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Make-up brand Ayu is set to jump into UK market soon, with a five-year plan for US expansion


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Suzie O’Neill, who founded Ayu in 2014, said around 30pc of the brand’s sales were already made to UK-based customers.

The company has an eye on the US market, which is Ayu’s third largest by sales. Ayu also sells into Europe and Australia, where O’Neill previously had a fulfilment centre.

“The UK is an area we are working on and making plans for over the next few years. But obviously it’s a huge expense too, so it’s about doing it in the right way, so we can build really solid foundations there.

‘We know what we’re really good at, and we know what our customers really like’

“America is another place we will be centring on over the next three to five years,” she added. “But the UK is definitely first on the list.”

O’Neill said Manchester would be the first location Ayu would look to open a UK store in, as most of its British-based customers come from the area. London would also be a target, but the important step there is identifying the right location, with the right footfall.

She hopes to have a UK store up and running within 12-24 months.

Before international expansion, the Brown Thomas Cork store and Kilkenny Design had begun stocking Ayu products.

O’Neill said the business now had the opportunity to “spread its wings” further than its own stores.

“Partnering up with bigger retailers that we’ve had on our wish-list for a while, and who then approached us to go in and work with them, that is brilliant,” she said. “It’s a lot of hard work coming to fruition.”

Suzie O’Neill and her team at the opening of the Ayu store in Mahon Point in Cork. Photo: Brian McEvoy

The listing with Brown Thomas in Cork could expand to other stores, should Ayu succeed in the city.

Last July, Ayu opened its first permanent brick-and-mortar store in Mahon Point Shopping Centre in Cork, and then a second premises in Kildare Village later in the year. It also opened a unit in Shannon Airport last November.

​For the time being, her plan is to keep Ayu a self-funded enterprise.

“It’s just a choice I made,” she said. “I’m not going to say that’ll always be the case. Obviously, with international growth comes a lot of expenses – so we might have to. There are also people with a lot more expertise in certain areas that would help us grow quicker.

“But, to date, we haven’t taken on any outside investment. We’re re-investing what the business has been making into the brand itself.”

O’Neill admits Ayu has received approaches from investors and potential acquirers.

“It’s not what I want right now,” she said. “At the minute, we feel we’re doing a good job as we are.”

‘We are only scratching the surface of what’s possible’

Ayu is also opening a new warehouse in Co Kildare that will house the brand’s Irish base. With that expansion, O’Neill hopes to double the number of staff Ayu employs over the next two years from its current figure of 36.

Competition is fierce in the Irish cosmetics industry, with several Irish and international brands battling it out. O’Neill believes there is room for everyone.

“Our demographic would be women 35 plus. They are very loyal to the brand. To be quite honest, we stay in our own lane. We know what we’re really good at, and we know what our customers really like.

“We tend not to look at what others are doing, as then sometimes you can get a little disheartened if you’re not doing something similar.”

O’Neill believes Ayu is only getting started. While she couldn’t share the company’s sales targets or revenue figures, she said the company had been growing at a rate of 100pc for a few years.

“We are only scratching the surface of what’s possible,” she said.

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