Eight Beauty Brands Reflect On Challenges They Faced During The Holiday Shopping Season

The holidays can be hectic even when you’re not running an indie beauty brand. Factor in handling Black Friday deals, Cyber Monday shipping issues and the Boxing Day rush—and you’ve got a very stressful season for small business owners. Beauty Independent spoke to eight beauty brand founders and executives about the challenges they’ve faced during the holidays, lessons learned from their experiences, how to set expectations for the important sales period and preparing for the next holiday season as soon as possible.

Tony Nakhla, board certified dermatologist and founder of Eighth Day Skincare

“An interesting thing happened during Black Friday/Cyber Monday. My digital team thought that offering bundled savings and deep discounts would increase our new customer roster. It did, to a limited degree. However, what mostly occurred was existing customers essentially stocked up on several months’ worth of product, creating a relative burnout of repeat sales for December and into Q1. It was reassuring to see the tremendous loyalty and love for our products that existing customers exhibited through these mass quantity purchases, but we won’t offer those programs again as it is unsustainable for the brand.”

Eighth Day holiday shopping
Eighth Day Skincare went through its first holiday shopping season in 2018.

Suzanne LeRoux, founder and president, One Love Organics

“The most difficult in the beginning was projecting what would sell to direct consumers and our retailers, and being prepared with both raw material inventory and packaging. The second year we were in business, we had a retailer order several thousand units of mini Skin Savior balms, and we did not have time to order additional packaging. That was truly painful. We did miss the sale of several thousand products that holiday season. We did get the sale the next year and were able to have time to prepare, but we missed it the first year.”

“The good news is that they gave us more time and placed an order for the next holiday season much earlier the next year, but that opportunity was sorely missed by our team, especially with it being so early in the business. With each passing year, my projections are more on target, but there are surprises every year. I learned to have some products available in larger quantities so I could at least offer a viable alternative versus totally losing a sale. But, each year, I continue to be surprised about what sells each year and what the retailers sell versus what we sell directly on our site. It’s always interesting.”

Natalie Sischy, vice president of sales and operations, Province Apothecary

“The most challenging part of business during the holidays is managing our overall increase in demand. It’s the busiest time of year for the business. We see about 50% more demand. When we first started, we underestimated the increase in orders during the holiday season and the challenge of urgent shipping deadlines. In 2015, we found that we did not allow enough time to make the products to meet our demands and had to hire staff to help complete orders. This experience prompted us to reflect on the process and develop a more sustainable approach. We now start pre-planning at the beginning of the calendar year and solidify holiday plans around the summer. This includes everything from the holiday limited-edition products we plan to offer and bring to market, forecasting inventory needs and required personnel. We now have a better handle on pre-planning for the anticipated lift at holiday time, so we can focus on enjoying this special time of year”

Holiday Shopping One Love Organics Kelli Boyd Photography
During its second year in business, One Love Organics missed out on the sales of several thousand units of its mini Skin Savior balms because the brand didn’t have enough time to order additional packaging.

Andy Hnilo, founder, Alitura Naturals

“The number-one thing for me is that family time will be different. Sitting anxiously at Thanksgiving dinner thinking about our A/B email testing for Black Friday’s email, wondering if the subject will get caught in spam, open rates…You better believe my mind is elsewhere. And, honestly, it affects me in my favorite time of the year around the people I rarely see. Work-life balance is something I am definitely looking to improve. It is a big struggle for me. It’s a pretty big thrill for me to own a business, and I am always ‘on,’ which is not necessarily a great thing. It is very hard for me to detach myself. I am working on letting go a bit, and getting out more and connecting with my friends.”

“Another thing is to keep in mind how limited the availability is with ingredient suppliers, manufacturers and, most importantly, our fulfillment center. My best advice is to stock up before the first week of November. And I don’t mean shipped by the beginning of November. I mean having whatever stock you project to sell, available and ready to go. Often you are stuck in a queue of hundreds of other brands, and we learned that the hard way this past year. The worst thing is having items purchased as gifts and having to explain to the customer that, unfortunately, it won’t be on time.

“An unfortunate example of this was when we had to wait 10 days for our Gold Serum to get back in stock. What we did was follow up with a heartfelt email explaining the craftsmanship of our products, and how they were carefully getting handmade as fast as possible out in beautiful Oahu, Hawaii, and would be sent out as soon as we can. The best way to remedy a situation like that is through communication, transparency and generosity. We offered a coupon code or, in some cases, a sample of a product that the customer was interested in trying. For the most part, our customers were extremely understanding of our situation and, hey, sometimes out of stock due to high demand can create a bit of excitement for the customer.”

Paula Hayes, founder, Hue Noir

“I underestimated the magnitude of the holiday season. Sure, I knew we’d be busy planning and promoting special holiday season products designed especially for multicultural women, managing Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, and encouraging people to find those last-minute gift ideas among our full line of thoughtfully-formulated cosmetics. That’s a lot of work in and of itself. What I hadn’t considered was what it meant to do all of that as a business owner at the end of my fiscal year. I remember thinking, ‘You mean to tell me I am supposed to analyze this year so I can plan next year, run financial projections, do year-end inventory counts, close out the accounting books, renew business licenses and insurance, plan out our entire operational year…all while executing a flawless holiday campaign? There goes the holiday season hiatus and time to reflect and regroup.’”

Holiday Shopping Jaxon Lane
Jaxon Lane confronted a dilemma when shipping companies could no longer guarantee deliveries by Christmas. It opted to tell customers the truth that their packages might not make it by the holiday.

Jen Yu, co-founder, Jaxon Lane

“Our biggest challenge hit a couple of weeks before Christmas, when shipping companies could no longer guarantee delivery in time for Christmas. While we didn’t want to discourage last-minute shoppers, we felt like we owed it to our customers to tell them the truth. In addition to setting expectations upfront, we did everything we could to give our customers the best possible experience during crunch time. We worked with our warehouse to ship out product around the clock, we offered free expedited shipping on large orders, and answered customer questions at all hours of day and night. Building trust is incredibly important for us, especially as we expand our product offering, and count on our customers to give us a shot with new categories.”

Neige Blair, co-founder, Routine

“Special holiday packaging requires about an eight-week lead time. Publications and print ads in magazines sometimes require six months pre-planning. If you have a distributor, consider the deal or ad you want to publish in their catalogue five months before the holidays. Plan months ahead for social media or television marketing, which usually starts the first or second week of November. Folks want to plan for shipping and not feel rushed. Don’t forget Black Friday or Cyber Monday and, then, Boxing Day. There is no rule that says you have to participate in one or all, but it is a courtesy to consider. Once the holidays are over and you have time to catch your breath, it time to think about your spring and summer launches.”

Holiday Shopping Routine
Neige Blair, co-founder of Routine, estimates special holiday packaging requires an eight-week lead time.

Purvisha Patel, founder, Visha Skincare

“Having gone through two holiday seasons with my new brand, I have seen some trends that have affected how Visha Skincare approaches them. When it comes to marketing, it is important to present the products in a manner that would be conducive for gift giving such as in a gift box or in bundles, and have gift message options available for the buyer. It is hard to tease out the many skincare lines that are on the market during the year, never mind during the holidays.”

“Media and marketing efforts are geared to explaining the products and showing results. When a person is buying for themselves, they know their skin and what results they want to get. During the holiday season, explaining the benefits of a #visharoutine and the products when used together is important. The experience of using the products and getting results are highlighted a little more as at this time the products are mostly given as gifts. Careful detail is given to the presentation of the bundles and gift boxes so there is an unboxing experience as well. When choosing promotions, they are also geared towards the bundles and gift boxes.”