Bondi Sands co-founder opens up on $450 million sale to Japanese beauty giant

Entrepreneurs

Australians love a good, healthy tan, and nobody knows that more than Bondi Sands co-founder and CEO Shaun Wilson. The company, which controls more than half of the Australian self-tan market, has been acquired by Japanese-owned multinational, Kao Group, for almost $450 million.
Bondi Sands co-founder and CEO Shaun Williams is celebrating his company's $450 million sale to Japanese company Kao Group | Image: supplied

Wilson told Forbes Australia‘s, Jane Lindhe, that he’s been in discussions with Kao for a couple of months and believes the group is best placed to expand the company’s reach in research and development and new global markets.

“I always say there’s two kinds of partners: there’s a transactional partner and a transformational partner and Kao is definitely transformational. They have a huge focus on protecting and saving lives through skin health and … self-tan and UV, and to have a partner like that to really unlock the potential growth in R&D and new markets is really exciting.”

Currently, Bondi Sands – which is set to report annual revenue of $190 million for 2023 – is by far the most popular self-tanning product in Australia and its SPF product range has become a leading sun-care product both locally and in the UK, with sales increasing by 100% year-on-year and the range “fast approaching double-digit market share” in both countries. This year, the company, which has around 120 employees globally, is on track to sell 18 million products.

Wilson, who had a corporate background working for RACV resorts, founded Bondi Sands in 2012 with co-founder Blair James after they saw a niche for a salon-grade self-tanning product that could be purchased in the supermarkets for under $20. The pair occasionally copped flack for being two corporate men entering a mainly female market, but Wilson says they shrugged of the criticism.

“We saw it first-hand with our girlfriends how these products [spray tans] transfer to the sheets and towels, so we thought we had an advantage in terms of product development and quality,” he says. “Back then we were experts in postage, warehousing and logistics – everything.”

Going global was critical

Expanding Bondi Sands’ reach beyond Australia has always been a priority, Wilson says. Currently, the brand is sold in 95 countries.

But achieving global growth has come at a cost. Wilson says he’s spent close to 50% of his time overseas over the past six years marketing the product.

“You can’t expect to live in Sydney or Melbourne or anywhere in Australia and expect it is going to work overseas,” he says. “Blair and I travelled extensively. We would live in the UK for 6 months at a time. You need to understand the consumer and the retail framework in those countries … you can’t do that by sitting in Australia.”

Its year-on-year growth in North America and Europe of 39% and 30% respectively has led it to employing around 60 staff in the regions and counting. Bondi Sands products are currently stocked in more than 40,000 stores worldwide and will soon add the world’s largest retailer, Walmart, to its stockists.  

Wilson says Bondi Sands sun-care range is “fast approaching double digit market share” in Australia and the UK”.

“We have so many growth levers and right now we are just really scratching the surface [in terms of expansion]” Wilson says.

Bondi Sands co-founders Shaun Williams and Blaire James | Source: supplied
Nothing comes without hard work

Wilson says that while his company’s growth might be considered fast by corporate standards, nothing is successful without sacrifice and hard work.

“My advice for entrepreneurs is that if you make an effort with your customers, if you make an effort with your staff and your consumers, success will come,” he says. “But you can’t do it by sitting in your own environment, you have to go out and experience the global market.”


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