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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Netflix for Luxury Nail Polish Gives Cosmetics Rental a Try

The first time you hear about Lacquerous, a company that bills itself as the “Netflix of nail polish,” you're bound to raise an eyebrow, or two, in disbelief.

After all, although many people have become quite comfortable sharing cars, DVDs and even their spare bedrooms with strangers, the practice of sharing beauty products with them seems less appealing.

But Ashlene Nand and Liza Kindred, the two founders behind Lacquerous, a subscription-based service that lets members rent several bottles of high-end nail polishes for up to a month, say that the practice is identical to what most people experience in a traditional nail salon, where nail technicians share polish among clients who are getting manicures and pedicures.

“Once people realize that, it tends to set them at ease,” said Ms. Kindred.

She also said the company takes precautions between rentals, such as inspecting each bottle for impurities and unsanitary condition, before sending one to the next client. “Bacteria can't live for long in a bottle of nail polish. You are probably more likely to get an infection in the salon itself,” she added. (Many nail polishes contain toluene and formaldehyde, which will do a number on germs inside a bottle.)

The idea behind Lacquerous came from Ms. Nand, who said she had become obsessed with nail art while she was running an online consignment business.

“I started to acquire a nail polish addiction, especially Chanel polish,” she said. “But I couldn't afford to keep buying $30 bottles, so I Googled ‘rent nail polish' and nothing came up. That's when I started working on a deck to present the idea,” referring to a slide presentation.

She approached Ms. Kindred, whom she knew as a consultant for fashion companies and start-ups, with her idea at a party this year and the two decided to go into business together.

Each month, members pay $18 for the service, which lets them choose three polishes from a selection of 70 colors, including colors by designers like Dolce and Gabanna, Chanel and Dior, the popular makeup company Mac and special limited edition collections. After 30y days, members return their colors using a prepaid envelope and select three more.

The two woman, who have an office in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, say that they're banking on finding customers like themselves, women who like to keep their nails fresh and as a match for their outfits, adorned with chic designs and patterns and as interchangeable as a pair of shoes or earrings. Eventually, they hope to work with nail polish companies and sell full bottles to customers who tried a color and loved it.

The founders say early interest has been high: Although they are currently testing out the service in a small group of about 100 people, roughly 2,000 have requested access to the service and 10,000 in total have signed up for updates about the company's products.

The two are financing their business with their own money and a small round of capital raised from family and friends, although they are hoping to raise a round of angel investment to expand their business by early next year.

Ms. Kindred and Ms. Nand are keeping the service limited to a small group of users to determine how best to maintain quality control, manage member expectations and handle bad customer behavior. They anticipate that, like other companies built on the idea of collaborative consumption, peer-to-peer sharing or “recommerce,” as Ms. Nand describes it, including Rent the Runway, Getaround and Zipcar, they will have to decide how to deal with people who keep bottles too long, try to siphon out polish or commit other misdeeds.

“We don't want bad behavior to hurt our members that are using the system correctly,” she said. “But people seem to want this service; there is a demand for it.”