a story of taking chance
By: Lou McClung, Owner and Creator of Lusso Cosmetics
The journey to Lusso started three decades ago. As a 16 year old, I was living on my own while completing high school. A number of special teachers, friends, and mentors helped me get through some tough times. They also taught me about photography, art, and accountability – helping me realize a passion which led to my life’s work, and helping me become a man. I started a photography business, and ended up teaching myself how to apply to makeup simply to help people look better in the photos I took. From there, I also spent some time doing theatrical makeup, helping me refine my craft with a particularly demanding audience.
When I was 21, the economy and my photography studio hit hard times. Fortunately in addition to my passion for art and photography, I had always been able to build and fix things. I took a job as a handy man working on steam boilers and making building repairs for over two dozen commercial buildings. It was hard work – sometimes satisfying, sometimes incredibly humbling, particularly when I was making repairs for tenants who were photographers that had once been my competition. Although this was admirable work, I realized it not my calling. One night I shared with a friend that I just wanted do makeup and nothing else. In another stroke of incredible fortune, she gave me a small loan and shared her time and knowledge with me – helping me learn the basics of management and business finances.
Coming home at night from my handyman job, tired and messy from whatever I was working on that day, I got re-energized by working to shape my dream of a cosmetics business. Nearly every day I took another step towards my passion. After countless hours and false starts, I finally was ready to package my own line of makeup. Lusso Cosmetics was born! I built my business with the help of many of the same tenants I previously served as a handyman – a number of sign makers, cabinetry shops, and packaging companies on the West Side of Cleveland. I was amazed by the number of people who offered help.
I began to supplement my handyman work with makeup parties, inviting groups of women to the loft that I built downtown. In an attempt to get more visibility, I called a local reporter (repeatedly), asking him to do a story about my work and products. After some convincing he stopped by the studio. We had a great conversation and he seemed impressed. He introduced me to another writer who published a story about Lusso Cosmetics. While at work after the article was published I called my answering machine (remember those?) It rewound for a LONG time. I was delighted to discover that it was filled with messages from women all over Cleveland that wanted to come and see me for makeup help.
That response convinced me I could not work one more day as a handyman. I found a storefront and handed the landlord my last $500. I charged building materials on my credit card and put my carpentry skills to work, creating a store that looked just like the one I envisioned in my head. I slept in my store for the next 11 years – across two different locations – always using proceeds from the business to grow and to make Lusso better for my customers.
Seeing the business boost from the newspaper article, I decided to call a local television station every week, trying to get on air to share some makeup tips. I was turned down for months, but one lucky day was told there was a cancellation. I could go on air – as long as I could be there and ready the next morning. Despite my nerves, I think my knowledge and passion came through. Immediately after the segment, the station’s phones started ringing. People wanted my phone number so they could visit my showroom! After that initial segment I have had a chance visit the show on a more regular basis. While these shows continually force me to come up with new tips and applications, I am thrilled to get a chance to share my passion for makeup and introduce more people to Lusso.
As I worked with more customers, I realized I needed more control over my brand. I re-taught myself the relevant portions of high school chemistry and became an R&D scientist. I began experimenting with cosmetic formulations in my kitchen. I wanted to prove to myself that I could actually make color cosmetics. After months of trial and error, I had some successes, gained confidence, and found a mentor. With guidance, I acquired some used equipment and built my own production facility and laboratory. We have been design and making Lusso products in house ever since. We are the only company making our very own makeup products in the Cleveland area. Over the years we have added to our product line, continually improving the performance and value of our offerings. I’m proud to control every aspect of the Lusso brand, as it means we don’t to have to compromise.
I would summarize the Lusso Cosmetics story as one of good fortune and gratitude. I am grateful for all the people who helped me – taking a chance on me and providing support during the early days of pursuing my passion. I’m grateful that some media members took an interest in my story and helped me spread the word about Lusso. I’m grateful to truly love my craft, so that coming to work often doesn’t feel like work. I am grateful to be part of the Lakewood and greater Cleveland communities, running all aspects of a local business. And I am particularly grateful for the relationships I have with loyal customers who have built the Lusso brand. I am grateful to see their smiles, and get a chance to make those smiles a little more beautiful, helping them prepare for special events in their lives, and helping them to always look their best.