Adore Beauty joins the ASX: How Kate Morris built an e-commerce empire

Adore Beauty Kate Morris

Online beauty retailer Adore Beauty listed on the Australian Securities Exchange at midday today, 20 years after co-founder Kate Morris started the business in her garage. 

In what has been labelled one of the “hottest” floats of the year, the retailer’s stocks jumped by nine per cent on debut, with the stock first trading at $7.40. 

The initial public offering raised $269.5 million, based on an initial offer price of $6.75 a share. It valued the business at $614.8 million and gave it an opening market capitalisation of $635.3 million.

Most of the new funding — $229.5 million — will be raised via the sale of existing shares belonging to Adore Beauty, with Morris and co-founder James Height expected to receive $45.9 million each after selling 40% of their shares in the offer. 

Speaking to SmartCompany following the successful listing, Morris describes the experience as “extremely surreal”, not least because they rang the bell via Zoom.

“It’s certainly not a moment I would have envisaged from my garage 20 years ago,” she says.

“It’s really amazing … a great moment for our team.”

The IPO also included an ‘employee gift offer’, which allowed eligible Adore Beauty employees to acquire about $1,000 worth of shares at no cost.

“It was an important thing for us. They have been on this 20-year journey with us, and it’s not like it’s been an overnight success,” Morris says.

Morris describes the listing as a “launching pad” to take Adore to the next stage of growth, as Australians continue to embrace online shopping.

These growth plans will include a new app to be launched soon, as well as a loyalty program.

Lessons from 20 years building an e-commerce empire

The ASX listing is the culmination of a long journey for Adore, which Morris has previously said was driven by a spirit of “no guts, no glory”. 

Starting out with just $12,000 borrowed from her boyfriend’s parents, Morris started the business from her garage in Murrumbeena and initially had what she calls “a store in the middle of the desert with no passing foot traffic”. 

Online shopping was a new frontier back in 1999 when she was getting started, but Morris used that initial investment to purchase a basic website and some stocks.

She then set about approaching beauty brands, getting turned down by them all, until two small companies said yes. 

This was the start she needed, and momentum grew gradually from there. 

Reflecting on this time today, Morris says she didn’t have “lofty goals”.

Rather, her first goal was “just to pay my bills and afford to eat,” she says. And to change the beauty shopping experience for Australian women.

“What we really wanted to do was create a beauty shopping experience that treated women like the intelligent creatures they are,” she says.

“If I achieved that for one person, it would have felt like success for me.”

This focus on building the business step-by-step is still evident today, with the CEO saying the retailer has always focused on steady, and profitable, growth. 

“We grew carefully and profitably for many years, slowly building trust with beauty brands and consumers,” she said in her co-founder and executive director’s letter in the prospectus.

The strategy has always been a long-term one, says Morris, who also thanked customers for their “constant and honest feedback” which was used to build the business to where it is today.

“We believe that by staying true to our customers, brands, values and vision, we can weather the challenges, and take advantage of all the opportunities that time may bring,” she said.

The customer is at the heart of what Adore does, with the e-commerce retailer known for its speedy service — it offers free express shipping for orders within Australia over $50 — and wide product range of more than 200 brands.

The retailer was also an early adopter of mobile e-commerce and has committed to reducing its use of plastic, after hearing resounding feedback from its customers on the issue.

The values of Adore Beauty and Morris are prominent in how the business operates — from creating a Women in Tech scholarship, to offering domestic violence leave to employees.

And as a leader in the Australian e-commerce sector, Morris gives back to her community too. 

As the COVID-19 crisis started to unfold in March, Morris set up an online war room for fellow e-commerce operators to support and help each other. She’s also a Startmate mentor, offering her expertise to the emerging business owners. 

Adore’s presence in the market is now helping other new beauty businesses too.

Speaking to SmartCompany this week, Ultra Violette founders Bec Jefferd and Ava Matthews said getting their SPF products stocked by Adore represented a “really important tick of approval” and helped them find early success. 

Adore Beauty’s timeline to the ASX

2000: Kate Morris starts Adore Beauty from her garage with the goal of ‘matchmaking’ consumers with the right beauty products. 

2009: Adore Beauty makes the Smart50 for the first time. 

2014: Adore Beauty comes in at number 29 on the Smart50, with 15 employees and more than $7 million in annual revenue.

May 2015: Adore sells a 25% stake in the business to Woolworths.

2016: Adore Beauty makes the Smart50 again. At the time, the business had 44 employees, and $15.9 million in annual revenue. 

February 2017: Adore buys back the 25% stake it sold to Woolworths. 

September 2019: Adore sells a 60% stake to Quadrant Private Equity.

October 7, 2020: Adore lodges a prospectus with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission for an IPO worth $269.5 million. 

October 23, 2020: Adore lists on the ASX under ticker ABY. 

NOW LISTEN: Kate Morris on the lessons she learnt while building a $14 million startup: “It’s important to do things that are scary”

NOW READ: Adore Beauty founder Kate Morris shares three lessons she wishes she’d heard when graduating from university

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