How Revlon launched a line of "affordable luxuries" in the heart of the Great Depression.
In economic downturns, the great marketers rise above the wanna-bes. Consider Charles Revson, who in 1932 actually quit his job -- at a time of 25% unemployment -- to start Revlon. In his book Giants of Enterprise, Harvard Business School's Richard S. Tedlow writes that Revson's decision to forgo a paycheck was matched in daring by his decision to market his product as a luxury. Even as Hoovervilles were springing up across the country, Revson charged 50¢ a jar for nail enamel, compared with the industry standard of 10¢. To justify the premium, he distributed his products entirely through beauty parlors, getting fancy manicurists to operate as a surrogate sales force for him. In that way, he reinforced the notion that Revlon cosmetics were "affordable luxuries" worth a splurge. Revson was also the first to color-coordinate lipsticks with nail polishes and to introduce seasonal makeup lines. By the time World War II broke out, the company, capitalized with $300 in 1932, had already topped $2.8 million in annual sales.
MIKE HOFMAN was previously editor of Inc.com and a deputy editor at Inc. magazine, which he joined in 1996. The site was nominated for a National Magazine Award for Digital Media in 2010, and was named the best business website by Folio Magazine. In 2006, Hofman was part of a team of writers nominated for a Webby Award for best business blog. He lives in New York City. @mikehofman