CarLashes doesn’t bat an eye in face of continued success
Robert and Dottie Small were frustrated. It was 2010 and they had created a new company and designed a unique product, eyelashes for car headlights — dubbed carlashes — that they were certain would be a hit. But sales were slow. The audience they were hoping to attract was proving elusive.
"We weren’t getting much traction," Robert said.
So Robert posted a video on YouTube advertising an accessory product Dottie had created, crystal eyeliners to go along with the lashes. The video showed off the eyeliners glinting in the sun, and Robert hoped it would simply educate people about the products.
What happened next, though, was completely unexpected. The video took off, with bloggers who write about cars decrying the carlashes as some sort of atrocity. Women, though, would jump in and defend the product. Carlashes had gone viral.
"It was very polarizing on these auto blogs," Robert said. "All this attention started coming back to the video."
Added Dottie: "It was literally overnight."
CNN got wind of the video soon after. The news organization was intrigued by the carlashes and featured the Small’s Park City-based company — called CarLashes — in a TV segment, launching it into the stratosphere.
"It went around the world, and that’s when we got this insane number of orders on our website," Robert said. "We didn’t any systems in place. We were kind of doing it one at a time, then we had this insane volume. We were running around like, ‘Oh my god,’ like chickens with our heads cut off."
Five years later, CarLashes has become adept at handling large orders because the enthusiasm surrounding their products has not dissipated. That was a concern as the initial publicity began to fade, but it turns out the type of people who adorn their car headlights with eyelashes are a loyal bunch.
"We didn’t know how it would go long-term," Robert said. "What we’ve discovered is that a lot of our customers are repeat customers. And a lot of our customers’ friends become customers. It’s like an extension of peoples’ personalities, so if a dog eats one of the lashes or something else happens to it, they feel like, ‘Oh my god, I’m incomplete. I need my lashes.’ It’s an interesting phenomenon. We didn’t have any idea that it would have legs like it does."
When it became clear that popularity of the lashes wasn’t going away, it was time to expand. CarLashes developed different colors and kinds of lashes, such as chrome, gold, light-up and glow-in-the-dark, as well as other accessory products. The company now offers items such as rear-view mirror pendants and crystal-studded mirror covers.
In addition, CarLashes is attempting to expand the kinds of stores in which its products are sold. They can currently be found nationwide in automotive shops like AutoZone and Pep Boys.
"We’re going after stores where there are more women," Robert said. "Automotive stores are a logical place to go go for car parts, but women don’t normally go there — they’re only, like, 20 percent of the customers in AutoZone. So we’re trying to make a push for Bed Bath & Beyond and Target and stores where a lot more women shop, so our natural customer sees it."
But marketing to CarLashes’ primary demographic has proven to be difficult. Dottie said some of the products elude easy categorization, so retailers are uncertain where to place them.
"Carlashes can go in automotive and beauty and gift and novelty and fashion," she said. "That poses a problem for buyers. When you’re an innovator, I guess that’s what happens."
But the challenges of marketing the products, one thing has remained clear: People want carlashes — so much so, in fact, that the company doesn’t even have a sales team because buyers come to them. Five years in, the Smalls don’t think that will change any time soon.
"If people are interested in it, and they get it," Dottie said, "they’re passionate. They just get it and they want to be involved."
For more information on CarLashes, visit carlashes.com.
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