Life’s a Beach: Q&A With Bondi Sands

Ally Feiam By Ally Feiam | 02 Jul 2019

Self tan is one of the easiest ways to get a sunkissed glow all year round. We sat down with Bondi Sands to discuss how they went from a little Aussie secret to the best-selling self tan across the globe.

How It Began

Blair James and Shaun Wilson founded Bondi Sands in 2012. They were already running a successful salon in North Melbourne that was booked out for weeks on end. Following the ban of tanning beds, the pair began offering spray tans with their own formula that they created, rather than the typical imported products that were used by others.

“In 2010, we were doing close to 400 spray tans a week. We had to start turning people away,” explained Co-Founder, Blair James. After asking why the customers don’t use the at-home tanning products already available in stores, like St Tropez and Le-Tan, the two decided to sell their own aerosol spray tans for consumers to use at home.

“We created a spray solution, started using it in the salon and within a few weeks, customers were actually coming and asking for the spray tan we produced,” James explained. The pair then worked for two years to produce a lotion and aerosol solution that would be right for consumers at home. “We thought about how we wanted to position the brand, and we believe that people overseas look at Australians and have that perception of the ‘bronzed Aussie’ is as strong as ever, and that’s why we wanted to be Australian,” James said.

When Blair and Shaun began Bondi Sands, just like most start-ups, the pair did everything themselves. “Even when we first started selling products online, I was checking the orders every morning, packing the bags myself and walking to the Port Melbourne Post Office and posting them all by hand,” he explained.

Bondi Sands Founders, Shaun Wilson and Blair James.

The pillars behind the tanning brand include a salon-quality experience, at an affordable price and with an Aussie feel to it. “To this day we remain Australian-made, affordable and salon quality,” said James. Launching three SKUs into Priceline in 2012, it wouldn’t take long before the brand became the top-selling fake tan brand. “By 2014, we became the number one brand in Australia, and now we’ve gone on to be the number one tanning brand in the world,” he explained.

How Does Bondi Sands Stay On Top of the Game?

The tanning industry is cut-throat, with competition from all over the world trying to snag the ‘number one’ title. Bondi Sands’ main competitors include Le Tan and St Tropez, the brands they would suggest to try before the pair became a world-famous success story. “We always had the vision of being a global brand, from day one,” explained James. “Our vision was to get distribution as wide as possible and as fast as possible. We always wanted an international focus and vision for the brand, which if you look back to 2012, not many competitors had that vision.”

It’s not just a good marketing plan that helps Bondi Sands stay on top of the game, it’s also innovation. “We do believe that we’re the most innovative brand in the category, and that really comes from understanding our consumers more than anyone else, and that’s what we really pride ourselves on” James explained. “Yes, we look at sales reports and we look at how other brands compare to us, but we really have our own direction in terms of what our product development will be. So, we don’t really look at trends, we want to be creating those trends.”

Bondi Sands also likes to innovate the way it markets its brand, including the activation process of the products behind the brand name. Being able to grow rapidly through international distribution partners, Bondi Sands have successfully distributed throughout the UK, South America, Australia and now the US. In January 2019 Bondi Sands signed an exclusive contract with Walgreens, and are selling their tanning brand to more than 7,000 stores across the country. As part of the launch, the brand was featured in the world’s largest festival in California, Coachella, where celebrities like the model, Emily Ratajkowski, represented the brand for the launch of its latest product, Aero. The activation centre was the only Aussie brand to feature at the festival, and amassed over 900 million people reached.

Bondi Sands’ Activation centre at Coachella was a huge success.

Aussies are Ahead of the Curve

It’s no surprise that Aussies love their self-tan. With the surf-worthy beaches populated with budding beach bums every day of the year, the people in Australia want to have that straight out of the ocean glow all year long. “Australians tan all year round, it’s not really a seasonal thing. But Australia’s definitely a world leader in self-tan and sun care,” said James. This is quite a contrast to the other markets that Bondi Sands reaches, such as the UK and US. “I see the UK as two or three years behind Australia, and then the United States sort of feels like Australia in 2012.”

Unlike in Australia, those who use self-tan in the UK typically stuck to using the solution in the warmer months to compliment their natural glow. However, since the introduction of Bondi Sands and its ‘innovative’ range of products, the use of self-tan has amassed to year-round use throughout the country. “Now, [the UK] is starting to follow Australia’s lead and tanning throughout the year. December last year was our record month in the UK, which is obviously, in the middle of their winter,” he noted.

When Blair James looks back to 2012 when he and Shaun launched the first products, they expected to be where they are today. With a strong focus on the consumer and constantly evolving as a brand, Bondi Sands has built an empire of loyal and trusting customers. “What’s been the most surprising part of it, and what we get the most excitement out of, is how engaged consumers are in our brand,” James explained. “That’s the thing you don’t intend, you know, where the customers are so passionate about a brand. If a competing brand launches a product that looks like a knock-off, [the customers] jump on social media and have your back … that’s the sort of stuff you just don’t expect.”

The Rise of Instagram Brands

The influx of social media marketing and ‘Instagram Brands’ took over the retail space for a few years, with companies applying a heavy focus on the social media side of marketing rather than anything else. While this has definitely worked for many brands, the bubble may be bursting. “I think the general public now, is seeing a trend of going back to retail. I think that’s because, on Instagram, you can make anything look great. But brands that are marketing themselves on Instagram are falling into that trap of believing that ‘near enough is good enough’, so they’ll launch a product that maybe looks great on social, but then by the time the consumer gets it, it’s not how it’s been perceived. They bought it once, and they’ll never buy it again.” explained James.

From A Consumer’s Little Aussie Secret to A Global Phenonemon

Despite having nearly 700k followers on Instagram alone, the strategy behind Bondi Sands is a repeat purchase. Investing ‘heavily’ into product, the brand wants to make the consumer come back again and again. “We didn’t want to create customers, we wanted to create advocates,” he said. When the brand started, it was done on a shoestring budget. While the original packaging makes Blair James “cringe a little bit”, it helped the brand evolve in an organic way. “People came across this little Aussie brand that didn’t look like a Multi-National, then they had a great experience and it was well-priced. So I think people just started to talk about it. Word of mouth spread, because it was like they found their own little Aussie secret,” James explained.

If Blair James was to look back and give himself and Shaun advice before starting Bondi Sands, he would tell himself to take some time and be patient with the process. “Everyone’s in a rush, and when you have a great idea, you want to get it out to market as quickly as you can. But, in the grand scheme of things, if something takes you one month or two months longer, then it really doesn’t matter. At the time, it feels like an eternity, but having patience and going through the process, and doing it the right way, is one of the things I would have said to myself.”

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