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Virtual roundtable: Women beauty leaders discuss the category

DSN hosted a virtual roundtable with several female beauty industry leaders in the mass beauty world to discuss how their businesses have adapted over the past year.

Recently, women have ascended to top-level roles in the mass market industry. 

On the retail side, the roster of female leaders includes Heyward Donigan (Rite Aid), Roz Brewer (Walgreens), Karen Lynch (CVS Health), Christina Hennington (Target), Michelle Gass (Kohl’s) and recently Maly Bernstein (Bluemercury). 

More beauty brands are also piloted by women in top roles, such as Debra Perelman at Revlon, Coty’s Sue Nabi and Alex Keith of Procter & Gamble. Many emerging indie brands have women founders as well. 

Here, DSN questioned several female beauty industry leaders in the mass beauty world to discuss how their businesses have adapted over the past year, what’s ahead and how being a woman has been beneficial to understanding their primary consumer. 

The virtual panel included:

  • Nancy Duitch, chief strategy officer at CURE Pharmaceutical and founder and CEO of Sera Labs;
  • Psyche Terry, founder of Urban Hydration;
  • Yamit Sadok, senior director of marketing at Twinlab, maker of Reserveage;
  • Donda Mullis, co-founder and chief marketing officer at Raw Sugar Living;
  • Rochelle Graham-Campbell, founder of Alikay Naturals, HER by Alikay Naturals;
  • Shannon Curtin, CEO of New World Natural Brands;
  • Alicia Yoon, founder and CEO of Peach & Lily; and
  • Sonia Summers, founder and CEO of Beauty Barrage and founder and CEO of Shielded Beauty.
a woman smiling for the camera
Nancy Duitch, chief strategy officer at CURE Pharmaceutical and founder and CEO of Sera Labs

DSN: What were the challenges you had to overcome over the past year for your business? 

Nancy Duitch: Everything took longer and was more complicated to deal with at almost every business touchpoint because everyone was working remotely, and it did not allow for the creative collaboration that we were used to executing on. We of course used Zoom, but nothing replaces being in a room with your team brainstorming ideas and coming up with solutions for our customers.  

[Read More: Q&A: Reserveage Nutrition wants to aid beauty, inside and out]

a woman posing for a picture
Donda Mullis, co-founder and chief marketing officer at Raw Sugar Living

Donda Mullis: As an essentials provider, we felt personally responsible to provide as many people as possible with our personal care products. We are honored to work with such an incredible team of talented individuals who rallied around our mission to help people. Each employee put in the time, effort and commitment to support all our retail partners in shipping our hand sanitizers, liquid soaps and other personal cleansing products to millions of people in a timely way. 

We were reminded how important it is to not only build a strong supply chain, but to also diversify it so that we can quickly address resource shortages and quickly pivot accordingly. We also learned that with fast business growth, companies can often lose sight of who they are and the core values they represent. Therefore, we doubled down on making sure our employees felt safe and appreciated, and that our values of always leading with love, purpose and by example are reflected in everything we do — from our product innovation and packaging to our corporate culture and community giveback.

There have also been serious supply chain issues on packaging, raw ingredients and bottles, which everyone is experiencing and, while we are working through these issues, there are no simple fixes. Our direct-to-consumer business has flourished and grown exponentially while our retail business did not do as well because the products we had on the store shelves at the time are not considered essential commoditized products. We pivoted during this time and now have products shipping to retailers that will be considered essential.

a woman smiling for the camera
Yamit Sadok, senior director of marketing at Twinlab, maker of Reserveage

DSN: Pre-purchasing and longer lead times are something we are hearing frequently with nagging supply chain issues. Yamit, can you comment?

Yamit Sadok: There is no question that the biggest challenge we experienced was within our global supply chain. COVID wreaked havoc on sourcing packaging components [e.g., bottles and lids], raw materials and corrugate for shipping. We also saw transportation challenges and delays, as well as higher prices for everything from components to transportation. These challenges forced us to problem solve together as a management team to source new materials, new packaging suppliers, different componentry and new ways to continue getting our products to consumers. One benefit to this process was the consideration of alternative forms of nutrients. We were able to improve the bioavailability of two minerals in one of our key formulations, so we were able to turn lemons into lemonade. 

a person posing for the camera
Rochelle Graham-Campbell, founder of Alikay Naturals, HER by Alikay Naturals

DSN: Rochelle, can you encapsulate some of the things you learned over the past 18 months?

Rochelle Graham-Campbell: There is no denying that consumer buying habits are forever changed largely due to the pandemic. 

This also implies that the needs and demands of our consumer market will be significantly impacted too. We recognized this early on and realized swift alterations were required. Innovation has always been the key to overcoming challenges at Black Onyx World LLC. Bringing about innovation in our design, our messaging and our concepts helped to overcome a challenging year posed by the pandemic.

Lessons learned: 

  • Anticipate: Prior to the pandemic, we have always had great relationships with our secondary vendors. Many of our primary vendors ran out of inventory, so we were able to rely on our secondary vendors;
  • Forecast: Forecasting is crucial because you never know what obstacles your vendors could be facing, which can further impact your own operations;
  • Adapt: We were creative and substituted where necessary. Whether the bottle top looked different or the bottle shape was different, it didn’t matter; and 
  • Communicate: You must be fully transparent with all parties involved in your operations. We made sure we constantly communicated processes with our customers, and business and retail partners. 
Alicia Yoon posing for the camera
Alicia Yoon, founder and CEO of Peach & Lily

DSN: What’s the report card as we enter the last few months of the year? How is business? 

Alicia Yoon: Business is going well. E-commerce continues to remain strong, and we’re excited that our partnership with Ulta and CVS is only growing as our brands continue to scale even more within these partnerships as well. While business is going well, 2021 is still a challenging year because it’s now year two of the pandemic and things are certainly not “back to normal,” so we continue to have to stay flexible, creative and wise about how to manage through remote work, supply chain delays and unpredictability.   

Sadok: I’d give us an A, but I always feel there are more efficiencies, insights and key learnings that we can capitalize on, which will allow us to experience greater growth. We’ve been able to successfully move forward with new channel strategies and expansion into new categories with innovation while maintaining and increasing sales on our existing products. We made huge investments in completing our inner and outer beauty offering with our collagen supplements and now pairing it with our pro-collagen booster skin care lineup for our premium women’s brand, Reserveage. These products are aligned with the wellness trend that is reshaping the way personal care products are formulated, marketed and used.

[Read More: Beauty breaks into the vitamin aisle]

a woman smiling for the camera
Sonia Summers, founder and CEO of Beauty Barrage and founder and CEO of Shielded Beauty

Sonia Summers: Business is great, we are back to 2019 numbers, so I can’t complain. For Shielded Beauty, we have two major launches coming up and we are confident that they will be successful. Retail is definitely bouncing back; we have seen the rise since the beginning of the year — holiday will be great.

Duitch: Fortunately, business is booming for Sera Labs. We have worked with our retail partners as well as our advertising team to really promote our non-CBD products and bring awareness to the Sera Labs brands. We’ve executed global advertising campaigns for our new, clean, plant-based skin care line, Seratopical Revolution, that was developed with the help of our strategic business partner and global brand ambassador, Nicole Kidman, and includes our cutting edge, proprietary patented delivery system. Nicole has had a huge impact in our branding and product sales, allowing Sera Labs to grow into a well-known brand. 

Psychelia Terry in a blue shirt
Psyche Terry, founder of Urban Hydration

Psyche Terry: Since last year, Urban Hydration has seen triple-digit sales growth at our retailers. For example, sales in our facial cleanser category have increased 154% from last year while sales of our facial lotions and creams have jumped to a record 285%.

Mullis: Business has steadily grown as our team continues to deliver to our retailer partners, such as Target, Kroger, Sally Beauty and more, at over 98%, ensuring our products are consistently on the shelves when needed — not only in store but online as well. Our new 2021 launches have proven to be winners: Raw Sugar Kids Hair and Bath Care have exceeded benchmarks as well as our “new to market” sustainable deodorants. We are thrilled to see longtime advocates of our brand, as well as a recent surge in a new consumer base; so excited about our recent product launches. 

DSN: There are more women with top spots at retailers now, and as a woman leader, what do you see as synergies since so many shoppers are women?

Yoon: Oh, it’s everything. It’s so fundamental to be able to relate to your end consumer in every way. There’s data and then there’s truly understanding their thought process and life events, such as pregnancy as an example. Major life events can profoundly impact how you contemplate products and what you look for. I don’t take it as a foregone conclusion that every retailer truly and deeply understands their shopper.  

Summers: When I started in the industry, I used to wonder why most of the senior management were male. I love how it has changed. I think the synergies we are seeing come in the form of new product development — women know what women want, right? A great example is the sexual wellness and the menopausal categories. I also see it in the package design and what we like to display, ease of use and of course sustainably. Last but not least, we market and communicate with the consumer. 

Terry: As a female founder and CEO in the beauty industry, I strive to be a “better maker” in my work. Urban Hydration was founded to create better products for dry skin and hair with more transparent ingredients. I think these fundamental values continue to be key to women shopping today, maybe even more so given the current situation with COVID-19. Women are actively seeking to support female-founded brands, but also brands that align with their core values, which is very important to Urban Hydration. With the focus on brands that are ethical and offering clean products with good-for-you ingredients, now more than ever it’s important that Urban Hydration is able to remain accessible and available to these women and their families.

Duitch: As a women-owned company, we feel that we can relate to our female consumers best because we have gone through all the same problems and issues that they have. The fact is that we have the empathy and understanding as to what our customers are looking for; therefore, we have a better chance at delivering what they want and need. 

We also know it’s critical to develop relationships with our customers. Our diverse marketing team consists of a variety of age ranges as well as those coming from different backgrounds. We understand what a 20-year-old wants, differs from a more mature consumer. Then the strategy is how do we market to multiple demographics, which our team excels at. The critical component for us is to make sure that when our consumer makes a purchase, they continue to reorder, and you can only be successful by delivering products that yield results and are solution oriented.

Shannon Curtin smiling for the camera
Shannon Curtin, CEO of New World Natural Brands

Sadok: Women drive 70% to 80% of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence, so there are definite synergies there. This is particularly true for our Reserveage brand. I am so proud to be overseeing our innovation, public relations and retail marketing strategy. Our brand is led and run by women that are widely diverse.  

Shannon Curtin: Diversity of leadership in all dimensions is happening right now, and I could not be more thrilled to see benefits of those changes happening in real time. When top leadership on both sides become aligned to what is most important in the business, the synergies become realized within the business quite quickly. For example, what is most important to me is that we collectively ensure that those who shop in store, online and/or in a professional setting have an unparalleled experience of excellent service. 

Additionally, when both parties are aligned around their collective responsibility in treating the guest/member/customer/client/team member and planet with dignity and respect, that creates loyalty and long-lasting business benefits. Diversity at the top allows for new and exciting changes for shoppers across all channels.

Graham-Campbell: When it comes to the shopping experience, women are usually the key decision makers for the family. As a woman, CEO, mom, wife and consumer myself, I understand the importance of an easy and convenient shopping experience. Convenience is a focus of our brands. We are a lifestyle brand and have products for the entire family. We are a one-stop shop.

[Read More: 2021 Top Women panelists discuss bringing gender equity to the industry]

DSN: What are your goals for 2022? Will supply chain issues carry over into the next year?

Mullis: On the supply chain side, we have created accurate 12-month forecasts, which help us to anticipate potential roadblocks and plan accordingly. We invest a lot of time into being able to more accurately predict the right amount of on-hand stock and purchase order limits so that our supply chain is always at optimal levels. We have diversified our vendors, knowing sometimes that our plan B might need to become our A game.

Curtin: If you are in business, you have supply chain issues. And yes, they will carry over in 2022. We plan to grow again next year, and as such we have taken our supply chain challenges into account for next year. The cost of the increases we have experienced and time to produce is still twice as long as pre-COVID. My advice to those in the budgeting process: It will take longer and cost more in 2022, so be mindful of these facts in order to honor your commitments to your partners. 

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