You’ve no doubt heard of Napoleon Perdis, face of the $80 million a year cosmetics empire of the same name. But did you know about his business-savvy brother behind the scenes? Emanuel Perdis talks about doing business with his brother and the “sport” of being in business.
With a turnover of $80 million a year, almost 500 staff in Australia and a flagship store in Hollywood Boulevard, Napoleon Perdis has come a very long way since its launch in 1995. Fronted by larger then life make-up artist Napoleon, who has achieved almost celebrity status, it’s also owned by his wife Soula-Marie and his younger brother Emanuel.
Since Napoleon moved to LA four years ago, Emanuel’s been holding the fort in Australia, playing an increasingly big part in the business side of the company. Far from the younger brother riding the coat tails of his brother’s success, he’s an equally important, if more private part of the Perdis equation.
Growing up in a fish ‘n chip shop in Paramatta where they shared a bedroom until Napoleon moved out to get married, Emanuel and his brother knew from a young age that they wanted a better life for themselves than their destiny suggested. Their parents, who ran retail stores, cafés and fish ‘n chip shops, had moved from Greece to Australia to give their sons a better chance of a decent education.
As a business success story, it’s a fascinating one and the management dynamic is certainly unusual. Two brothers and one of their wives running a business? Were they crazy?
It actually started in 1993 when they set up an ad agency. Then Napoleon set up his make-up academy in the next room. Humble beginnings indeed. “We soon knew our destiny was working in make-up,” said Emanuel. Although not as consumed by cosmetic artistry as his older brother, he too went to the US to learn the trade early on, learning techniques in bridal and runway make-up. “For me, the first eight years were about make-up and the last eight have been about business,” he adds.
Creative vs. business
“I enjoy both sides and sometimes, when I go and visit my stores, I miss that buzz of working with cosmetics; giving someone a new look that makes them deliriously happy! But these days I get that buzz through working with our employees rather than our customers.
“Napoleon is the make-up artist and that’s his sole passion. My passion is business. When people ask me what sport I follow I tell them I follow business. I love watching the stock market and reading about takeovers. To me, watching sport is boring.
“Napoleon’s all about the make-up and he started all this with his capital. He invited me into the business as a major shareholder and I was honoured and it’s been a dream come true.”
The management dynamic
These days it’s a mature and professional business relationship with mutual respect for each other’s talents and roles but it hasn’t always been that way. “For the first three-to-five years, with two young Greek brothers working together? You can imagine!“ jokes Emanuel. “I have a great relationship with my brother’s wife too. She’s like a sister to me. I could count on one hand the arguments I’ve had with Soula-Marie. For Napoleon, I’d need all four limbs to count them, and then it wouldn’t be enough!”
The family business ties go one further these days, to their 80-year-old father, who works in the warehouse, just because he likes to. And then there’s their mother, who still sometimes brings Emanuel’s lunch to work for him.
The business has grown consistently with 22-to-26 percent year-on-year growth in years one to six, 45-to-60 percent growth from years seven to 12 and 10-to-20 percent growth in the last two years. Turnover is currently in the region of $80 million a year.
Taking on the super brands
All this has been achieved by a still very young business among the cosmetics world’s established super brands. The likes of Estee Lauder, Lancôme, Elizabeth Arden and Chanel are very old and, in the main, very French. What made these first generation Aussies think they could even take them on in the first place?
“Back in 1993/1994, we were the only make-up artist cosmetics brand. Now of course there’s the likes of Bobbi Brown, MAC and Shu Uemura, but by the time they got here we were already established and different. We don’t follow trends and we never have done. We look at social fashion. We don’t necessarily interpret the runway like the other brands might. We’re agile enough to create a product range that has some foresight and that keeps everything fresh and makes us stand out.”
America was always a natural next move from Australia. “It’s not an easy market. When you go to America it’s like Alice going to Wonderland,” says Emanuel. “It’s like Australia on steroids. The consumer is very different and expects a lot more and something that really stands out. They’ve seen it all before.
“We still have a lot of work to do there but we’ve made a decent footprint in California and New York.” Sold nationally in beauty superstore Ulta and with three standalone stores, it’s a pretty impressive start, especially when one of those stores is in Hollywood Boulevard.
NP Set and Target
Last year saw an innovative, and some would say brave, marketing move in Australia with the launch of budget range NP Set, sold in Target. “NP Set had been on the drawing board for about eight years,” says Emanuel. “Of course there was always some concern that it would cheapen the brand, that’s only logical. Some people probably thought it wouldn‘t work, but it has.
“We’ve made it work by differentiating the two brands completely. We also chose a very forward-thinking retailer in Target, which has done similar diffusion lines with fashion designers really well. We had other stores asking us to go with them but with Target, we were drawn to each other.” NP Set now accounts for around 3.5 percent of total sales but there are plans for that to increase.
The main reasoning behind NP Set was to capture a new Gen Y customer base who would otherwise only be snapped up by a competitor. “When we started out, the youth and the early adopters very much took to our brand. Now that’s resulted in a customer base of 35-to-40 year olds. Those 35 year olds are now looking at what their nieces are wearing. We didn’t want to miss out on that Gen Y gap.
“At the same time, we were targeting a different kind of customer by advertising in Vogue, for example, and we didn’t want to run the risk of alienating the younger customer with less money.” Eventually, Emanuel would like to see NP Set account for 20 percent of sales and the prestige range for 80.
The Hollywood make-up school
There’s also the Napoleon Perdis Make-up Academy (NPMA), the world’s largest make-up academy, renowned in Australia as ‘the Oxford of Make-Up’. When the flagship 5,000 square foot store and make-up academy opened in Hollywood, it was the first of its kind since Max Factor in 1935. Not only is the NPMA a leader in cosmetics education, it also churns out hundreds of brand ambassadors each year, which can only be good for business.
Interestingly enough, the cosmetics brand Emanuel most admires is not one of the newer ones, but Chanel. “Yes, they’ve been around for a long time and are very traditional in some ways, but I love how they’ve resurrected their brand. I respect them and everything they do with cosmetics. They emanate the old world but they’ve really reinvented themselves and given the brand a modern edge in the last few years. In terms of the brand we’re most similar too, that would probably be MAC.”
So, how does the brothers’ relationship work now one is in LA and one in Sydney? “It’s strengthened us as a management team. We’ve been forced to trust each other more and we probably talk now more than we ever did,” says Emanuel. “Myself, Napoleon and Soula-Marie are tight-knit and respectful of each other.”
While these two brothers are very different it’s clear they have the same core values and business goals, which make them work so well together, even in different countries. “It honestly works really, really well.”
Despite being no wallflower, Emanuel doesn’t mind staying in the background either. “I watch what Napoleon’s up to and I think I wouldn’t want to be on that roadshow! There are pitfalls to being under the spotlight and the media can turn on you very quickly, as they have in the past. Yes, of course sometimes I’m envious of all the perks and everyone recognising him, but I like my privacy too.”
The story doesn’t stop here. Emanuel says he’d like to see Napoleon Perdis grab a much bigger Australian market share in the next three-to-five years and to become a truly Asia Pacific brand with its presence in the US being a beacon. Next stop: Europe. In the immediate future, concentrating on the brand in America and “making it rock” is top priority.
Emmanuel’s three top tips for business success
1. Take large, calculated risks
2. Structure yourself for growth (“It can just jump up and bite you one day when you’re not prepared. Many companies expect to be able to grow while staying small mentally.”)
3. It’s all about branding (“From your receptionist at the front door, to the coffee you serve, to the boardroom you take people into, it is all a reflection of you and your business and it matters.”).