Frank Body: Let's be Frank

22 Oct 2015

Author: Georgina Safe

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Melbourne is renowned for its coffee culture but five friends have taken their love of the brew one step further with Frank Body - a range of coffee based skincare products. Since being founded in 2013 the start-up targeting stretchmarks, acne, scarring and eczema has accumulated a loyal tribe of “Frankfurts” around the world with revenue set to exceed $20 million in 2015.
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Alex Boffa was on holiday with four friends when one of them told an unusual story involving two customers who frequented his cafe in Melbourne, Australia.

“Steve was telling us a story about two women who would come into his cafe asking for the used coffee grounds,” says Boffa. “He initially thought it was for their garden, then he found out they were using it as an exfoliant. This was the moment we realised that what was a fairly unknown product at the time, could be a project we could work on together.”

When the group returned to Melbourne, they went straight to the kitchen above Steve’s cafe to test formulations and do further research.

“What we learned is that coffee is great for the skin for a few reasons,” says Boffa. “The caffeine in coffee stimulates blood flow which can aid collagen production so it’s ideal for an exfoliator. Coffee has the same PH as your skin so it won’t damage or dry out skin as some other products can, and it’s also high in anti-oxidants, which target the free-radicals that cause skin imperfections.”

And so Frank Body was born – a range of coffee-based skincare products targeting stretch marks, acne, scarring, eczema and psoriasis. After just two years in business, Frank Body’s revenue is set to exceed $20 million for the products made in Melbourne and sold exclusively via the company’s online store. 

The co-founding team of Erika Geraerts, Jess Hatzis, Bree Johnson and Steve Rowley now have a tribe of Frank Body fans around the globe that have been aptly dubbed “frankfurts” due to their passion for the ground coffee bean products infused with essential and natural oils.

The US, Canada, Europe, the Middle East and the UK are now among the company’s largest markets alongside Australia, due largely to Frank Body’s digital marketing strategy, which has been one of the most successful social media campaigns by an Australian startup.

Much of Frank Body’s revenue comes from Instagram, which the brand has cleverly used to drive brand awareness and sales via a cost effective online platform.

“By launching online, barriers to entry were far lower than that of a traditional business so we didn’t need a lot of capital to start trading,” says Boffa.

“As we made the product by hand for the first six months, we were literally making to order, which significantly helped with cash flow. Using social media to market the product was playing to our strengths and knowledge of how to approach the target market.”

With backgrounds in copywriting and communications (Geraerts, Hatzis and Johnson), music management and touring (Boffa) and coffee culture (Rowley) the quintet’s pool of skills informed the unique approach they took to marketing.

“We thought about our audience and spoke to them, taking out any ego along the way, and this seemed to resonate with a lot of customers,” says Boffa. “The girls had already run some successful campaigns for other brands via social media so they knew how to leverage the Instagram platform extremely well.” 

User generated content has played an enormous role in the growth of the business, turning customers into brand ambassadors by encourage their feedback through their own social platforms and helping to drive awareness of the brand which has 657,000 Instagram followers, 77,000 Facebook fans and 15,200 followers on Twitter.

Then there’s Frank Body, which is the irreverent male persona assigned to the product. 

“We were kind of dealing with something that looked like dirt in a bag so we didn’t want to dress it up in bells and whistles through design or communication,” says Boffa. “We also wanted to cut through the fluff and scientific jargon of the beauty industry and speak in an honest and frank way. We wanted to be frank.”

Frank’s larrikin, easy-going personality has an intrinsically Australian quality.

“Frank is a laid-back Aussie guy (who is) humble and doesn’t take himself too seriously,” says Boffa. “All the owners are Australian so that comes through in the tone of voice. We haven’t played it up too much yet, but as we expand further overseas we will push the ‘Australianness’ more, as it seems to work well in the US.” 

Boffa also credits the laid-back Australian personality stereotype as informing the company’s singular work ethic.

“We keep a nice work/life balance,” says Boffa. “We’re big believers in creative thinking outside of the standard working environment, travelling and remote working helps with that. There is of course a balance between spending time in a growing office and being away, but we’re learning to manage the balance over time.”

Time has seen the Middle East and US overtake Australia in terms of market size, thanks to the global platforms which have allowed the brand to reach markets which previously would have only been accessible by a physical offline presence or a more traditional public relations approach.  

After a few months of growth in America, the five friends realised they needed to replicate the Australian business model and establish a local operation.

“By doing this, we could offer American customers free, fast shipping and the product could be sold in the local currency,” says Boffa. “The result was a substantial increase in sales over the course of a few months which gave us the confidence that our business model worked across borders and we could replicate it in multiple markets around the world.”

Australia’s reputation as a country of clean and natural beauty has played a valuable role in generating international sales.

“Australia is a beautiful place, and that resonates with people,” says Boffa. “They think of Australia and imagine an active, outdoor lifestyle that’s at once healthy and fun. As a nation we’re known for producing great quality, natural products and people look to us for that. Perhaps for international customers, buying Australian products is their way of buying into our laid-back lifestyle.”

Frank Body recently added a skin care range of face products to its signature body scrubs, and has also introduced a body cream as part of its continuing expansion via new products as well as new markets.

“An overwhelming majority of (customers) asked for a face range, so we spent a year working with our manufacturer to develop a great, simple range that was as natural as possible, effective and of course – caffeinated.”

And after all the online activity, there may finally be a bricks and mortar store on the horizon.

“Offline retail is something we’re actively pursuing at the moment and we’re looking for one or two large partners in each of our key markets that fit both the volume and brand needs of the business,” says Boffa. 

“We’ve got some pretty exciting activity in the pipeline that we’re looking forward to rolling out in 2016, but let’s be frank – I can’t tell you what it is just yet.”

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To find out more about Frank Body head to their website www.frankbody.com