It all started with a phone call.
“It was an idea that came up randomly. I was on the phone with one of my friends and she said that her sister was starting a nail polish line,” said Juan Autrey. “I said that I wanted to do something like that, and she told me to start a lipstick line. That’s how the idea was born back in 2011.”
Autrey began experimenting and hand crafting the lipsticks from home, purchasing the lipstick molds and lipstick tubes online, and slowly started selling his products. Once his line, J. Autrey Cosmetics, started to take off in 2014, he was invited to sponsor the Positive Women Meet Up event – with special guest China Upshaw, a celebrity hair stylist who was featured on the television show L.A. Hair.
“She purchased one of my lipsticks and posted about it on social media. It gave me a little bit of buzz,” said Autrey.
Soon after the event Autrey discontinued his cosmetic line, being unsatisfied with the consistency of the products and unsure of how to move his business forward. One year later, information about SpringGR showed up in his Facebook newsfeed. Autrey called his friend Nick Dean, who was hoping to start a catering business, and they decided to go through the entrepreneurial training program together.
SpringGR gave Autrey the tools he needed to get his business back up and running.
“I started doing more research, and I had the drive to really get my lipstick line launched,” said Autrey.
He began to design new colors, research new formulas, and found a manufacturer in New York. He also met Latesha Lipscomb, who was attending SpringGR to start her own events management and cosmetic concierge business.
At the SpringGR graduation celebration this past June, Autrey’s small business was awarded both the People’s Choice and Minority Business awards, earning him a total of $1,000 to put towards growing his business.
“I was really surprised that I won – it gave me more confidence and helped to push me to keep going,” said Autrey. “I wanted to make sure that I used the money in the right way. It paid for the screen printing on the lipstick tubes, and my initial order of lipsticks.”
Now, a few months later, and for the first time in SpringGR history, these three grads teamed up to help officially launch J. Autrey Cosmetics.
Lipscomb’s Posh Innovative Event Management planned, promoted, and hosted the private event on Friday September 30 at the Baker Lofts in downtown Grand Rapids. Over 40 business professionals and entrepreneurs from the Grand Rapids area were invited, which also turned the event into a valuable networking opportunity.
“It was a great way to promote all three of our businesses,” said Autrey.
“It’s just part of how we all operate,” continued Dean. “He helps me, I help him, then we’re all successful.”
Dean Catering showcased some of their more popular dishes, including a fruit, vegetable, and cheese display, cheeseburger sliders, tuna salad on crostini, and Asian barbecue chicken skewers.
J. Autrey Cosmetics released their first eight lipstick colors – Silent Killer (black), 10:29 (red), Conversation (nude), Serpent (green), Candy Land (neon pink), Man Eater (deep plum), Purple Reign (purple), and Love Drought (grey). Autrey’s goal with this initial launch was to include both bold and neutral colors to appeal to a broad range of customers.
Now with a successful launch party behind them, each entrepreneur is focusing on their next steps.
Autrey is hoping to expand his lipstick line and release four additional colors by the end of this year.
“In early 2017 I want to release another product. I think liquid to matte lipsticks will be next, but I also want to get into eyeshadow, blush, foundation, and false eyelashes,” said Autrey. “Eventually, hopefully, if my business does well I’ll be able to have my products in stores.”
He is also finishing his website, and starting to create a marketing strategy.
“You usually only see white or black models,” said Autrey, commenting on the marketing plans used by today’s cosmetic companies. “I plan to use more ethnicities that you don’t normally see – I want to put them out there more with my marketing.”
Since graduation, Dean has been busy with catering for local Grand Rapids organizations as well as some private events, and already has been booked for holiday parties.
“My focus is to get a food truck, and utilize that as my mobile kitchen to prep food on the premises for the event,” said Dean. “I’m really hopeful about the food truck, and from there the plan would be to quit my current job and start a restaurant.”
As each of their businesses grow, SpringGR continues to support the entrepreneurs.
“They help, and reach out – they call, text,” said Autrey. “I don’t always have the time to get together and talk, but they always seem to know when I need help or have questions. They always help.”
“My business coach, Arlene, and I have met quite a bit since graduation,” said Dean. “They’re really helpful, and they’re always there as a tool for us to go back to. I’m really grateful for that.”