leadership

More than just lip service: How Amanda Miller is taking Carmex to new heights

Eloise Keating /

Sunshine Coast entrepreneur Amanda Miller remembers helping her parents stick labels on Carmex tubs when she was a child. It was her first job in Biccari Holdings, the family business she now leads as managing director. Originally established by Miller’s mother in 1987, Biccari is the Australian distributor of cult lip care brand Carmex.

Biccari Holdings’s annual retail sales total approximately $3 million and have grown by 200% in the seven years 32-year-old Miller has been working for the company in a full-time capacity. This year will see the company expand into new product categories and transition into a fully second-generation family business.

Biccari Holdings was started by my mother in 1987. My mum is from the United States and when she moved to Australia 35 years ago, she used Carmex but found it was not nearly as readily available here.

My mum used to see her friends purchase so many lip care products that didn’t work for their kids who’d been at the beach. So she would get out her Carmex jar.

At the time my grandfather was a sales rep for another company in the US that was in the same territory where Carmex was manufactured. He visited Carmex and said his daughter would like to sell the product in Australia.

It was a gentleman’s handshake between my grandfather and Carmex founder Alfred Woelbing. It’s fitting that his grandsons now run that business and I run ours.

The market was very different then. My parents used to sell Carmex direct to pharmacies, which would phone in their orders. Carmex is now the number one lip care product in Australian pharmacies and the number two brand pharmacy brand overall.

As a family business that was run from home, I was always involved in some way. My first job was sticking labels on the Carmex jars and during high school I recruited friends to help.

It was very important to my parents that I had my own career before I became involved in the company full-time so I went to university and did a bachelor of business.

I worked for MLC in wealth management for five years. I went through their graduate program and that gave me great exposure to how a business operates and all of the functions and divisions.

In 2008 I started working for Biccari in a full-time capacity, coming on board as marketing manager. I was responsible for marketing and launching products, as well as brand management.

We had one product in our portfolio at the time, the Carmex jar. It is still our number one lip product.

We set about expanding our product range and increasing distribution to new channels. But we also had work to do with our existing channels in terms of ranging and setting up the correct distribution structure.

We went from distributing to pharmacies only, to grocery becoming our other main channel. We now also supply to the supermarkets, Priceline and pharmacy chains like Amcal, as well as some independent grocers.

In six or seven years, we went from one product to seven. We now distribute Carmex tubes and click-stick versions and we’ve recently launched the new Carmex Moisture Plus range, which is our first product targeted to females. While women are our traditional demographic, this is our first range of lip care with a tint. It moves us more into the beauty sector.

The retailers welcomed the new products. They already knew how well our product was selling, based on our sales history, so launching new products was not necessarily as challenging for us.

But we have two new brands in the pipeline, which will be a whole different kettle of fish. They are not in lip care but still in the pharmacy and healthcare space.

It’s exciting. We’ve built up a business infrastructure and we’re now ready to expand beyond Carmex. There has been a lot of learning and changes and a lot of testing the waters. There’s no one winning formula for everything, it’s about assessing and learning.

Leading a family business does come with some pressure as you’re responsible for the family’s legacy to some extent. But in one way I’m quite lucky as I am good at switching off and once I’ve made a decision, I can say ‘what will be, will be’.

I am a good sleeper but it is more the personal things that will keep me up at night, rather than the business. I am a working mum so that comes with its own set of challenges.

My academic studies gave me a good understanding of business and discipline, but I don’t think it is necessary for business leaders to have a business degree. There is so much value in past experience versus formal education.

I’m still learning now. I’m learning a lot about retail and the Australian retail market in particular. I think as you get older some of the life skills you learn become more important than business skills.

It’s about making decisions based on facts and information and a little gut instinct and being confident in making those decisions. You have to be able to put out fires, be flexible and understand you don’t always win in business. You will lose accounts, that’s part and parcel of it, but it is about knowing how to learn from the experience and move on.

In a family business you have to separate the family and the business and sometimes you have to make a conscious effort to do that.

But on another level it is rewarding to be part of a family business. I come from a tight knit family and that helps as a foundation to work together. It is wonderful to have achieved something like this as a family and during the coming year we will transition into a fully second generation family business, with both of my parents retiring.

We are the epitome of a small business; there are just four of us. When you introduce new people to a family business you do run the risk that they will not fit in, but you often find they become part of the family and the team.

The culture of a family business can be very supportive for a new employee and very collaborative too. That happens as a small business and a family business.

For us, a business plan is becoming more important. We are migrating from being a company based solely on a mission statement. We have a high-level three year plan, as well as a 15-month forecast tool for inventory. In our business, inventory is the critical thing. The products need to be there.

But when you create your plans, whether marketing or cash flow plans, you have to remember that they are just plans. Plans will change and you can’t get too structured.

You need to have a high-level and long-term strategy but you have to work tactical and day to day, otherwise it will overwhelm you. Plan strategically but approach tactically.

My goal is to build Biccari to a level where I might be able to side-step and also work on something I am passionate about. I could certainly imagine starting my own business down the track while still maintaining this one.

The beauty and healthcare retail industry is becoming much more competitive but I think that’s a good thing. We’ve got some dominant players that are important for our business and our market but healthy competition is good.

The world has become a smaller place and we don’t always have access to everything we want here. I think the fact that more global retailers are opening up here is a good sign we have a healthy economy and companies want to do business here. 

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Eloise Keating

Eloise Keating is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Eloise was news editor at Books+Publishing, the trade press for the Australian book industry.

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