If you’ve ever wondered about the business genius behind frank body, a messy Australian coffee scrub with a killer personality and a $20 million turnover in its second year of business, then you’re about to discover more than just deliciously supple after-scrub skin.
From New York, frank body co-founder Erika Geraerts tells Welltodo exactly how the business grew its 660,000+ Instagram following, how the social media landscape has changed over the last 2 years, and plans for global domination.
“I’ve been here in New York for a month and have two months to go. So long as I have wifi and a laptop I’m free to work anywhere really,” Erika explains. “There is so much opportunity for us in the US, to understand the market, meet with influencers, set up meetings, and I just love New York.”
Erika, who also owns a Melbourne-based content marketing agency with business partners Jess Hatzis and Bree Johnson, is confident and well versed in sharing the two stories that brought frank body into existence.
“Jess, Bree and myself own Willow & Blake. We create voices for brands and roll content out across various channels – we do this kind of work every day and have been doing it for four years now. This has given us a really good understanding of the ways other brands talk to customers and in return we wanted to find a product of our own that we could market ourselves. We’d worked a lot in the beauty world, but noticed that no existing brand was connecting with their audience in a really personal way or using social media to engage with their customers on a much deeper level.”
“Around the same time one of our now co-founders Steve Rowley, who owns a few cafes, had a few women coming in and asking for leftover coffee grinds. He thought they were using it for garden fertilizer. It peaked his curiosity and so he asked them about it. They told him that it was a really great treatment for cellulite and stretch marks. So we did a bit of research and found out that people have actually been using this solution for years. We also found plenty of DIY recipes for coffee scrubs but nobody that was using fresh grinds and packaging it up and branding it in a clever way, or using social media to drive sales.”
Working with Steve and another friend Alex Boffa, to create a marketable product, would be the next step for the founding team of five.
“The name comes from the fact that what we were creating was a very simple product. We knew we couldn’t oversell or overcomplicate the message behind it since ultimately, it really just looks like a bag of dirt. “Let’s be frank” became the basis for a brand voice, with a cheeky masculine tone able to poke fun at what happens on social media every day. Frank is very much the inner male voice in each of Bree, Jess and my heads.”
“We like to think that confident women can stand up, and/or make fun of themselves and call each other a babe. We also know, as a brand, when to be more serious and when we can have a joke; it has really developed over the last two years, but it’s our brand so we can take as many risks as we want and learn and have fun along the way.”
As far as getting the company off the ground goes: “We managed to keep business overheads very low in the beginning, with the biggest cost being the time Bree, Jess and I spent developing the tone of voice and social media strategy. And the reason that we packaged the scrub in a craft paper bag was so that it could be delivered easily through a letterbox by Australia Post.”
“Instagram has been huge for us. When you look at how the more conventional brands speak on social, they speak about themselves and their products. They never make fun of themselves and we felt that consumers were tired of what was being said. By creating the voice of frank, we felt that we had discovered what was missing; a product with a cheeky demeanour, and people started noticing that because it was different. The conversation resonated with people and they started taking on the same voice and talking to frank as if he was a real person.
“We knew that our social media strategy would be successful but we didn’t know it would grow so quickly. For the first few months we had friends helping us hand pack the product until demand outstripped supply and we had to outsource to a local Melbourne manufacturer, who we still work with today.”
With 663,000+ followers @frank_body is the brand’s main Instagram account. It is supported by @frankfeedback which allows the company to share real customer results with its audience. Erika seems both flattered and bemused by the way other brands have replicated the frank strategy, adopting similar male personas.
The challenge, Erika explains, was getting customers to understand this new product. They’d attach a note to the scrubs and deliver it to customers asking them (in frank’s cheeky voice) if they liked it, to share it on social. Getting people to post half naked selfies holding the product, began with Bree, Jess and Erika doing it on Instagram themselves. Their hashtags #thefrankeffect and #letsbefrank now have more than 150,000 images attached to them.
“User-generated content is one of the biggest things we’d recommend to any brand. The challenge is to create easy ways for people to take photographs of your products, that feel natural for them, like it would for you. We offered people really natural hashtags like #letsbefrank, which was the kind of language our target market were already using and could easily integrate into their captions.”
Erika acknowledges that since frank launched two years ago, social media has changed a lot. Which means the strategies brands use need to evolve.
“There are so many more users and so many more brands online. People have become used to brands and how they speak to customers. People have also become used to how influencers are working with brands and how brands are sponsoring posts. Consumers are getting desensitized and know that a lot of these influencers have been paid to post, whereas two years ago it was uncommon for girls to be posing with a beauty or fashion product and it felt more genuine.”
“It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves; there isn’t as much cut through with influencers anymore. We were lucky that third-party content was something we could use to our advantage, but brands now need to get one step ahead again.”
The team spent 2-3 months in product development before launching the original frank body scrub, but the real man power went into the branding and communication strategy. It was a six month process that included working closely with Melbourne-based branding agency Love & Money, who visually brought the tone of voice to life.
“We now have 9 products in the range which means a lot more time is spent on branding and communication and developing copy for each of those products.”
frank body is now available globally with free shipping thanks to four distribution hubs across the world. The team has also opened up the market for male consumers with campaigns like #realmenscrub, again proving successful on Instagram.
“Females will always be our core market, but guys now appreciate the way frank talks as well. If it gets boyfriends and girlfriends in the show together, then we love that,” she laughs.
As for their international expansion: “We’re about to launch a concentrated effort in the UK,” she says, which they’ve outsourced to UK PR agency The Communications Store, something they’ve also recently outsourced in the US after executing PR globally in-house for most of frank’s life. Their in-house, Melbourne-based PR Manager monitors the overall strategy, but they know the value of having somebody in the right time zone who can report on the nuances of each market.
When we ask what kind of financing strategy frank body has used to expand so rapidly, Erika says: “We’ve been self-funded throughout frank’s two year life. It’s quite humbling and we’re very proud to say we’ve achieved that.”
“Though as we expand into other markets we’re open to the opportunity for investment. It’s about finding the right fit for us.”
Until now, frank body’s revenue has been generated wholly through direct sales via their website frankbody.com, an extension of the brand experience that the team outsourced to experts in UI and UX and something Erika says is just as important as attracting users to the website through social media. As the brand expands globally though, the team are considering retail opportunities, realising the value that exists and how well the brand lends itself to the retail experience.
“We’ve built so much equity in the dot com business that we need to know that what we do in the offline environment will feel right for us and for our customers as well.”