Barry Mero: Dial M for make-up

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Barry Mero has been wowing women with his reasonably priced and unashamedly sparkly beautyproducts for years. Rebecca Gonsalves meets him

Despite having been the head of cult cosmetics company Barry M for 30 years, Barry Mero is something of a man of mystery. So much so that when I meet him at his north London headquarters he jokes: "They do ask me if I write the songs," in reference to that other famous Barry – Mr Manilow.

At first glance, Mero, a smartly turned out 66-year-old, has none of the flamboyance of the performer. Once he starts talking, however, an old-school charm becomes apparent. Born in Dalston, east London, Mero's upbringing was working class but not poor. His mother was a stallholder on the Ridley Road market – the garden plots at the front of his home were cemented over to become part of the bustling marketplace. At the age of 16, Mero began selling hairspray and cosmetics there before setting up his own shops in Dalston and Brixton. Ever the entrepreneur, he spotted a disparity between the outlandish fashions of the time and the more conservative make-up that was available.

"I wanted to be innovative. I wanted to have different products that were more glitzy and sparkly. I wanted to be more fun and wacky. One of our biggest sellers was black nail polish – and still is – because nobody else did it."

And so, in 1982, Mero's first products – nail polish in 72 colours and dazzle dust, a finely milled glitter – went into production. "In those days I would do everything," he says.

"We used to mix dazzle dust on the kitchen table, it was a fun item that everybody liked because there was nothing else like it. I was always quite good with colour – everybody had nail polish, so we called ours nail paint just to be different."

More recently Barry M was the first brand to introduce crackle-effect nail polishes to the UK market. The bestseller tapped in to the re-emerging appetite for nail art, at "pocket money prices".

"We never wanted to serve the nail studios," explains Mero. "The girls can do it themselves and can afford it."

Keeping cost down is important to the brand: cheap items attract a loyal customer base, from teenage girls who experiment with the huge range of products to women who want to find just the right shade of nail colour.

Despite the price, there is little snobbery about Barry M. The nail polishes are as likely to be featured in a tabloid newspaper as a glossy magazine , not least because of the reliable quality of the formulations.

"It's partly so cheap because it is manufactured here," says Mero. "And partly because that's the way we want it to be. I want to work on a smaller margin. People think that because it's cheap it's no good – that's nonsense. Other companies are expensive because they want to be, because they want to make massive margins. I've never worked that way."

Though he began by selling from his own market stall and shops, Mero's success really started when he was taken on by Superdrug.

"They were very good to me, but it got to a stage where I became a one-trick pony. If Superdrug said 'bye, I've had enough', I'd be in trouble. So I went in to Boots, which nearly took our hand off to take it."

"Most people love Barry M – and I'm not talking about me!" he jokes. "They think it's fun. Barry M is a successful brand and we've recently had some enquiries from people who want to buy it. Thanks, but no thanks – we're just not interested."

Barry M HQ houses Mero's distribution and development departments in offices upstairs, while downstairs the bright lotions, potions and powders are produced in an on-site factory.

"We don't have a lot of staff, but we move very, very quickly," says Mero. "There really are only a few of us to make the decisions and they're not difficult."

Mero's son Dean, who spent his summer holidays working in the warehouse, officially took the reins as managing director in 2004, and is in charge of expanding the company beyond the UK.

"I've always been in the business," he says. "New colours were tested on my sister Joanna, and – when she wasn't there – me. Thirty years later nothing has really changed, I wear less make-up, but the essence of the company is still there."

It is clear that the Barry M brand is a great source of pride for the family. "I enjoy it, there's so much passion here," Dean says. "I think that's why we're so successful. Half the population is our market, and the drag queen community really like our products too. There's so much to do, we're only scraping the surface." That may be the case but affection for Barry M's products runs deep.

Barry M is available nationwide

Barry's brights

Nail paint in Mint Green and Acid Yellow, both £2.99; liquid eyeliner in black and electric blue, both £4.79; nail paint in Cherry Red, £2.99; all by Barry M, available nationwide

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
News
i100(More than you think)
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
News
i100
News
people
News
Tony Blair and David Cameron side by side in 2006
people
News
news

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney 'denied all knowledge' of the Twitter activity

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst

    £20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

    h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Executive - Software

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + 55,000 OTE + benifits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Software Sa...

    Argyll Scott International: 2x Service Desk Analyst

    £20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

    Langley James : IT Project Manager; 6 month FTC; Brighton; £400p/d

    £400 - £420 per day: Langley James : IT Project Manager; 6 month FTC; Brighton...

    Day In a Page

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?