Five minutes with the Founder | Arabella Preston & Charlotte Semler, Votary

In this series, we take five minutes with the founders of our 2018 Brands of Tomorrow to discover more about the personalities and motivation behind these exciting young brands. Today, Charlotte Semler and Arabella Preston, co-founders of Votary, share some of the secrets to their success so far.

Tell us about your brand

Votary is a luxurious line of natural plant oil skincare that harnesses the power of botanicals to give you healthy, radiant skin.

Tell us the story of how you built your brand 

Charlotte: We have built the Votary brand using 4 levers:

PR – if you’re going to be a luxury brand you must be featured in luxury publications on- and off-line.

Influencers and Social Media – we aimed for quality rather than quantity. We have built an Insta community of highly engaged natural skincare fans. We don’t have the biggest number of followers but they are devoted. We also used influencers – and not just on social media. Votary products genuinely give customers great skin so we worked hard to get the product into the hands of key influencers, designers and socialites. In effect super-luxe sampling. This was invaluable because most people who tried the product went on to become loyal customers. And told their friends about it!

Retail Partners – We have been selective about where Votary is stocked. When you launch a brand, where you launch is in effect a shorthand for your brand positioning. Small scale but bang on brand is better than huge and a bit wrong.

Customer Service – Skin is a profoundly personal and emotional thing. We recognise this and we encourage customers to share their skin stories with us via our website and customer service email. Email might seem a bit ‘last decade’ but one-to-one customer interaction is crucial in building trust and Votary brand advocacy. We spend a huge amount of time on detailed email conversations with customers to really understand their skin history and their needs. That means the customer ends up with the right product for their skin and that makes them loyal to the brand.

Why did you choose to set up your business in the luxury sector? 

Charlotte: Arabella was never going to compromise on the ingredients we use in Votary products. And the costs associated with premium natural ingredients mean that Votary could only ever be a luxury brand. We embraced this necessity by creating beautiful, luxe packaging and reflecting the luxury credentials in communications.

What is your favourite thing about your job? 

Charlotte and Arabella: Talking to and emailing with customers about their skin.  We love when we can improve someone’s skin – healthy, beautiful skin makes people happy.

What and/or who is your source of inspiration and motivation? 

Arabella and Charlotte:  We inspire and motivate each other.  And our kids and husbands support what we’re trying to do with Votary.  It’s good to know that your family is rooting for you.

If you could have any other job in the world what would it be? 

Charlotte: Creative Director at Hermès.

Arabella: I’ve always fancied myself as a decent photographer.

If you could do something differently in your career what would it be? 

Charlotte: I’m not sure I’d change much. I’m happy. An extra day in the week would be handy!

Arabella: I try really hard not to have regrets, I’ve always embraced change and if you need not to beat yourself up if things don’t work out.

Where do you see yourself and your company in 10 years’ time? 

Votary will be a global luxury brand. Famous for making skin beautifully healthy – naturally.

What does success look like to you? 

Charlotte and Arabella: An email from a customer who’s so happy about how her skin looks and feels.

What advice do you have for any young entrepreneurs looking to start their own business?

Charlotte:  Try very hard to keep everything simple. Be focused in terms of product range, target audience and marketing. Accept that you can’t know what will work. So instead of spending lots of time on detailed planning, spend your time doing low cost, small scale trials of different routes to market. See what works before you commit serious investment to it.

Arabella: Politely ask for help. You’d be amazed how many busy and brilliant people are willing to share their experiences with you.