Gregg Renfrew has been hustling since her college years, when she started a house cleaning company on Nantucket with two friends so that they could spend the summer there. They cold-called a slew of real-estate firms, charged $20 an hour, paid the younger kids they hired $10 and walked off the island with thousands. “I feel like I put more cash in my pocket that summer than at any other time in my life,” she laughs.
From there, she’s learned everything there is to know about the wedding industry, sold a company to Martha Stewart, helped build a whole slew of now-famous brands, and served as CEO of Best & Co.’s children’s retail group. And if that wasn’t enough, in March 2013, she launched Beautycounter, a direct retail brand of safe makeup and skin care products, free of toxic chemicals.
Beautycounter is now sold by approximately 1,000 independent consultants in 47 states, as well as on their website, and to date have put nearly 20,000 products into customers’ hands. Their most popular items include a jasmine face oil and a new plum lip sheer.
We spoke to Gregg about being an entrepreneur and her advice for other women like her.
How did you start The Wedding List, the company you ultimately sold to Martha Stewart?
In my mid-twenties, I started going to millions of weddings and was tired of wearing all these dresses that didn’t fit and made me look terrible, in colors I couldn’t stand. So, my friend Karen and I started a bridesmaid company called Elizabeth Gregg, which are our two middle names, and started selling bridesmaid dresses to our friends. We created five or six different styles and allowed people to order in advance.
Later, I was living in London and one of the girls I worked with told me: you really need to meet this woman Nicole Hindmarch — she started a company called The Wedding List, and you should try to sell your bridesmaid dresses to her. Nicole had this interesting concept, which was basically a personal shopping service for weddings, where you could pick and choose different presents from different shops. It turned out that in London they don’t really use bridesmaids in the same way we do in the United States, so I wasn’t able to sell her dresses, but it was the beginning of conversations that led to me ultimately founding The Wedding List in the United States.
We did it as a partnership. I approached her and said I saw an opportunity to take wedding gift purchasing online. I had seen how the process was really cumbersome, with someone walking around Bloomingdale’s with a scanner gun, and there was nothing that was personalized. No one really asked you anything about what you did and how you wanted to live your life with your new husband or wife. So in 1998 or 1999, we took her personalized service and incorporated the Internet.
We raised a bunch of capital through both individual and institutional investors, which was the first time I’d ever done that, so that was a learning experience, and also received a million dollar investment from Nordstrom’s.