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The Imperative of Scale and Finding Growth in Volatile Times

Published June 30, 2024
Published June 30, 2024

The first panel to kick off the afternoon program at FUTURE50 focused on navigating the highs and lows of creating a business for the long haul. While the barriers to entry for the beauty industry are low, maintaining, scaling, and sustainably growing a brand is far more challenging. Every year, the beauty industry attracts a new slew of bright-eyed beauty entrepreneurs, but many don’t make the cut further down the line. According to the Small Business Administration, only 50% of small businesses survive past the five-year mark. John Cafarelli, BeautyMatter President, spoke to three strong-willed and resourceful female brand founders—Christine Chang, of Glow Recipe, Andrea Lisbona of Touchland, and Beatrice Dixon of The Honey Pot—about how they achieved profitability and sustained growth.

Cafarelli spoke to them about their unique beginnings, none of which involved outside investment. Chang recalls the importance of consumer education. “There was a lot of interest in skincare at the time, but it was seen as a chore. Delivering value to the community through an educational view, our concepts were focused on education like the 60-second cleanse, which was universal to any product and skincare routine,” she says. Lisbona highlighted the importance of aligned partnerships, noting, “When we launched in 2018, we knew we had to build a brand for the people. We started as DTC, but you have to go to retail when the right time comes. You need to understand your audience and why they buy your product. We partnered with Ulta in 2018, and sold out in the first two weeks. It’s about the right time and right partners to build a system for growth.” Dixon, who worked full-time during the early days of The Honey Pot, explains how working in brokering and a natural food start-up equipped her with the skills to talk to buyers. “The benefit of having a job while building a business is because when business gets going, it will feel like multiple jobs. It teaches you discipline,” she states.

When asked if they would still be able to build their brands in today’s highly competitive landscape with the same “capital light” strategy, Chang explains that while constructing a community on today’s platforms is different, connection with the consumer is not. Lisbona says that an authentic brand will find the tools to help it grow. Dixon explains that The Honey Pot used trade shows and farmers markets in the early days and didn’t start with a marketing budget until the last couple of years thanks to a strong and real customer. She said most would be surprised to find out how small their budget is.

When asked to reflect on the watershed moment in their scale-up journey, the answers ranged from a viral Target commercial for The Honey Pot—in which Dixon stated that it was important for other young Brown girls to see success was possible—resulting in backlash but also the brand’s customers coming in droves to support the company by buying up entire shelves of product—to a relocation to the US for Touchland and Glow Recipe’s watermelon mask going viral in 2017 with an anonymous Dew You campaign. “It spoke to the fact that your brand values don’t have to be separate from commercial activity,” Chang added.

“You only get one shot with a retailer; select it carefully."
By Andrea Lisbona, Founder, Touchland

From those breakout moments came the need for growing distribution, specifically  through one of the Big 5 retailers in the US. Reflecting on their strategies, Chang recalls how moonlight advising Sephora led to a partnership, and the importance of inspiring partners with your love of beauty, not desire for margins, showing the unique value you can bring as a partner by having real and honest conversations. “Also your operations department has to be strong; it is one of the biggest things people miss during expansion,” she informed the audience.

“You only get one shot with a retailer; select it carefully. Being fully integrated from when we were small meant we were able to launch in 6,000 doors with a 14-people strong team,” Lisbona says. “Post IOS update, customer acquisition is more expensive. Retail is a great opportunity for any brand but don’t take it lightly. You have to be ready for it.” Dixon states: “Stay ready for the opportunity when it comes.” She emphasizes the importance of powerful partners to help with the operational and financial challenges that come with growth.

All three brands ended up securing outside capital eventually: The Honey Pot from New Voices Fund in 2018, Touchland with a Kickstarter campaign and later VC sources in 2020, and Glow Recipe with North Castle Partners in 2021. As they continue to prosper, new start-ups and disruptors are entering the space. When asked about remaining relevant amid the rising competition, all three emphasize the importance of staying true to your guiding principles and brand values while pushing innovation, rather than getting distracted by the competition.

Key Takeaways

  • Deliver value to your community through an educational view. Understand your audience and why they buy your product.
  • Enter retail at the right time and with the right partner. Don’t underestimate the operational challenges of entering retail and make sure you have a strong team to accommodate the needs of that next chapter.
  • You don’t need a huge marketing budget to create an audience. Utilize the strength of word-of-mouth, trade shows, in-person events, and online virality. A strong and real customer base will help build your brand, even if funds for marketing activations are low.
  • When it comes to building partnerships, be that with retailers or customers, your job as a brand founder is to inspire them. Emphasize what you can offer that no one else does; what value you can offer to them.
  • Remain relevant while competing with new start-ups by staying true to your brand vision. Keep ahead of the curve through innovation and don't get caught up in what your competitors are doing. Continuously up the ante, but make sure it is your ante.

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