The Garage recently met with Nicola Craig, Kellogg ’22 + founder of Palette. Palette aims to be the DryBar for makeup services, which provides customers a way to feel like the most confident version of themselves by offering a makeup service that is dependable, inclusive and convenient. Let’s find out more about Nicola and Palette.
How is the summer going so far?
It’s been going really well! We’ve definitely picked up a lot of steam, having a retail presence now. We’ve seen a lot of customers come through the door organically, which is great. And we’ve had a really high repeat rate of about 20-25% so when people do come in, they really like it a lot.
One thing we’re most proud of is that our NPS (net promoter score) has been 10/10 almost every single time – we’re pleased we’ve been able to execute the idea well and now we’re just focusing on getting more and more customers through the door.
How have you found your customers?
A handful of different channels. TikTok has been really big for us. We’ve had a TikTok or two go viral which is really exciting, we’ve had a ton of people come in after seeing those. Then we do Instagram ads, as well as some community events. We also have special offerings, we had specials for Pride in the Park and glitter makeup for Lollapalooza. We want to keep things interesting.
What was it like finding a retail space?
I have to give credit to a member of my team, Seanette Ting, for that. That was basically her whole job this Spring! She worked really hard to get it. We were battling only being open for two months, we weren’t the most compelling lessees. One effect of COVID is that there is a lot of open retail space now. We feel super lucky to have the space.
Tell me about yourself!
I’ve always been really interested in the intersection of the creative fields and business, and of course, entrepreneurship. When I was in high school, I had a sewing business where I made t-shirts, skirts, scarves and scrunchies and I would sell them to my friends. At one point, I thought I’d be a fashion designer but I started my career in the business world. I studied business as an undergrad in Canada, and doubled down on that. After school, I worked as a management consultant at Bain & Co. for a few years where I realized I really liked the high growth areas of the business world. I came to Kellogg to start a business and was excited to do so in a more creative field.
Did you know then that your business would be Palette?
It was my favorite idea coming into Kellogg. I was excited about the idea, but it was the fall of 2020 so I didn’t think the timing was right because of COVID. However, I saw a lot of potential in the idea in a post-COVID world, so I went through the exercise doing the entrepreneurial diligence: doing all the market research and user interviews, and the learning of seeing what it takes to build a successful business.
After doing all the research and interviews, in December 2020 or so, it was clear the idea had a lot of promise and the vaccine timelines were starting to come out so I made a bet that by summer we’d be in a good enough place to do this kind of business.
In June, someone said to me “wow, you’re so smart for doing this at the back end of COVID with all these big events happening,” and I thought, “That’s so funny, it always felt silly and risky to do face-touching business during COVID!” We were just lucky that the timing worked out with vaccines in Chicago and our calculated risk worked out. There’s so much pent up demand for this – so many events and weddings this summer. We were always sort of betting on this double set of weddings, and it happened.
How did you come up with the idea?
I was going to a holiday party and I wanted to get my makeup done, and there was not an option to do so. It just didn’t exist. And as I dug deeper, I realized others were having this problem, too. There’s this big gap in the market. You can go to a beauty counter like at a Sephora or a Nordstrom but they were often booked out and the people working weren’t always qualified makeup artists, so people were kind of scared to go to these places. And then on the other hand, there were super expensive one-off makeup artists, but it would cost $150 or more. So there’s kind of this missing middle area in the market where the service can be a bit more financially attainable but also reliable.
What does Palette looks like right now?
It’s a retail store in Lincoln Park, Chicago that’s fully operational with a capacity for eight customers at a time and we do makeup Wednesday through Sunday (but we’ll open up for any customer who wants to come in at any time). We have a team of fantastic artists who are fully certified and very talented.
Our customers come in for a variety of occasions. We see a lot of headshots, engagement shoots, going to weddings or events. We also see a lot of informal events, so people coming in for dates on a Thursday night or getting their makeup done before brunch on a Sunday. And now we’re also offering classes as well, so we are also educating people on how to do their makeup or take their makeup to the next level. And we have people who are beginners and experts – our makeup artists are really good so there’s something there for everyone.
Have you always loved makeup?
Ironically, I was kind of scared of makeup when I was younger! I wanted to look like me. When I got older, I saw it as more of a way to accentuate my natural features. And I would say we focus on making people look natural and like themselves, just with more polish. Our higher order purpose is to make people feel like the most confident version of themselves. I always get a lot of joy when someone finishes their service and I hear the “WOW I love it!” and they have the confidence to take on their day, or work meeting, or whatever they came in for!
Dependability is a big part of our service. We have a lot of processes in place – we send surveys before to understand people’s preferences, so if someone says they want “natural,” we try to deduce what that “natural” means for that person.
Where do you hope Palette will be in the future?
Our end goal would be to have a Palette beside every Drybar. So if there’s 100 Drybar locations, we’d like to have 100 Palette locations.
Do you have competitors?
There are some local studios that do a little bit of hair, a little bit of makeup – so that depends very much on that market. But I’d say two things that we really focus on doing well is being dependable, having the right processes in place to make sure customers get the look that they want, and being inclusive. We have the skills and products to do any face – whether that’s different minority groups or women or men or non-binary people. We have very inclusive offerings and that’s reflected in our services and our marketing materials, as well.
What challenges have you faced building Palette?
I think starting a business where I don’t have a network set up – I’m from Canada – especially something that is so word of mouth driven, is a challenge. It’s been really important to get to know the community. Another challenge is really learning to be a jack of all trades. I’m doing marketing, HR, finance, customer support and cleaning the toilets while also trying to set the strategy and the vision. It’s been a really big learning experience in that way.
How can we book an appointment?
This article is part of an ongoing series highlighting the startup teams admitted to Jumpstart, The Garage’s pre-accelerator Program. For more information about Jumpstart, click here.