The following is from my column “About Face” – a regular series about the Beauty Bliss journey from clicks to bricks. Written for NZ Retail magazine, it is also published on The Register. Image by Kerryn Smith.

Expanding into bricks and mortar involves a bit of making it up along the way. Toni Cox, owner of Wellington cosmetics start-up Beauty Bliss, takes us on her store’s journey from clicks to bricks.

The makeup world is a funny place. There are multi million-dollar advertising campaigns telling the world what the latest hot new product is and how it should be worn. There’s online ‘makeup gurus’ giving tutorials on the way to apply products, and an endless parade of celebrities influencing how we dress our faces.

It’s funny, though. Many argue that, despite the endless YouTube tutorials, there’s no correct way to wear makeup. How could there be? We all have different facial contours, skin tones and tastes. Really, makeup is a tool for creative expression. It’s something that you should feel free to experiment with and guide yourself to what feels right for you.

This experimental attitude is the same one I’ve applied to the growth of Beauty Bliss. It’s an ever-evolving little machine where I follow basic best practices, but continue to experiment and drive the business in the direction that feels right.

When I first started my little online store as a side project, I had intended for it to stay online. I’m a web developer after all, and developing websites is my area of expertise. However, as the business grew, it became clear that our customers were interested in a broader Beauty Bliss experience than simply receiving their pretty purple makeup parcels in the mail. They wanted to pick up their orders in person, to swatch tester lipsticks on their hands and match foundations to their skin tone, and to talk to an expert in person about the latest and greatest products they were seeing online.

I dug myself out of my hide-away-in-the-dark-and-write-code routine and started to take baby steps in pushing this previously online-only business into the real world. The first step was to set up a reception area at the front of our suburban office and to open the website up to click-and-collect orders. This allowed customers to pick up their parcels and meet us in person. It proved instantly to not only be a great way to get feedback from customers, but a golden opportunity to upsell.

With the success of click and collect, I started to plan our next step. Could transitioning into a full bricks-and-mortar store actually work? We already had a significant level of stock just sitting there, why not put it on shelves? Would enough people be interested?

I asked around and struggled to find many people that thought moving into the real world was a good idea. With the news of overseas online stores killing of local retailers like Jean Jones and more recently, Wild Pair, the media theme in recent times has been overwhelmingly negative towards physical stores – especially small independently-owned boutiques.

I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that although a physical store may not have worked well for others, that it may just be right for us. After all, we already had a strong online audience. So after two pop-up stores to test the waters, I decided to take the plunge.

We ended our office lease in the suburbs, packed up and moved into a store in the Wellington CBD. In order to hedge our bets and provide a bit of a safety net in case this grand ol’ experiment doesn’t quite go to plan, the store is both a retail store and our head of operations, which allows for many expenses to be shared. We do everything from code the website, pack the orders, update social media, and serve customers, all from the same location. We even let customers in the shop see into the back of the office, so they see that we’re real people packing the orders.

I’ve gone with my gut and adapted Beauty Bliss into a digital-first, omnichannel offering, and it’s working. It’s a look that’s unique to us and one that will continue to move and evolve with our customer’s needs. I’m learning that small business is certainly not a one size fits all situation, it’s about experimenting, keeping your ear to the ground and choosing a style that works for you.

This story originally appeared in NZRetail magazine issue 742 February / March 2016