Episode 103: Blair James, Owner and Co-Founder of Bondi Sands

When Blair James, Owner and Co-Founder of Bondi Sands, was a kid, he wanted to be a basketball player, Formula One race car driver, or a brand creator. While the first two didn’t quite pan out, his instinctual understanding of how people connect with brands has paid off. Bondi Sands is not only a self-tanning brand with global distribution, but the market leader on social media.

In this episode, hear how the brand evolved and grew from a single tanning salon and glean key insights on the importance of truly knowing your customer.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® hosted by Jodi Katz, Founder and Creative Director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey, it's Jodi Katz, the host of WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® Podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in, I am grateful for your support. This week's episode features Blair James, he's the co-founder of Bondi Sands. It's so exciting to hear his entrepreneurial story, and the type of work he had to do along the way to make sure that he can make ends meet, so I hope you enjoy listening into that conversation. And if you missed last week's episode, it featured Rita Hazan, she's a celebrity hair colorist. I hope you enjoy the shows.

Hey, everybody welcome back to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY®. I am excited to sit next to Blair James who's the co-founder of Bondi Sands.
Blair JamesBondi Sands, yeah.
Jodi KatzI pronounced it correctly.
Blair JamesYeah.
Blair JamesThank you for having me.
Jodi KatzMy first question for you is you're from Australia, it's like 11 degrees here in New York today. What did you pack with you when you came?
Blair JamesClearly not enough. I've got a couple of jackets with me, but I forgot my beanie, and didn't bring any earmuffs, or anything, so my ears are freezing.
Jodi KatzGloves?
Blair JamesNot gloves, either, so yeah, I'm doing it ... yeah. I'm doing it in the cold, that's for sure.
Jodi KatzConveniently enough, on most street corners in this neighborhood, you can find people selling hats and gloves and all that stuff.
Blair JamesI'll have to go and source one of those straight after here.
Jodi KatzSo you're visiting from down under. Is that so cheesy for me to say?
Blair JamesA little bit, but I like it. It sounds good.
Jodi KatzIt's so American to say that because you don't think you're under anything.
Blair JamesNo, no. Well, I guess we are on the bottom side of the world. It's what we've become known for so that's fine.
Jodi KatzWhat are you gonna be doing with your time here today in New York?
Blair JamesLater on today, I need to do a little bit of shopping but tomorrow I'm gonna catch up with our U.S. distributor who are based here in New York and after that going to go to basketball. It's only a quick trip to New York. It's about two or three days and then back to Los Angeles and we're actually just launching our brand at Good Day USA. It's like an Australian tourism gala in L.A. so we're doing that on Saturday night.
Jodi KatzOh that's fun.
Blair JamesSo it's a busy trip.
Jodi KatzAre you the only person from your team who travels?
Blair JamesNo, my business partner, Sean, we used to travel together. We've actually got about four or five of the team members coming over on Thursday and they'll be at the gala.
Jodi KatzThat's great!
Blair JamesYeah, so we do travel a lot together. The whole team generally travels.
Jodi KatzSo what is partnering with a tourism company do for the brand?
Blair JamesObviously we are Australia's favorite self-tanning brand, we have the number one selling product there in Australia so we want to surround ourselves with Australians here in the U.S. It gives us credibility to show that, yes, people are buying our product back home and they also are supporting us overseas. It's really that credibility message and it's a great gala as well. It gets a lot of coverage back home and I believe it gets a lot of media coverage here in the U.S. as well.
Jodi KatzThat's cool. Well have fun with that. Let's start our conversation with something we ended our conversation when we were on the phone together, this idea of childhood dreams. What did you wanna be when you grew up?
Blair JamesThere's a few different dreams. First one was to be an NBA basket baller. At 5 foot 10 that was clearly not gonna happen. I love my cars so a Formula One driver would've been next. Then also to be a brand creator. That was something that I would love as a kid, even back to five or six years of age. I think we've spoke about how I used to sit down and being obsessed with Michael Jordan and Nike like most kids at my age. Designing men's shoes and I'd send these designs to Nike and then waiting for return mail with posters and everything else in it.

I was obsessed with Nike as a kid and that inspired ... I became intrigued in how brands work and how to develop branding at a very early age.
Jodi KatzWas it there alignment with Michael Jordan? Is that why you're obsessed with Nike versus another brand?
Blair JamesI think so. But it was also my dad and I used to talk about brands and we used to focus on Nike a lot. He had a sporting background, he used played professional soccer in England and so I guess it was that common ground with the sports. Nike was the market leader and I liked the way ... What was interesting about Nike is they don't just sell a product. They sell a feeling, they're selling emotion, and that's really how they sell their product. I think we try to do the same thing at Bondi Sands. We don't want to just sell our product, we want to sell something that people feel like they're buying into. That's what I think I bought into or recognized very early on. That it's not just about selling product, it's about selling an emotion or a feeling.
Jodi KatzSo you would sketch out your drawings, put them in the mail, and then you'd get posters and other stuff back from Nike?
Blair JamesYeah. I'll show you... My dad used to say my drawings were for no good.
Jodi KatzSo they were noted?
Blair JamesHe was an engineer, his background. He used to do all these technical drawings and he's like, “Look they gotta be more like this.” And I was like, “No, no, no. These are better with all the color and all the stuff on 'em.” He was always very supportive, but my drawings weren't as good as his. I drew all those shoes, send them into Nike, and hope one day they'd pick them up and produce them at some point. Very naïve as a six year old but I'd always get something from Nike and I think that's ... I had such a great response from them and it's very exciting as a kid to get something from Nike in the mail. That just really suspended that love of brand and they're like Nike really as well.
Jodi KatzHow sweet is it that they take the time to respond to those child customer service kind of messages?
Blair JamesYeah, they replied to everything that I sent. Like I would send literally one a month. The obsession was pretty bad. I remember in high school my mom and dad got called to the school by our principal, basically he told them that I couldn't do another assignment on Michael Jordan or Nike. I had to do an assignment on something else. So it was getting to an obsession level. I'm obsessed with another brand now, being Bondi Sands, but it all started from Nike as a kid.
Jodi KatzAs an elementary school kid obsessed with Nike, what did it shift to when you were like a teenager? What was your brand obsession at that time?
Blair JamesIt remained with Nike, really, up until early 20s. More now is getting into automotive brands. I love what Mercedes do as a brand, that's probably my favorite. So really the two now are still the same, Nike and Mercedes and what they've developed to do. If you'd look at the way Mercedes has really changed the imagery of the last bit and perception of the brand and who they target. They used to be quite an elitist brand I suppose in the 90s. Now they're using rappers and different types of identities represent different models they have and really to target a younger consumer. I think they really changed their perception and brand positioning over the last 15 years.
Jodi KatzWas your dad an engineer in the automotive business?
Blair JamesYeah he was an engineer at Ford Motive Company. He worked there for 20 years in Australia. It's really where the cars side comes in.
Jodi KatzYou said something about Formula One?
Blair JamesSo Formula One racing, I've always followed that since I was a kid.
Jodi KatzDid you have dream to be a race car driver?
Blair JamesYeah. I was pretty passionate about all my dreams as a kid so I have to get in mom's car and pretend that I was racing car driver when I was five and six. That's sort of getting back to me now, obviously off the back of building a successful business it's allow me to now get into an opportunity potentially look at racing cars in the future.
Jodi KatzYou want to actually race the car, want to drive the car?
Blair JamesYeah, absolutely.
Jodi KatzPut the helmet on and go see [crosstalk 00:07:56].
Blair JamesI've done a little bit of racing but I'd like to down the track potentially do it more full time.
Jodi KatzWhen you say that, do you mean like aspiring to be competitive racer or just drive the car really fast?
Blair JamesNo, competitive racing.
Jodi KatzReally?
Blair JamesThere's quite a few series where you can go and race and be a sponsor and drive off the back of that so definitely wanting to get into competitive racing. I love that racing, just a lot of things.
Jodi KatzSo branding's really crucial in that business, right? Like, everyone works multiple logos right? Their cars are logoed out, everything's like sponsored, sponsored, sponsored.
Blair JamesIt's probably the most heavily sponsored sport in the world. It holds the most cloud as well. You can literally go and tour a race tame as soon as Australia have Walsh Cup where you can go and sponsor and also become a driver off the back of that sponsorship. So basically it's buying your own ride, and if you're any good, you get to stay.
Jodi KatzSo there could be a Bondi car?
Blair JamesYeah, potentially. We did have a discussion with McLaren, the Formula One team, about potentially sponsoring their team. And it was probably a bit out of reach at the time and doesn't really reach that target market, but as a Formula One fan, I was like, "Man, I would like to do that."
Jodi KatzMy dream when I guess was a seven or eight years old, I wanted to be an archeologist.
Blair JamesOh, really?
Jodi KatzYeah. I don't know where I found that. I think I had a second grade teacher who went to Egypt on a trip and she came back and told us all about it and it seemed like a dream come true for me.
Blair JamesYeah. That would be an amazing job.
Jodi KatzNow I just watch a lot of Indiana Jones movies.
Blair JamesA lot of documentaries.
Jodi KatzThat's cool.
Blair JamesYeah.
Jodi KatzLet's talk about Bondi Sands. This was not your first entrepreneurial endeavor, right? There was something that came before it? A tanning salon in Melbourne.
Blair JamesYeah. So really one had led into the next. My background was in fashion, so when I was 23 or 24, I was waiting for a fashion retail in Australia managing multiple retailers. And I always wanted to do my own business, as I spoke about. And this opportunity came up. I was actually looking at a retail space in Port Melvin, and it was kind of a men's fashion store.
Jodi KatzOh, really?
Blair JamesThat's how it got started. And then I was having a chat with my brother and he's like, "Well, why don't you have a look at these at a tanning bed salon at Spray Tans?" And I was like, "Oh, gee, I don't know anything about that."
Jodi KatzWhy did your brother suggest that?
Blair JamesHis reason was that it was a good passive income. So literally once you set the store up, you're not constantly having to buy a lot of stock, and having to reinvent yourself every month. Fashion is very difficult having to make sure you stay on trend. It's very difficult business to run as opposed to a tanning salon which is the same season in, season out. That was really solving on that idea.
Jodi KatzHow did he even know about this?
Blair JamesI think he was going to one at the time. That's why he thought it was a good idea. Tanning in Australia back in 2005-2006 was so popular, in tanning beds and also out in the sun. It's changed a lot since then. We opened a brand new salon, figured the whole space out ourselves, and then I bought my brother out in the business within two years. That was in 2006.
Jodi KatzSo why did he want to exit the business?
Blair JamesI think he just realized the business wasn't for him. I think to be successful in business, you do have to be a certain personality type, and you do have to embrace risk, and embrace change constantly, and I think that wasn't his personality type. So he's an engineer as well, so I think he was more suited to that. So he exited the business in 2008. And then at that time, that's when spray tans really started to spire in Australia. It was really in line with the sun care awareness, or the skin cancer awareness in Australia, so it started to become more popular. So people were more excited to use spray tans to still get that of color of being out in the sun, but at the same time look after their skin a little bit more. And really by 2010, we produced our own spray solution. We were using that in the salon. Customers were actually coming and asking for this product.
Jodi KatzWait, sorry to interrupt. I'm sure there's hundreds of brands you could've just used in your salon, but why did you create your own custom formula?
Blair JamesWe were using two different formulas in the business at the time. But we were doing starting to get to the point where we literally couldn't get any more people in. We were doing three, four hundred sprays a week, and I would start suggesting to people, "Why don't you try a self-tanning product and do it at home?" We were getting all this feedback that the color didn't last long enough, or the color was bad it smelled bad, and it was sort of this light bulb moment where you sort of go, "Okay, there's an opportunity here. Why is there such a difference between self-tanners and a self-spray tan?"
Jodi KatzIs there?
Blair JamesThere was at the time. A huge difference. And so my business partner, which I met with at Bondi Sands and met him at the salon, he'd usually come in for the occasional spray-tan have an occasional sun bed. And we got talking about this, and so we started producing our own formula, first to understand what the difference was between salon sprays and the self-tanners. We made our first sample, started using it in the salon, and within a month or so, people started coming in requesting this product. We knew, "Okay, this product is good. We know people like this color." And it was then when we realized, "Okay, let's take this product and adapt it to a self-tan application." So generally, a self-tanning product is active ingredients, which usually uses DHA, is generally around 6 or 7%. A self-spray tan is usually around 15%.
Jodi KatzRight, and that's what gives you the color?
Blair JamesYes. That process on your skin that gives you a depth of color. So the salon spray-tans was much more, much stronger. The dye structure was very different, so a self-tan is the time which Is what you see a lot in the US was caramel base. So when you put a caramel base on any skin tone, it will look orange. It's very difficult to look bronzed and natural like you've just come out of the sun. I loved the salon spray tans had the gray or blue base, so it gives it that olive tone. And that's where if you put that on any skin tone, it will look olive and natural.
Jodi KatzYou look very tan right now. Is this your product?
Blair JamesI'm naturally olive, so that helps, but I use one of our gradual tanning products, which is what a lot of men use in Australia. And yeah, that gives a lot more natural color.
Jodi KatzYeah. I mean, you look like you were just skiing or snowboarding or in the sun.
Blair JamesYeah. It's a bit of that. It is summer back home, and it's below 90 degrees. A little bit is natural, but it's also a lot of gradual tan there as we'll.
Jodi KatzAright, so I want to back up a little bit. So you or a young guy decides to open up maybe a clothing store, but then you got encouraged to do this, where do you find the financing to do this?
Blair JamesWell, I was lucky enough to do this, for this first piece camewhen I was a little kid, I lost my mum probably about two years before and she had left me a small amount of money, so I had about $30,000. In Australia that's about $20,000 US. And I had that small amount of money behind me, and literally every cent went into that salon. My brother obviously put money in as well. I remember the very first day we opened. It was a Sunday, and we were going to open on Monday, but I was just ready to get in the store and get it open. We worked in the store until 3 AM on a Saturday night, cleaning everything up and getting it ready to go. So we opened the salon on a Sunday. And I remember looking at my bank balance thinking there was $180 in my bank account left. I remember thinking if it doesn't work, I don't know what I'm going to do, this has to work. And that first day, we tended over $540 and I was like, "This is a good start." Straightaway, we knew we were on to something. We were in a good location, the store looked good, so that was not to say, but we really did make significant money out of that salon for pretty close to two years.
Jodi KatzRight.
Blair JamesBut it was definitely not going to set me up for life, but it was enough to reward me for taking the chance and stepping out and trying something new.
Jodi KatzDid your mom, before she passed, know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Blair JamesYeah, it was funny. I was at university starting applied science when I 18-19. Nothing isn't for me, and she said to me one day, she goes, "I knew when I drop out." I was like, "Oh, that's really insulting." Like I was going to give up, but she goes, "No, no, no. You're not meant to do that. You're meant to do your own thing. You've always been like that. Whenever you wanted something, you just went out and got it yourself." She definitely knew that I would go down.
Jodi KatzRight. How her sons were so different from each other too, right?
Blair JamesVery different. Yeah. I'm more quite creative, and obviously I look for new opportunities, and my brother definitely likes the more safe options.
Jodi KatzDid your father realize the difference between the two of you as well?
Blair JamesDefinitely. My dad was creative like me as we'll, being a mechanical engineer. He had both sides. He had the creative side but also the engineering side. But he definitely realized we were very different.
Jodi KatzIt's really nice you were able to honor your mother through the shop. Right?
Blair JamesYeah, absolutely. It's on of those things now that I look back on, I don't think if she have said that, I feel like I still would have gone down this path, but it was one of those moments where you just know it's what you're meant to do. I think she'd be happy to know that I trusted that instinct and it's something that I've always wanted to do throughout my life.
Jodi KatzRight. And I think that inside, our bodies want to honor our parent's wishes and getting that sense of approval from them even if it's this little conversation, it's comforting.
Blair JamesYeah, definitely. I was one of those people that would walk through a supermarket and I would be like, "Oh, mum, we could make this so we could do this," and I was constantly looking at opportunities. You walk anywhere there's opportunities for a business, or go to a restaurant and I'd be looking at how much they could make at a certain amount of tables and how they could make more money. I was constantly always doing that, and I still do the same thing now. It can be a little bit exhausting to be around because you don't ever stop thinking about it. She saw the writing on the wall. She could've turned around and said, "You've got to stay in uni, you've got to get a degree, you've got to get these university degrees." She really encouraged me not to do that and to get out and actually take that risk. Most parents probably would never even do that.
Jodi KatzSo you never graduated?
Blair JamesNo. And never regretted that. I do think back at times and think that if I finished that degree...I was specializing in occupational health and safety, so I would've been in a completely different world. I just can't imagine doing that at all now.
Jodi KatzYeah. I appreciate people that have the courage to say no to these sort of social norms. Obviously, if you wanted to be a doctor, you would've had to finish school, but if you want to choose another path, there's other ways to educate yourself, right?
Blair JamesDefinitely. And this day and age, we have access to so much information, and definitely in schooling or going and getting an education, I think in some group paths, it's what you have to do. But I do think at times, schooling can share a little bit of creativity not everyone's made or born and go on study. Some people just want to create things and want to get things moving themselves.
Jodi KatzHave you had people apply for jobs to your company that haven't gotten their degree?
Blair JamesYeah, we've got probably about a third of our team don't have degrees. Some do, and that depends on the role they have in with their business. And also people that really started their business from the very beginning have actually worked for me in my salon previously, so they're within the business. So ten years, twelve years on we're still working together. I definitely think there's a different train of thought I think that comes through people that have gone and created something themselves without study as opposed to the very different in the work life, in the work space.
Jodi KatzRight. Let's just go back in time a little bit more. Because you started the salon, you've bought your brother out, and you've started to think like, "Oh, we can probably formulate a product that serves our customer better." But then you mentioned the business partner came in who was a customer.
Blair JamesYes.
Jodi KatzTell me about that experience.
Blair JamesSean Wilson, he's my co-founder and business partner in Bondi Sands, and he was a customer very early onAnd he was coming through the sunbed every now and then and he has a background in business, he has a masters in business, so he's the exact opposite to me. He has those degrees and everything else. The two of us really work well together we have the creative and that education background. We just got talking about business opportunities and we just used to talk about everything. Eventually, we would come in and have coffees and talk about business ideas and what we'd like to do in the future.
Jodi KatzSo it's just a friendship?
Blair JamesYeah. We just became mates. He started hanging out with my mates, and we're all still mates to this day. It just really started like that. It wasn't really pitching business or anything, and then we got talking about some ideas that I had. And I spoke about the tanning business and what the opportunities were, and Sean said the opportunity in that, particularly is that time in Australia, the skin cancer message was so strong in Australia now, and people are very aware of the damages of the sun and also UV light exposure in sunbeds. It was already starting to shift. People were starting to move away from those ways of tanning. Really it was the right time. It's where the business started from.
Jodi KatzYou saw the writing on the wall in terms of the consumers' desire for tanning beds would disappear, right?
Blair JamesYeah, I knew at that point the desire wasn't really dying off, it was the Victorian government at the time, the Australian government, it was really pushing these anti-sunbed messages and really looking out for your skin in the sun. We could see the writing on the wall that sunbeds would be banned, and they did ban sunbeds in Australia by 2012. It was really inevitable that they had to be away from sun beds because they couldn't access them anymore. So that was a very unpopular move by the Australian government at the time in 2012. People loved going to the sunbeds. Six years on, people are very much against sunbeds now, and they're also very much against laying in the sun. Although people still love to have that feeling being out in the sun, they're protecting their skin a lot more, and they're looking for other ways now to get that sun-kissed look that Australia is so well known for.
Jodi KatzRight. And that's what you offer now? Right? Nice segway into your product.
Blair JamesAbsolutely.
Jodi KatzI guess this is sort of funny that you started in this business for people lying in sunbeds that we now know are not healthy, and now you're actually offering them an incredibly safe alternative for that, right? So you were kind of in the mock of sunning, tanning, and now you're actually giving them an opportunity tan safely.
Blair JamesYeah.
Jodi KatzAre there sunscreens built into your products?
Blair JamesIn some of our products, yes. We have one product that has a gradual tanning milk that also has an SPF in the product as well, so it's a daily use product that you apply as a moisturizer and you have SPF protection off the back of that. We just launched our full sun care range in Australia last year, so there's now eight products in that range. And we have a range of sunscreen oils which range from SPF 15 and 30 and then we also have up to an SPF 50 lotion. It fits really we'll into our brand message. We wanted to shake up that sun care message a little bit in Australia as well. Think of all the big brands and multinationals, we're very stagnant. They're very clinical in the way they market their product. Their products are very fun and bright, they look very Instagram-able. It's very attractive to the young consumer, though the consumer really should be using sun care products for an early age.
Jodi KatzI was putting on my moisturizer this morning, my daughter, who is eight, was in the bathroom with me and I started putting on my sunscreen, she's like, "Why are you putting on sunscreen? It's winter." And she just really wouldn't understand the message. She was like, "this doesn't make any sense," and she started laughing, and I was like, "I'm going to be out in the sun." Everyday, I'm walking around New York City. And she had a really hard time with it, even though I've been putting this on in front of her for a long time, right? But she had such a disconnect in her head. She just was not making any sense.
Blair JamesWas that around putting sunscreens on in winter?
Jodi KatzYeah, today. I'm putting it on. It's a sunny day. I've noticed I have a lot of sun spots on the right side of my face and I think it's because during long car rides my husband loves to drive, so he's on that side and I'm on this side and I wasn't wearing sunscreen for a long time like that, just driving around. And then I realized that's because I sitting in the car for hours in the sun.
Blair JamesYeah. It's a common misperception in Australia with that as well. In winter, just because it's cold, you can't get sun damage. You definitely can. UV light is still prevalent every day, particularly today. There's no clouds around, so it's very high UV in the cold weather as well, so you'd definitely be using sunscreen in winter. And even in a car, people think that the glass stops UV light from penetrating through, but it doesn't cut out all the UV light as well, so you're constantly exposed to it. And as a brand, we don't always talk about the skin cancer awareness side of it, it's about general looking after your skin.
Jodi KatzRight.
Blair JamesUV light is proven to cause sun damage and more wrinkles, and weathering of the skin. The more you can use sunscreen, the better, really.
Jodi KatzI think of sunscreen as the least expensive, most effective anti-aging product. Right?
Blair JamesIt is. Yeah. And you see it in so many beauty products now.
Jodi KatzYes. But to actually not just have it in your foundation, which I actually don't think is enough protection. Right? So really put it on and find a product that you love and would want to wear everyday and you do it forever and then that's the anti-aging skincare.
Blair JamesYeah.
Jodi KatzWay cheaper than going to a fancy department store and buying.
Blair JamesAbsolutely. And obviously prevention is the best way you're not going to end up with any wrinkles of sun damage.
Jodi KatzLet's talk about how do you separate being an entrepreneur and now you're a global business, right? You said you're visiting your US distributor. Do you have distributors in other countries as well?
Blair JamesWe have a UK distributor now. We also just recently signed with the US distributor called Grace Beauty here in New York. We also have some distributors across Europe. Our name brand is truly global now. We also have a distributor in Australia as well. Those partners have allowed us to grow quickly as opposed to how looking to take on staff and salespeople to grow the business.
Jodi KatzHow do you have time for you? And what is your time beyond preparing to be a Formula One driver?
Blair JamesYeah, it does take up a lot of my time. At times it feels like it's hard to separate myself from the business, even when you're not working. It's something I love doing, so it's not like I'm doing a job that I don't like every day. I do like to keep fit, so my girlfriend and I are very active. So we do try to get in the gym most times, whether it be in the mornings, or in the week, or on the weekend, we try and get in and train. I don't feel like I really have to separate myself from work. It's just I'm constantly on emails, I'm constantly working. But you always want to know what's going on, so it doesn't really feel like you're pushing yourself to work. It's something you still enjoy.
Jodi KatzI think that as an entrepreneur myself, my head's always going, right? But the separation is really about the other people that I'm with. My kids don't want to hang with me when I'm completely focused and dreaming about work. Or my husband. That's when we need to separate so that we can have relationships with other people. So while it's super fun for me to think about and daydream about the podcast, and my agency, and blah, blah, blah, it's all fun for them to be with me when I'm daydreaming.
Blair JamesThat's actually really true. I hadn't actually thought of it like that, but it is so true. I've got some friends of mine that are very entrepreneurial, so we'll talk for hours about ideas, and I find that so enjoyable. And then there's the other friends of mine that don't want to hear about business. They just want to talk about whether it's the basketball, or the Formula One, or whatever it is. Then my girlfriend is a mix of both. She's also an entrepreneur. She has does cosmetic tattooing Eyebrows, hair-doing. She's very good at what she does and we talk about her business and how she can grow that, and she can make that more of a passive income. Sometimes we talk about that, and then we talk about my business, and other times any other times she's like, "I don't want to talk about business any more."
Jodi KatzRight. So the separation isn't about you, it's about your relationships.
Blair JamesThat's right.
Jodi KatzOr like, when I'm with my husband, and he's busy with work and he's constantly doing emails. That's not fun to be around. I feel like that's the evolution of what I've been thinking about in terms of life-work balance. It's not that I have to shut off the fun in my head about growing businesses, it's that I have to find the connections with the humans that around me that are not working with me.
Blair JamesThat's true. Yeah.
Jodi KatzSo that's my big lesson I'll pass along to you and our listeners.
Blair JamesIll definitely take that out today.
Jodi KatzWell, congratulations on everything that you've created. This is pretty cool. Do you like [inaudible 00:29:54]?
Blair JamesA little bit. The dream, it's never changed. From day one, we had pretty big goals really from day one. We wanted to be the biggest self-tanning brand in the world. We will become that this year. And so we really designed this brand for the United States. We've spent a lot of time growing up here and I've played basketball here as a kid, and we really saw the opportunity for it to do well here. So to see it into Walgreens now as a partnership with them, it's one of those moments where you have to pinch yourself every day. And a lot more to come this year. The brand's still got a lot of evolution, a lot of new products to come through, so we still feel very early on, very early in the brand growth. We're six years in, but we already supply in over 15,000 stores around the world.
Jodi KatzThat's amazing in only six years.
Blair JamesIt is.
Jodi KatzRight? And thinking that not that long ago, you were going to open a men's clothing shop.
Blair JamesIt is a big change. I think people said to me when I was eighteen that you will own the biggest tanning brand by the time you're 38, I was like, you're crazy. But it's been an amazing journey so far. And there's still so much more to grow.
Jodi KatzWhat I hear in your voice and in the conversation before this one is you're just so at ease with the risk-taking. I don't even feel like it sounds like a risk to you, does it?
Blair JamesNo, I think it's only risky when you don't know what you're doing. Before we went into this, people always asked, "Why is Bondi so successful?" And I think it's a simple thing is we understand tanning consumers better than any other brand, which is why we're out do what we do. I think if you go into something and you understand it inside and out, it's a calculated risk. You're taking an educated risk when you're doing it. You know where it is you need to be more careful, and areas where you can push boundaries a little bit more. So I think it really just comes down to really understanding what you're doing. The risks, yeah. If you can mitigate those as much as possible, the more educated you can be. You can reduce those risks down to just a few that are almost illuminated entirely.
Jodi KatzRight. So and educated risk is really just a planner strategy. Right? It's not risk-free. It's just what you have to do to move forward.
Blair JamesThere's always risk, particularly when you're going into a business like this, or going into mass products and distribution. And I think being a little naïve coming into it also helps as well. If you would know all the risks and all the challenges you're going to approach over the course of running your brand, you probably wouldn't do it. But once you get into the process and going through that with the brand, you come across things and you navigate those as you need to and you learn from it along the way so that next time you want to launch the nest brand, or the next product, you anticipate what's going to happen, and again, it's all about educated risks.
Jodi KatzWhat I really love about your story is it doesn't sound like ten years go, you decided you're going to build the biggest self-tanning brand in the world. You just had a goal and you reached it, and then you saw an opportunity and another goal, and an opportunity, right? And I guess I'm overwhelmed with the greed in our business right now, like, "I'm going to start a brand and I want to make $10,000,000 in two years," that's why they're starting the brand, not because they love the customer, they love the product, they're just in it for the money. So it kind of wears on me, being around those people.
Blair JamesI couldn't agree with you more. It's funny you bring that up. I talk to my friends a lot about that almost on a weekly basis. Instagram and the social media is the best and greatest tool we've ever had to build a business, but the downside of that is that people don't look at building a brand, they look at creating a product, getting it on Instagram, and just selling the product. That's not building a brand. And I think that if we look back, we were very lucky that when we launched, we were at the very beginning of Instagram, so we had had to really be educated around traditional media, traditional retailers as well as digital, and we really pride ourselves on being the only self-tanning brand that is a market leader on social media. We have almost seven hundred thousand followers on Instagram, but we're also a retail-focused brand. We're very unique in that sense, that we've built this loyalty online, but then we've funneled them into store. And that's how the brand's been on able to grow so quickly.

I meet with a lot of entrepreneurs. I'm not one to talk about their business ideas, and it's one of the first questions I ask, is why do you want to do it? And a lot of the time, the answer is, "Oh, seeing how big the market is, I can make this much money." I said, "To be honest, if your motivation is money, it's going to wear out pretty quick." Three years in, if you end up making any money, you'd be bored of running this business. We look back at it, Sean and I didn't make any money from Bondi Sands three years in. I was still cleaning apartments to pay bills.
Jodi KatzReally?
Blair JamesSo after selling the salon, I didn't want to dip into that money, so I was cleaning apartments just to fit everyday cash. And that's because we were passionate about the business, and we were passionate about what the brand could be. We weren't chasing money.
Jodi KatzRight. Yes. Thank you for saying that. I'm glad we put it into the universe on this podcast, because it's not worth it, if that's what your goal is, go into a different industry. This is not an overnight success story kind of business. It's really not.
Blair JamesI think there's that saying that I've seen pop up on quite a few memes and posts on Instagram is if you're doing it for money, you're doing it wrong. And I couldn't agree with that more. I think. Like you spoke about before, our brand is successful because we understand our consumers better than anybody else. And I think people need to look at people building a brand, it's just like a friendship. If you look at how you communicate with your friendship group, you have similar interests, and you talk in similar ways, and so you can communicate and build that friendship. Brand to consumer relationship is exactly the same. If you can't talk to them on their level and the terms they understand and the same values they have, they're not going to engage with your brand, and that's what the most successful brands do today. They connect with their audience better than their competitors.
Jodi KatzI love it. Thank you for sharing all this and your honesty and openness. I'm so glad you shared your wisdom with us today on the show. Thank you. And for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Blair. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes, and for updates bout the show, follow us on Instagram at @WhereBrainsMeetbeautyPodcast.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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