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Standing out: Beauty leaders discuss how to survive — and stand out — in the beauty business

The founders and top executives of women-led beauty brands share their insights at a virtual roundtable.

Women are founding more beauty brands and rising to the top roles in companies once spearheaded mostly by men. 

Drug Store News wanted to hear from women in the beauty business, so we pulled together a group of both founders and executives in top roles at beauty firms for a virtual roundtable. Their responses were very illuminating.

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Psyche Terry, founder, 
Urban Hydration

Drug Store News: What was your journey into the beauty business?
Psyche Terry, founder, Urban Hydration: My husband Vontoba and I started Urban Hydration 10 years ago on a mission to create natural and clean personal care products that achieve stunning results while saving the world. After years of testing and investing in every remedy in the market for dry skin and hair, I made the conscious decision to offer something that not only can help myself and my family but that I can personally pick and mix what goes in it.

Joy Chen, co-founder and CEO, Pure Culture Beauty: My experience with my own skin journey inspired me to enter the beauty industry because I wanted to provide people with the necessary tools and knowledge to make their own decisions about which products they use on their skin. My time as the CEO of YesTo [Chen has 17 years’ experience in the business, including roles at Clorox and YesTo], where I spent five years building the brand to a natural skin care company, inspired me to take an entrepreneurial leap with my business partner, Victor Casale, to launch Pure Culture Beauty — a clean skin care brand that provides scientifically proven custom skin care to consumers.

[Read more: Beauty Product Spotlight: April 2022]

Mary van Praag, CEO, Milani Cosmetics: I’ve always had a passion for the beauty industry. I sold Avon in high school and then I pursued a career in CPG, which led me to key brands in beauty, such as Revlon, Coty and Perricone MD. Mass color is a favorite, with its balance between art/science, creativity and innovation.

Dametria Mustin Kinsley, global marketing vice president and head of diversity, equity and inclusivity, PDC Brands: When I first went natural, over 10 years ago, there weren’t many brands in the natural hair care sector and retailers didn’t really have much to offer, especially within a price point I could afford. As the saying goes, if you want to see change sometimes you must be the change.

Jessica Johnson, head of marketing, TruSkin
Jessica Johnson, head of marketing, TruSkin

Jessica Johnson, head of marketing, TruSkin: I started my career at The Hershey Company, and was drawn to the passion and excitement their consumers had for their brands. That passion from consumers is something I’ve prioritized in my career since. My next move was joining Burt’s Bees, where I was able to help lead the brand’s expansion into cosmetics and grow the skin care business as Burt’s Bees leaned into that category. I most recently joined TruSkin and was yet again drawn to the opportunity to be part of a brand with such loyal and passionate consumers, and I’m very excited to help continue to grow that.

Drug Store News: What pushed you as a founder to create your brand?
Sally Mueller, co-founder and CEO, Womaness: We [with co-founder Michelle Jacobs] spent decades devoting our brainpower and creativity to serving women at nearly every stage of their lives — career, marriage, pregnancy, kids. Michelle and I have several success stories incubating brands from scratch or building media brands into successful product brands. Versed, Who What Wear and Real Simple being a few examples. Being product creators is in our blood, and the creation of Womaness came from the most authentic place — our own personal stories.

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Lindsay Holden, co-founder, Odele Beauty

Drug Store News: What’s behind Odele Beauty’s clean hair care range? Where did you secure funding?
Lindsay Holden, co-founder, Odele Beauty: We’re natural problem solvers, and honestly, we wanted something that we couldn’t seem to find despite there being so much out there — so we made it. We self-funded at first, got as far as we could and then raised some capital through a friends and family round when it came time to needing a large amount of inventory to support a retail business award. 

Drug Store News: Fairy Tales Hair Care has had great success in building retail distribution. Any advice for nascent brands?
Abbie Mietz, COO, Fairy Tales Hair Care: Negotiating the contract is key. It is important for any brand to have established rules of engagement before you commit to distribution. The relationship between the retailer and the brand should include concessions from both sides whether it be to the terms, pricing, associated fees, door count, etc. Open communication is also necessary as you define the selling expectations on shelf and establish your marketing plans with the buyer.

[Read more: Beauty Product Spotlight: March 2022]

Drug Store News: Can others share advice in going from direct-to-consumer into big retailers?
Chen: When dealing with big chains, brands need to understand that each chain has things that are important to them and not all partnerships will be successful in the same way. Another major concern right now is the supply chain. Some brands often don’t consider the supply chain requirement when entering retail partnerships, and getting inventory in stock is the No. 1 necessity when wanting to work successfully with a big chain.

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Sally Mueller, co-founder and CEO, Womaness

Mueller: The biggest challenges are all of the external challenges you don’t always anticipate — for example, raising money just as COVID shut the world down or supply chain issues as a result of COVID and global economic issues. Also, the challenges to getting ads approved by Facebook despite being approved by regulatory attorneys. The challenges are constantly happening.  

Brands need to know the level of investment needed to be successful with big chains. Plan to invest over $1 million in capital to cover inventory, marketing and talent. Timing is everything; it might be better to wait to enter a retailer — make them really want you so you have more leverage.

Holden: Launching a brand in January 2020, weeks before a global pandemic has been our biggest challenge. What we all thought would impact a few weeks turned into a few years, and we’re still dealing with the mess that it has caused. We’re still working remotely, oftentimes with our children home from school. We’ve had delays and challenges in operations like we’ve never seen. What used to take a month to secure now takes six months at best, so we’ve had to get creative with what, how, when we source things like packaging to ensure we can keep products in stock.

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Mary van Praag, CEO, Milani Cosmetics

van Praag: This past year, challenges have remained in the global supply chain. We have worked on our safety stock requirements, global demand forecast and classified our assortment. In partnership with our key suppliers, we have managed through and prioritized key SKUs.

Big chains are an important vehicle to the consumer, making products readily available in channels consumers shop most often. Each retailer wants a point of difference, and we find unique ways to be relevant. Milani is also investing behind breakthrough marketing to drive trips and conversion to build strong productivity for the category. Brick-and-mortar is a place where consumers find and discover Milani. 

Drug Store News: Anyone care to share some mistakes they’ve made along the way or lessons learned?
Holden: We misspelled the word “perfect” on the front of one of our packages at the time of launch. With the launch of the brand, we scrubbed every detail of everything, but we totally didn’t see it. In hindsight, I like that it happened — it serves as a good reminder that despite our best efforts, mistakes happen, and that’s OK. No one is “pefect.”

Joy Chen, co-founder and CEO, Pure Culture Beauty
Joy Chen, co-founder and CEO, Pure Culture Beauty

Chen: One lesson that I’ve learned is to never launch a product that the consumer doesn’t want. There’s often a lot of pressure on brands to launch products that might be “trendy” to keep up with consumers, but it’s even more important to listen to the needs and wants of your specific audience to launch products that they’re actually looking for in addition to products that are different from what’s already out there. 

Terry: No one tells you when you leave your job of over 25 years together in corporate America because you feel “called and led” to do something better and something different, how difficult it would be. We’ve been full of ideas from the very start, and, in fact, it’s allowed us to be first to market before lots of the bigger box brands have been. 

We went after plant-based natural care 10 years ago when it was just an idea in the actual grocery aisle. I think my biggest mistake was not telling our story louder, faster. We’ve used incremental growth and crested loyal customers over the years that have followed us from four stores to now 32,000 stores across the country. But I think we could have made an impact faster and wider had I understood the power of investors and raising money to support a big, fresh idea.

Dametria Mustin Kinsley headshot
Dametria Mustin Kinsley, global marketing vice president and head of diversity, equity and inclusivity, PDC Brands

Drug Store News: We are now into the second quarter of 2022. How is business?
Kinsley: As a brand we have seen a large interest in consumers ordering online due to the pandemic, but there are still a lot of consumers who want that in-store shopping experience. Just like the world has evolved, so have we as a brand. We are in the process of changing both our digital footprint as well as our on-shelf presence to make it easier for consumers to navigate our portfolio to better customize Cantu for their hair type and texture. This omnichannel world is not going anywhere, so it’s important more now than ever to serve our consumer whether they are scrolling or strolling. 

Johnson: Business is good! Something we’ve seen from skin care enthusiasts is that COVID caused many to lean into skin care as a way to prioritize their health and practice self-care. As a brand that started on Amazon, we’re continuing to see growth in that channel, and are excited to be expanding distribution in brick-and-mortar stores as more people return to in-person shopping!

Abbie Mietz, COO, Fairy Tales Hair Care
Abbie Mietz, COO, Fairy Tales Hair Care

Mietz: After COVID shut down the nation in 2020, FTHC was able to capitalize on our online business as well as the entire product offering. Our omnichannel strategy allowed us to provide an outlet for our consumers to continue to shop our brand online and at retailers that stayed open during COVID.

Now we are seeing a trend that would suggest parents are coming back to stores. We will continue to serve our customers with an omnichannel solution. During the past three months, FTHC has increased distribution of our other collections into retail by over 8,000 doors in Walgreens, CVS, Ulta and H-E-B to name a few. This will allow the customers who found products from the other collections online to have more retail availability for immediate purchase.

van Praag: Business is “on fire” and we have outperformed the category in all periods. Our momentum and productivity improvements are strong.

We see traffic improving in brick-and-mortar. Consumers want a moment of joy and beauty brings that.

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