March 01, 2017
Ambassadors of India: India Hicks Sells a Way of Life
by Emily Reagan
Photo: India Hicks (second from left) helps to model her line of beauty products and accessories.
India Hicks Inc.
Headquarters: Los Angeles
Top Executives: India Hicks, Konstantin Glasmacher and Nicholas Keuper
2016 Revenue: Eight-digit revenue, with three-fold growth
Products: Beauty, Jewelry and accessories
“I’ve never had a plan. One thing just led to another,” India Hicks writes in the opening line of her 2015 book, Island Style, an ode to timeless, understated design inspired by her life on Harbour Island in the Bahamas. That might explain how this island-dwelling author, mother, designer, model and product of the British aristocracy found herself at the head of a growing contingent of spirited women, Ambassadors of her eponymous lifestyle brand, India Hicks Inc. Offering “attainable luxury” in the form of beauty products and accessories, the company, like its founder, is taking a rather unexpected path.
Hicks and two partners launched the business in 2015, but unlike most designer labels, India Hicks is not to be found in upscale boutiques or department stores. Instead, the products are sold online and through more than 2,000 independent distributors, or Ambassadors, across the U.S. This mingling of luxury lifestyle goods and direct sales sets the company apart, as does Hicks’ own story. The 49-year-old is goddaughter to Prince Charles, who wrote the foreword to Island Style. At the age of 13, Hicks served as a bridesmaid in his wedding to the late Princess Diana. Her mother, Lady Pamela Hicks, is a cousin of Queen Elizabeth and daughter of Lord Mountbatten of Burma, last Viceroy of India (hence India’s name). Then there is her father, interior design icon David Hicks, who rose to international fame during the 1960s. From these beginnings, at age 18, Hicks set out to travel the world, earning a degree in photography and taking up modeling along the way. She eventually made her way to Hibiscus Hill, her family’s home in the Bahamas, where she remains along with her partner, David Flint Wood, and their five children.
Before launching her own label, Hicks had success in licensing, working on a line of beauty and home products for Crabtree & Evelyn, a jewelry line for Bloomingdale’s, and even selling bedding on the Home Shopping Network. Other projects have included a small boutique on Harbour Island, a local hotel she refurbished with Flint Wood, also a designer, and a handful of books based on island life (a book on English country living is in the works). These experiences provided skills and connections that would help Hicks develop her own product line, with its jewelry, scarves, bags, candles and cosmetics. Nine years of collaboration with Crabtree & Evelyn taught her the fundamentals of the beauty industry. Boutique sales showed that women gravitate toward accessories, which come without the hassles of sizing and returns. What she did not learn from these experiences is the first thing about running a direct selling operation.
Hicks began exploring the model at the suggestion of her business partner, Konstantin Glasmacher. Glasmacher is a serial entrepreneur with a history of disruptive business ventures, like the flash sales site HauteLook and online retailer Sole Society. “He was the one who could really see the retail environment is dying—it’s on its knees,” said Hicks. “We see that every day, not only in the news, but also in the flood of sale emails we get. He thought my story would play out well in direct sales.”
Two years in, Hicks finds herself wishing she had discovered direct sales at the start of her licensing career. As it is, the learning curve has been steep. “I had no confidence. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was bloody determined,” says Hicks. “I worked very hard, sat up very late. I absorbed as much information from other people as possible, and I decided to make the best thing I possibly could.” Hicks, holding the title of Chief Creative Officer, is involved in each and every design sold under her name. At this point, manufacturing is outsourced to the Far East, although all of the beauty products are produced in the U.S.
In addition to creative design, Hicks has taken ownership of aspects of social media, copywriting, marketing and field development. Working in tandem with the company’s head of sales, Hicks has been known to travel to five cities in a day training Ambassadors and teaching them how to share India Hicks with new audiences.
The team has now developed a three-tiered approach for training Ambassadors, with each “camp” supporting a different phase in the Ambassador’s career. Base Camp onboards the new Ambassador in her first 100 days, Mid Camp helps make her proficient and Summit teaches her the leadership skills. Hicks says, “Each nugget is short and we hope highly entertaining, and allows the Ambassador to engage with her mentor. At the end of each camp, the Ambassador receives a virtual badass badge—I’ll bet there are not many companies handing out those!”
The company also provides access to LinkedIn Learning, an outside platform that offers digital courses taught by industry experts covering a wide range of business, creative and technical topics.
The India Hicks corporate team currently numbers about 20, and is based out of Los Angeles. Heading up the team alongside Hicks is her second business partner, CEO Nicholas Keuper, a former managing director with the Boston Consulting Group.
Along the way, Hicks has been welcomed and mentored by other direct selling executives. One of them is Chantel Waterbury, Founder and CEO of accessories brand Chloe + Isabel. Though her company caters to a younger demographic than India Hicks, Waterbury has been a valuable source of industry knowledge and an ongoing supporter. Through a mutual friend, Hicks also has connected with Beautycounter chief Gregg Renfrew (who also has a home in the Bahamas). Of Renfrew, Hicks says, “She couldn’t have been more helpful, open or generous, and to me it really set the example of direct selling. This business is somewhere women can be supported.”
Hicks shared this sentiment with 80 top Ambassadors at a recent leader retreat in Los Angeles. She had prepared remarks for the occasion, but at the last moment decided to tear up her notes and simply speak from the heart. Thinking like businesswomen and putting in the hard work is critical, she told them, but for her, India Hicks had become something more than that. “It’s now truly a community where we can feel safe, where we do not need to discuss our politics, our religious backgrounds, where we’ve come from or who we are,” she says. “We’re just women, equal, in a room together. And I think, in this day and age, there is something very powerful about that.”
The women joining India Hicks tend to be in their mid-40s, the same age Hicks was when she began building the company (“Now I’m 108,” she quips). The management team feels they have tapped into something of a white space where this demographic is concerned. “I think there are a lot of women out there who had a career, had done something, and gave it up to do the best job in the world: raise a family,” says Hicks. “Now they’re finding themselves less needed. They’ve probably been a very good partner, a good mother, a good daughter, and somewhere along the line they lost sight of themselves, and now they’re wondering what on earth they can do.” She feels India Hicks has something to offer these women.
But how does Hicks connect her story to everyday life in a way that resonates with Ambassadors? While everyone can appreciate fantasies of escaping to a tropical island or rubbing shoulders with the aristocracy, this is not the day-to-day reality for most. One way of forging a genuine connection, Hicks says, is getting face to face with Ambassadors, something she has done continually throughout the past two years. “We all have the same parenting nightmares and partner nightmares. We all struggle getting through airport security. We all wonder where the world is going. We all worry that our kids are having too much screen time,” she says. “We’re all basically coming from the same point of view, and I think they see how involved I am.”
In addition to traveling back and forth from her base in the Bahamas, Hicks maintains an active presence on the company’s social media, which she updates in her own down-to-earth voice. Followers get regular glimpses behind the scenes at her family, fashion and frequent travels. The company’s largest social platform is Instagram, with more than 121,000 followers, trailed by Facebook, at 92,000 and counting.
Ambassadors explore jewelry and accessories during a company Get Together.
However, the cornerstone of the India Hicks business is the home parties held by Ambassadors. At these events, known as Get Togethers, Hicks’ flair for design is evident. New Ambassadors have three options when joining the company, a basic kit that provides business supplies and fabric and color swatches, or a choice of two higher price points that include product samples for displaying at parties. The company also offers a number of tutorial videos, with tips on displaying merchandise and setting the tone for a Get Together. “We really encourage them to spend a lot of time thinking about the details: having a nice white tablecloth, lighting lots of candles and tea lights, playing the right music, having some nice wine on hand,” Hicks explains. These elements create the warm atmosphere of a social event rather than the pressure of a hard sell. By contrast, online parties, popular with some up-and-coming direct selling companies, have not gained traction at India Hicks.
These home gatherings also serve as a platform for charitable giving. Hosts can opt to hold a special Get Together, Give Together event and designate up to 10 percent of the total sales to the charity of her choice. The importance of giving back was instilled in Hicks from an early age, and is something she works to impart to her own children. “I have been very much brought up to give back, and we as a family try to give back as much as we can through charity. For instance, two years ago my kids all gave up their Christmas presents, and instead we brought gifts to an orphanage in Haiti,” she says. Since launching the company, Hicks has been encouraged to hear from Ambassadors who, like her, are keen to incorporate philanthropy into their business and lifestyle.
Whether traveling to remote corners of the U.S., connecting on social media or supporting a worthy cause, Hicks sees her involvement in every aspect of the company as a partnership with Ambassadors. She takes her side of the partnership seriously, to the point of putting her own name on the line. “I put my name on this, and there was a reason for that,” she says. “I felt that if women were going to take a chance and join us—an unknown, brand-new direct selling company—I wanted them to know I was fully accountable. That is why my name is on the door.”