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Home / News and Insights / Insights / Aaron Chatterley – Feelunique

In the first article of this new monthly series, Mireille Dagger, beauty lead at BDB Pitmans, speaks with Aaron Chatterley, the founder of the prestigious beauty e-commerce retailer, Feelunique.

Following an initial career in web development in the 90s, Aaron successfully went on to found and scale (on a boot-strapped basis) Feelunique. When Aaron sold his remaining shares in Feelunique in 2021, the business comprised 2.5 million active customers and a 90,000-strong cosmetic and fragrance product portfolio. The buyer, French beauty powerhouse Sephora, thereby gained a stronger foothold in the British beauty market. Sephora’s shiny flagship store is due to open in Westfield, London this autumn.

Aaron proved an engaging raconteur willing to divulge his insights into the competitive beauty retail environment. He reveals the inspiration he drew from Amazon (in its original incarnation as a book retailer), discusses the importance of negotiating for the long term, and describes the supplier relationships that form the bedrock of a solid online retail business…

How did you get into what you do?

With a marketing background, I started my own web development company in 1996 which I went on to sell in 2000. Wanting to get my teeth into something new and exploring a number of one stop shop verticals within industries harbouring a replenishment model, I, together with an old friend, settled on beauty. We wanted to provide consumers with the opportunity to buy from a huge spectrum of beauty brands in the same way that Amazon had enabled its consumers to primarily purchase from a huge range of books back in the day.

Since stepping down from Feelunique, I’ve been busy developing a new go-to teen makeup and skincare brand called Indu, launching in August 2023. Reflecting on what’s available to teens in this area, and the way in which such products are marketed, it enabled us to identify a niche – a need for products that teens want, products that are designed specifically for their skin and positioned in a way that provides a healthy yet engaging and fun introduction to the world of beauty.

What advice would you give to founders at the beginning of their career?

Always think carefully about the value that you are giving away now and what that might equate to in years to come when your business has successfully scaled. For example, if you’re negotiating a contract and you’re willing to concede on 0.5% now just to get a deal done, that percentage in monetary terms in 5 years’ time could be huge – think in pound notes!

What do you wish you had known whilst growing your business?

In the beginning, most founders will be prepared to take short cuts and/or be focussed on saving money but if you get it wrong, it could cost a founder their entire business.

It’s easy for a founder to assume that everything will be ok and that this will continue however, I know just how toxic and risky a lack of alignment with a co-founder could be and the need to have a good, honest working relationship with them and solid legals is vital.

What made the biggest impact in scaling your business?

Our supplier relationships. As a retailer, Feelunique relied heavily on its suppliers – we developed and maintained fantastic relationships with them right from the get go. Without a good relationship with them, it would have been game over for us. I think the need for human connection remains stronger than ever.

In his responses Aaron touched on a number of points, such as ownership of equity, supplier contracts and shareholders’ agreements – all areas which may require specialist legal support. Please feel free to get in touch with Mireille if your business is facing similar issues and you require legal assistance.

You can find out more about Mireille’s legal expertise here and by following her on Instagram at @The_Beauty_Lawyer

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