inward and reflect. You ask yourself “what part of this situation could I have improved?” “What part of my story wasn’t compelling?” “Am I speaking to the right audience?” For us as it related to Shark Tank we were not speaking to the right audience. But it certainly inspires you to look inward and adjust going forward.

Finally, I learned to work with what I have. Sometimes as a small business owner, you tend to put things off and say “when I get to this point I am going to start” When I hit this particular milestone then I am going to do this. I have learned to start doing things exactly where you are and make the tweaks from there. There is never going to be perfect timing. There’s always going to be some additional hurdle in your way and you’ll wait a lifetime for that perfect moment.

Failure inspires. It inspires you to do better. It inspires you to look inward and reflect.

image via youtube
image via youtube

SLC: You stated that you blind emailed Target’s team. From the time you sent the email to getting the first in person meeting and closing the deal, walk us through that process?
MB: It’s a big deal!! Honestly, deals with big box retailers are very difficult to come by just because the buyers are being shown new products every single day, people are constantly reaching out to them. My experience with trying to get into a big box retailer is you have to figure out to how fill that white space and for me it was really being able to show up for that multicultural consumer in a way that most retailers were not. I was reaching out to everyone but Target was my big fish to land. This was something that was 2 years in the making. I reached out to them several times and didn’t get a response then I got a response, then having to do the whole convincing thing. For any entrepreneur looking to get into a big box store, its more a matter of how do they (big box store and their customers) benefit? It’s not a one sided relationship, if you want them to do well you need to think what’s in it for them. I approached it from that perspective.
SLC: Do you think catering to a specific business demographic, in this case multicultural women, helped the business?
Melissa Butler_Lip Bar MB: It had a large potential to hurt the brand. Women of color are excited to see people who look like them at the forefront of a beauty campaign because its not the norm, however, anyone who is not a woman of color, feels like she can’t or shouldn’t support that brand because its not for her so ultimately, it could seem like I’m alienating that customer who is not a woman of color. Then it becomes a point of education because its not that I’m alienating that customer but rather I am widening the beauty scope. So simply put, black women will shop from a brand that has a white woman as the face of their campaign all day long and they don’t think because a white person is the model, I shouldn’t shop with this brand but on the reverse when non women of color see a black woman as a face of a beauty campaign, they may not feel compelled to make that purchase. So its really just a matter of deciding that this underserved market deserves to have their beauty validated. I have customers in all race spectrum, its really just about serving that under represented market and letting them know that they are enough and they are beautiful too. Its more of a stance that we are taking to say that beauty looks like a lot of different people.
Naturally because I’m a black woman, I appealed to my audience but I didn’t realize that it was such a thing until after I launched. 

I have learned to start doing things exactly where you are

SLC: You stress the importance of  taking time off/vacation, what stage of the biz did you feel comfortable to leave ii in others hands?
MB: I still don’t know that I am fully comfortable with that *laughs* but there are definitely some things that I outsource immediately where I just feel like i could use my time wisely by allowing someone else to do it such as customer service or shipping orders; those are things that I outsource. Even right now I am still very connected to everything even though other people do it. Can you send that
You do need to take a break because burnout is real. Last year I took a 12 day trip to Morocco (Marrakech) and Spain (Barcelona) by myself and it was amazing!! I took my computer and was still plugged in but I had the chance to unwind and be inspired.

lip bar now at target copy

SLC: Your main product line are matte lip sticks, are there other pieces in the works or are you thinking of expanding your product offerings?
MB: I’ve considered expanding but within the last two months, I’ve decided that it’s better for us to stay focused. The goal for us is to own the lip category and expand what we have. Right now we don’t have lip liners, that’s something we are working on and its a process because I want it to be perfect. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to things like that because I always put myself in the customers shoes. For me its not a matter of is it good, but more would I buy it again. When this runs out would I go back and purchase it?

SLC: If you could start your biz over without the finance background you had, would you? why/why not?
MB: I think the finance background played a role but not a large role. My finance background gave me structure and it allowed me to easily make decisions. I don’t deliberate for long, I just know. I want the facts to be in front of me and then I execute from there.  I don’t really waver. This is what I believe and this is what I’m going for. It allows me to operate after having the facts.

lip bar campaign photo launches target stores february 18


SLC: If you could start over with your business, what things would you do differently?
MB: You make so many mistakes when yoy are begining a business. I would have made sure I had a mentors earlier on in the process. I would have expanded my beauty network earlier on and I would have worked with influencers earlier on. Who knew that influencer marketing would be so huge?! Or maybe I would’ve become my own influencer. Influencer marketing drives beauty sales.E Everyone is empowered and everyone has their own power to be their own celebrity.

SLC: You are a member of a sorority, did you use that network when you got your start with Lip Bar?
MB: Of course! I am a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority Inc. Its truly a sisterhood so when I first launched my business, the word of mouth spread through my line sisters and the Deltas who were older that me and continued to spread that way because they were the people who initially supported. I crossed with 55 other line sisters so these were other women who could be potential customers, who shared the message with their family and their friends. So yes, I was able to use that network and some of my best friends came from that organization.

SLC: What advice would you give a young up-and-comer, whether in entrepreneurship or corporate with aspirations of finding success
MB: I would say go the extra mile. Its never crowded; its so cliche but people just do the bare minimum and expect to be rewarded for it. Thats not how you succeed in business or work. When I was working on Wall Street i would stay later and volunteer to help them. I wanted to learn as much as I could. I wanted to learn my entire business function. Presently as it relates to the beauty industry I am constantly trying to be of value to the customer because its not just about selling the product.

SLC: What do you look for in a lipstick formula?
MB: It needs to be super pigmented. I love color, you’ll never see me in a nude lipstick I like color i either want to have a bold color, orange is my favorite or just have on lip balm. That being said, I want tons of pigment but i’m also a moisture freak. I love moisturizing my skin, my face, my lips, I have so many serums and moisturizers; for me, the product needs to be moisturizing. We worked on our liquid matte formula for about 15 months because I felt it was too drying at first. I kept sending it back telling them to add more moisture.

SLC: Honesty, not everyone will be able to successfully make the transition from a high paying gig to a passion project that also flourishes after grind time, what do you attribute to the success and visibility of the brand?
MB: I’m a risk taker. Of my friends, if there’s a cliff and some people are hesitating to jump, I’m already in the water. Its a thought, I assess it, then I go for it. You might have the ambition but you may not have the courage to execute so my courage comes from “whats the worst that could happen” and I don’t want to live with regret. When I started thinking about Lip bar, I was 24, living in NYC and making good money. I didn’t have any kids or husband so I was like what better time to take the risk. If i fell flat on my face, I have a degree so I can always go back and get a job.


SLC: How did you go about finding the mentors your have now as an entrepreneur?
MB: I’m actually flying to San Francisco in March to meet with a potential mentor; he’s someone I admire and love what he’s doing in the beauty industry and I had to get on his calendar. Its a matter of investing, you have to determine theres value in it and you can’t force it. There are people I admire who are mentors and I know I can learn from them but we don’t necessarily have that mentor-mentee relationship. I am constantly looking to grow and learn from people because I don’t come from the beauty industry. If i can learn from someone who has that background and expertise it would be foolish not to.

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Bolaji Sosan
Bolaji Sosan

pronounced: Boh-la-jee, like the Bellagio but w/o the O. SLC Founder and Editor, loves to write about topics at the intersection of career and lifestyle for today's young professional and future leaders.

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