How a Young Founder Created a Multi-Million-Dollar Skincare Business

Tribe Skincare Founder Kayla Houlihan

The path to success has been far from straightforward for Tribe Skincare founder Kayla Houlihan, but describing her business is simple. “Our mission statement, our products and our purpose can be wrapped up in four words,” she explains. “Skincare for sensitive skin.”

It was while running a skincare clinic with her sister in Geelong that the young businesswoman noticed a significant number of customers searching for products that were gentler on their skin than anything she had in stock. When she had trouble finding alternatives that were also Australian-made and cruelty-free, she realised there was a gap in the market – and decided to fill it!

At around the same time, Houlihan developed carpal tunnel syndrome in both of her wrists and needed to take three months off from the salon for treatment. Taking it as a sign she should consider a career change, she decided to go all in on Tribe Skincare. She soon realised that she would need capital for product development and stock orders and put everything on the line by using her $40,000 house deposit to start the business. Fortunately, the response exceeded her wildest dreams and “within three months of working full-time on it, we were hitting $100,000 in sales each month”. 

By the end of her first year she was selling around 3,500 products a month, a number that has since doubled as the Tribe Skincare range has expanded from four to 12 products.

Tribe Skincare

Houlihan grew a large fan base on social media by sharing before-and-after photos of her own struggle with sensitive skin.

That rapid growth was fuelled by a robust social media presence including before-and -after pics of Houlihan’s own face that demonstrated how quickly the products worked. Soon she started working with influencers to reach a larger audience and “the brand really grew when our marketing began incorporating before-and-after photos sent in by customers because it was proof that our products really worked”.

The next step was scaling up and Houlihan quickly learned that she needed access to capital if she was to continue that growth. “Running a product-based business means you have to pay for your stock up-front, but it could be months before you hit the market and start making money back.” 

Tribe Skincare

And that’s especially true around Christmas, given product orders (and payment) need to be finalised by October at the latest. “Fortunately, the American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card gives us the financial flexibility to build up stock when we need it.”

With no pre-set spending limit on the Card, businesses can purchase the things they need for growth by accessing a dynamic line of unsecured funding¹. “Plus, with up to 51 days to pay for purchases² on the Card, we know we can use the money from sales to pay off the balance before it’s due.”

As well as stock orders and packaging, the 31-year-old entrepreneur uses the Card to pay for marketing, office equipment, and “virtually every aspect of the business. We earn up to 1.25 Qantas Points per $1 on our everyday business spend³, so even the smaller transactions add up.” 

And because she uses the American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card so frequently, Houlihan has seen her balance skyrocket into the hundreds of thousands of Qantas Points.

Always on the lookout for an opportunity to grow her company, Houlihan has turned the Qantas Points she’s earned via her Card and as a Qantas Business Rewards member into staff incentives, prizes for online promotions and even the iMac used by Tribe’s graphic designer, which she purchased using points at the Qantas Rewards Store. Looking forward, she can see an even more exciting use for them on the horizon.

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Maximise your cash flow

Being entirely Australian-made, Tribe has manufacturers across the country and Houlihan is looking forward to redeeming her Qantas Points for flights and accommodation so she can visit them in person. “We’ve just done a rebrand,” she adds, “so I’m looking forward to hosting launch parties in different states as a really fun reward for our customers.”

Tribe Skincare

Those customers, she says, are “what gets me out of bed every day... They’ll send through photos and messages to let us know how much they’re loving the skincare. Even when things get tough, that feedback keeps us motivated, just knowing that we’re having a positive impact on someone’s life.”

Unlock the possibilities for your business. Earn 170,000 bonus Qantas Points* when you apply by 25 June 2024, are approved and spend $6,000 on eligible purchases on your new American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card within 3 months of your approval date. T&Cs apply.  Available for new American Express Card Members only. Learn more.

Unlock the possibilities 

Kayla Houlihan shares her top small business tips

• The key to… using credit strategically

“The American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card is really useful for cash flow because we’ve got to invest in stock before we’re able to make any money from purchases. Putting large orders on the Card means we never have to worry about running out of stock, even during peak sales periods – and with up to 51 days to pay for purchases² we can use the profits from sales to pay the balance.”

• The key to… keeping it simple

“In a world where skincare can be very confusing and overwhelming, we try to give customers exactly what their skin needs without overcomplicating their routine. Because the majority of our sales will usually come from a few core products, this is important from a business perspective as well as a customer-experience perspective.”

• The key to… looking after your staff

“You can’t do everything yourself so investing in your staff is absolutely critical for the business as you grow,” says Houlihan, who works closely with her small team of three. “When my staff do something really impressive I use the Qantas Points I earn through my Card and Qantas Business Rewards on incentives, like vouchers for David Jones or The Iconic from the Qantas Rewards Store.” 

Tribe Skincare

Amex Qantas Business Rewards

• The key to… developing return customers

“If people only made one-off purchases from us we would constantly have to find new markets, so this business is built on returning customers. They engage with the brand and talk about it with their friends and family and they’re the people we really focus all of our attention on because without them, there is no business.”

• The key to… optimising your time

“My role has changed significantly over the last four years. At the start I spent a lot of time on marketing, running the warehouse and packing all of the orders but now I try to work on the business rather than in it. With my American Express Qantas Business Rewards Card I can set up all the bills as direct debits, knowing they’ll be paid. This means I have more time to focus on finding ways to grow the business.”

• The key to… engaging with your customers

“We are very active on social media. That’s where our team communicate with the majority of our customers and engage them in our community. I used the Card to pay for digital advertising on the various platforms to help me continue to build this customer base. Tribe Skincare is a brand that I built for a demographic of Australians who discover new things and make decisions on the strength of social media, so being able to invest in advertising at the right time has been vital to establishing the brand.”

Unlock the possibilities for your business. Earn 170,000 bonus Qantas Points* when you apply by 25 June 2024, are approved and spend $6,000 on eligible purchases on your new American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card within 3 months of your approval date. T&Cs apply.  Available for new American Express Card Members only. Learn more.

Click here for terms and conditions.

SEE ALSO: This Aussie Brand Has Upcycled More Than a Million Plastic Bottles into Camping Gear

*170,000 bonus Qantas Points: Offer only available to new American Express Card Members who apply by 25 June 2024, are approved and spend $6,000 on eligible purchases on their new Card in the first three (3) months from the Card approval date. Eligible purchases do not include Card fees and charges, for example annual fees, interest, late payment, cash advances, balance transfers, traveller’s cheques and foreign currency conversion. Card Members who currently hold or who have previously held any Card product issued by American Express Australia Limited in the past 18 months are ineligible for this offer. 170,000 bonus Qantas Points will be awarded to the eligible Card Member's Account 8-10 weeks after the spend criteria has been met. Subject to the American Express® Qantas Business Rewards Card Points Terms and Conditions. $450 annual fee applies. This advertised offer is not applicable or valid in conjunction with any other advertised or promotional offer.

American Express approval criteria applies. Subject to Terms and Conditions. Fees and charges apply. All information is correct as at 1 September 2023 and is subject to change. This offer is only available to those who reside in Australia. Cards are offered, issued and administered by American Express Australia Limited (ABN 92 108 952 085). ®Registered Trademark of American Express Company.

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