Startup Crosses the Cumulative $20 Million Threshold
Founded | 2018
Headquarters | Fort Worth, TX
Top Executives | Melissa and Scott Thompson
Products | Beauty, Nutrition, Personal Care
With little kids in the 1990s, Melissa fell in love with direct selling. Her career came of age at Avon with John Fleming as her boss and she learned from the finest at Belcorp, Shaklee and Stella and Dot.
Husband, Scott, who owns a successful, Inc. 500-listed tech company, called her Goldilocks because she sat in all the chairs, but kept searching for better—new and creative ways of doing the job.
By the time they’d sipped Napa Valley’s finest dry, Melissa’s daydream had garnered a life of its own and in that intimate setting BELLAME was born.
Getting Started in Earnest
As the couple blended their worlds of business expertise, hers in social selling and his in tech—specifically, internet marketing—their aim was a slow grow giving Scott the time he needed to run his company and some leisure travel time together. But they would soon find, BELLAME wouldn’t wait.
The success of Melissa’s initial Facebook blog foreshadowed how ready the world was for a brand like BELLAME. She put herself out there talking about being a mom to three kids, entrepreneurship, life and beauty without any of today’s social media polish.
“I asked moms and people in the industry what they loved about social selling, what they didn’t love about it. I asked raw questions. ‘Consumers, what do you love about your personal care products?’ I really just wanted to know,” she said.
In the months after, Melissa attracted 100,000 followers and built a perfect Bellame blueprint with their commentary. “It was a beautiful thing. I like to say, ‘I didn’t create BELLAME. It was a group of people.’ We are the only tribe or brand in direct selling to be truly created by an audience before we had a customer or a partner,” she explained.
Scott educated himself about direct selling’s legal and operational aspects, while Melissa searched for product formulators who could deliver luxury, not a “me too” product line. Lab after lab, jar after jar gave way to some funny misunderstandings. FYI: Glowing skin does not equate to glitter as an ingredient!
“You know when it’s your own money and your own life savings, you’re just very careful with how you spend everything,” Melissa said. It took nine months to develop Bellame’s core four skin care products including a luxurious, bamboo washcloth with which they soft launched in March 2018.
“Just like we do today, it was all very raw and real,” she remembered.
They expected to grow to 500 partners and had high hopes for 1,000 before the end of 2018, but lightning struck when one of Melissa’s videos went viral. They hard launched in August with only part of their digital platform ready and by October sold out of product. At year’s end, BELLAME had 7,500 partners.
Tipping Direct Selling’s Status Quo
In the 3 ½ years since, BELLAME has attracted 25,000 partners by focusing on what people want from products, policies and their company as a whole. They’ve questioned direct selling’s status quo, normalized transparency, instituted easy two-way field communication, shed negativity associated with potentially being scammed and—above all else—embraced the positivity superb customer experience generates.
Today, BELLAME lists more than 150 SKUs, each created with input and names chosen by the field. At any time, Melissa can Skype chat with her top three leadership groups. “If something is wrong or something happens, I know about it within seconds. I believe the partners feel truly part of building this brand,” she said.
They judge everything not just by the field’s desire for it, but also for how it rates on the luxury meter including customer service. As such, BELLAME’s customer service is fashioned after non-industry experts like StitchFix and Apple.
She’s also strayed from direct selling’s conventional wisdom about auto replenishment and compensation plans, opting instead to focus on providing stellar customer experience and rewards for new users and an ever-growing affiliate generation.
She asked, why must customers wait 60 days before getting an auto replenishment perk? “We don’t live in that kind of world anymore. We live in an ‘I want it now and I want my reward now’ world. We live in the Amazon world, where you can just click something and get it delivered and return it with ease.”
So BELLAME tips the status quo and allows auto replenishment with no wait time for rewards. Cancel the next day, Melissa doesn’t care. She figures being scammed shouldn’t be the biggest worry. The real loss is that someone won’t try BELLAME at all.
Not only does BELLAME’s auto replenish allow customers to cancel at any time, but they also even email customers five days ahead to make changes or cancel with just a click. They offer a full 45-day money back guarantee and yet BELLAME has “ridiculously low” return rates, Melissa shared.
“We make it very easy on our customers because it’s always about the experience. But also from a financial standpoint, I realize now more than ever that it costs a lot more to do a lot of those things that safeguard or protect you against people who do it for the wrong reasons than it does to just provide the customer with the best experience from the beginning.”
BELLAME’s new compensation plan also reflects her willingness to modernize industry tradition for today’s field. Giant pie-in the-sky rewards for top levels never sat well with Melissa, especially without adequately compensating the teams below them.
“Something that always stuck with me was what I learned back in the day from the building blocks of the original Avon: The representative is the heart of the brand,” she said.
Often, representatives aren’t the demographic companies reach with their compensation plan designs. But BELLAME is different. It’s built for that affiliate generation and new user.
“Sure, you have to reward your top leaders, but I think the meat of where your money goes really needs to be that section in the middle—the worker bees—the people coming in and building because that’s going to help your top leaders, just like really good customer service is going to help your partners. It all connects together,” Melissa explained.
Startup During Pandemic
Pandemic challenges may have hit a bit harder for startups like BELLAME. For instance, the morning they lost shipping capabilities due to essential worker designations. “I wanted to cry because this was people’s livelihoods,” she said. Fortunately, what they perceived as an indefinite halt came back online thanks to rules clarifications hours later.
But in some ways, being an agile startup was a blessing, and she is certain that BELLAME’s technology struggles in 2018 were too.
Some wives get flowers from their husbands, But not Melissa. “I got a tech team of ten to build our very own proprietary platform and back office.” It wasn’t quite complete at launch, which required work-arounds; a great deal of math manually calculating compensation; and some tears. But all that stress was worth it because during the pandemic, it saved BELLAME.
They were able to make changes on the fly, stretch incentives and even devise a Buy One, Give One campaign that allowed people to sign up and gift the business to someone else. Because they own their own platform, BELLAME didn’t have to fret about larger companies ahead of them in customer service lines or mounting user fees.
“It would have killed us had we not had our own platform,” Melissa said.
Instead, BELLAME comes out of these pandemic times running a 50 percent December increase over last year. In fact, they just crossed the $20 million threshold for total company sales since launch.
“It’s been amazing. I thought COVID would put an end to us, but every time there is an obstacle I continue to be amazed,” she said.
BELLAME isn’t trying to be the biggest company right now, but they’ve set sights on building a legacy brand. They launched a new collagen product, as well as nutrition and baby lines. A cause marketing campaign associated with BELLAME Baby’s popular bamboo wash cloths and towels is underway to benefit Children’s Hospitals charities.
Amid all of it, this 51-year-old Latina is proud to be building her company and brand in a way that shows it is more than just a corporation. At BELLAME, Brand Partners see themselves and feel proud that together they have put $12 million of “milk on the table” as Melissa passionately calls it—real money for real people, and an opportunity to make a beautiful difference in the lives of so many.
From the March 2022 issue of Direct Selling News magazine.