Brendan McDowell on creating BPerfect Cosmetics
Co Down man Brendan McDowell spent his early 20s in debt. Now the managing director of his own leading beauty brand BPerfect Cosmetics, McDowell tells Kelly McAllister how he went from selling make-up at a stall in the Kennedy Centre to creating his own cosmetics company.
FIVE years ago, Annalong man Brendan McDowell bought 50 off-the-shelf eyebrow products and sold them from a small stall at the Kennedy Centre in west Belfast.
Since then, the 36-year-old has gone on to create a range of unique beauty products, BPerfect Cosmetics, and has appeared on Dragon's Den Ireland, where he turned down an offer of £80,000.
Brendan believes that determination and a strong sales background helped him create his own brand.
"In my late 20s, I wanted to start a business," he tells me.
"Working in sales, I saw people do it and thought 'how can I do this myself?', but I didn't have any money."
Noticing a gap in the market for a good eyebrow product, Brendan used what money he had to invest in one.
"I started off with £500, bought eyebrow kits off a guy in England and they sold out on day one.
"Then the week after I bought 100, and the week after that 200. I kept buying bulk off him, then realised I could do it myself.
"So I went to a factory and made the product a wee bit better and put my own stamp on it and just went from there."
BPerfect Cosmetics now has 17 different products, all of which Brendan has ensured are unique from any other cosmetic range.
He says: "I wanted to create things that were different to what was already out there. So we came out with brush-on lashes and then 10 second tan. I always try and make my products a wee bit quirky.
BPerfect's turnover in 2017 was £1.9m, a figure Brendan hopes to double this year. He reveals that his late father played a huge role in shaping his outlook on business.
"He was definitely my biggest inspiration," Brendan tells me.
"He was the hardest worker I ever met and he only started his own business a few years before he passed away. He regretted not doing it sooner, so a big thing for me was to not leave it too late before I started."
Brendan was just 21 when his father passed away. Struggling to cope with the loss, he recalls how he tried to block it out.
"I kind of went off the rails a wee bit just after he died, partying and stuff," he admits.
"I just partied and pretended it didn't happen. But you can't go on like that forever. I realized I needed to be there for my mum and my sister. So I wised up."
When he was in his early 20s, the BPerfect founder moved to Ibiza and got into an enormous amount of debt.
"It was a bit of a wreck, if I'm honest," he recalls.
"I gave up my job – I was working in Tesco, actually – and went out to work in Ibiza. I ended up living on baked beans, couldn't get a job and ended up running up loads of debt on my credit cards.
"When I was 25 or 26 I started working for [online discount deals service] Living Social and I really started to get into sales. I was earning really good commission, so I started paying my debt off.
"I saved a deposit and got my first apartment and paid off my credit cards. Then, when I turned 30, I thought: 'right, I need to start a business now'.
Brendan says he has always been strong-minded even as a young boy. At the age of 11, he started his first job with a goal in mind.
He says: "I am a big believer in 'the secret'. If you have something in your mind before you do it, then you will actually achieve it. But you have to start in your head first.
"When I was 11, I knew I wanted a horse, so I started working in a fish factory. I was getting £1.80 an hour and I saved up and bought my own horse."
Admitting that he's not much of a risk taker, Brendan says his company's success has come about through a step-by-step process.
"When I started off in the Kennedy Centre, I only done two days," he tells me.
"Then I started doing a week. When I started doing trade shows it was a big step, because it cost a lot more money.
"All of my close friends say I'm the type of person who never wants to change. I'm just really down-to-the-ground. You have to keep yourself grounded, you can't get carried away."
He adds: "Not taking big risks is what works for me: just taking small, calculated risks. I have never done anything that would throw the business and I never would."
Despite his intense work schedule, Brendan likes to spend his free time at the gym.
"I exercise quite a bit and I love going to the gym," he says.
"I find the gym and boxing helps me zone-out for a while. I'm training for a charity boxing match in October, so that is going to take up quite a bit of my time outside of BPerfect."
The Co Down man has recently become a shareholder in two new start-up businesses. He also tries to encourage as many people as he can to believe in themselves and follow their dreams.
He says: "I want to inspire other people to start a business because I came from nothing and was able to build myself up."
BPerfect recently collaborated with make-up artist Stacey Marie on a new range of eye-shadow, The Carnival Palette, and the company will be launching a further six products this year.
"I am also doing another two huge collaborations," enthuses Brendan of his future plans.
"One of them is a top Dublin artist and another is probably the biggest make-up artist in the UK, with half a million followers on social media.
Currently top secret, these BPerfect collaborations are expected to launch within the next six to eight weeks.