How to make it as a distributor
1. Take on a brand you’re passionate about
“My first taste of distribution was in 2004, when I became educator and distributor for nail brand EZ Flow. Grafton International was the UK distributor but I purchased products from them and serviced the South of the country as a sub distributor. In 2010, my husband [Jason Smedley] and I became master distributor and importer for Nail Harmony in the UK, distributing gel-polish brand Gelish, which has gone on to become a cult favourite.
"Now, we have 80,000 accounts (not including Sally Beauty) stocking the product and even manufacture our own lacquer brand All That Jazz.”
2. Make sure your knowledge is up to scratch
“If you want to become a distributor, you need a background in education and sales, and a strong knowledge of chemistry and the different nail systems. It’s one of the reasons why Danny Haile, founder of Nail Harmony, got me on board, because of my teaching experience.
"The most successful nail brands in the UK have got a solid training structure behind them with plenty of educators. It’s the key to having successful distribution.”
3. Secure a premises and members of staff
“If you’re setting up from scratch then you’ve got to look into investing in a property – rental or purchase. When I was distributor for EZ Flow, I started off with a 250sq ft space; now with Nail Harmony UK I have a 16,000sq ft premises. The space you need increases when you become established; it’s the difference between, say, £1,000-per-month rent when you’re starting out to £12,000 per month when you expand.
“You also need funds to get the products – you can easily spend £20,000 on a small shipment of 15 boxes – and you need people who are going to answer the phones and do picking and packing. Employee-wise you’ll need at least three staff to begin with. It’s also important to invest in trade publication advertising. When we started out, we were distributing a product nobody had heard of, so without this I don’t think it would have been as successful.”
4. Read the small print
“Have a solicitor look over the contract to check the terms, especially that you’re getting brand exclusivity. It should also cover what’s expected of you because there will be certain targets you have to meet, and don’t forget to ask what kind of warranty or terms systems they have in place in case you receive any faulty products.
"Query your lead times too – you need to know when you’re placing an order whether it’s going to take six weeks by boat or two weeks by air.”
5. Don't take on what you can't handle
“The biggest challenge for us was the rate at which we expanded. We were lucky that Gelish was a new innovation and everybody wanted it, and as a result, we had to take on more staff. We opened up positions that hadn’t existed before, such as an in-house bookkeeper, accountant, head of education, head of distribution, etc, and we now employ 19 in-house staff and 40-plus educators.
“Once your company is established, you’ll also be offered brands every day, so your horizons are constantly widening. However, only make the jump to take on more when you’re ready; when you can take a long holiday and the company still runs efficiently.”
Georgie Smedley is a nail tech and managing director of Nail Harmony UK, which distributes Gelish and manufactures All That Jazz.