Pioneering CBD Brand Empower BodyCare Enters Nordstrom’s New CBD Beauty Displays
In 2004, long before CBD was mixed into cold brew, Trista Okel concocted a topical remedy out of the cannabinoid, jojoba, lavender, bergamot and various natural oils to help her mother Margaret cope with three forms of arthritis. Okel made the remedy with plants she cultivated and extracted herself, and her handy kitchen Crock-Pot. She chuckles, “It was very old school.”
Old school, yes, but the topical treatment was highly beneficial. “It brought my mom’s pain level from an eight to a three,” says Okel, familiar with the power of cannabis from using it for her fibromyalgia. Soon, she doled out her formula to anyone she encountered dealing with pain. Okel recounts, “They were saying it was life-changing for them, and I heard from a number of people who stopped taking opioids or who no longer had to take ibuprofen every day.”
A budding marijuana legalization advocate at the time, Okel was concentrating on policy rather than personal care. However, she increasingly began to think of the potential of a product business to spread awareness of the positive attributes of cannabis in a political environment in which it carried a significant stigma. In 2013, Okel established a company called Empower Oil with a single product—a shelf-ready version of the remedy she had whipped up for her mom—aimed at the medical marijuana segment.
“When I started in the medical marijuana market, I really wanted to make a difference on a national level. I had done some activism work and realized I could do a lot more good by creating products that women would be interested in buying,” explains Okel. “With a company that creates products that are approachable and effective, I find that we can win more hearts and minds than I ever could by doing activism work.”
She wasn’t content to build a tiny company. Based in Portland, Okel’s ambitions extended far beyond the borders of Oregon, the first state to decriminalize marijuana in 1973 and among the early states to legalize medical marijuana in 1998 prior to permitting recreational cannabis in 2014. She says, “I wanted to launch a brand that would become a national brand and a household name like Kleenex.”
“I wanted to launch a brand that would become a national brand and a household name like Kleenex.”
Seven years ago, Okel’s Kleenex-sized aspirations seemed like a pipe dream. A year after its debut, she removed “Oil” from Empower Oil to ensure the brand was strategically prepared for a broad assortment, and it became Empower BodyCare. The brand quickly expanded to a second product, soaking salts, and pushed into the CBD-only arena to go mainstream. CBD wasn’t mainstream, though. Okel figures pushing into the CBD arena back then enabled Empower BodyCare to enter around five stores.
Today, the landscape is completely different. CBD, if not brands with it, is much closer to Kleenex status. Empower BodyCare stretched its product range to lotion and the distribution network for its hemp-derived CBD line to roughly 1,500 stores. It has a strong presence in the natural grocery channel in chains such as New Seasons Market and Sprouts. A separate business offshoot, Empower Essential Oils, sells products with both CBD and THC to 300 licensed cannabis stores. Now, Empower BodyCare is rolling out to 32 doors at Nordstrom, where it’s housed in CBD beauty displays with the brands Mowellens, Sagely Naturals, Beboe Therapies and Herbivore.
Nordstrom is the latest prestige retailer to hop on the CBD trend. Sephora carries Lord Jones, Ellis Brooklyn, Flora + Bast and Saint Jane Beauty in its CBD selection. Neiman Marcus’s CBD arsenal includes Cannabliss, Code of Harmony, Beboe Therapies, Sagely Naturals, Saint Jane Beauty, Vertly, Cannuka and Haoma. At Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, CBD Beauty Corner at The Salon Project by Joel Warren features BKLYN CBD, CocoCanna, Hath, Highline Wellness, Kiskanu, Wildflower, Mary’s Nutritionals and Ambika Herbals.
Empower BodyCare developed a premium collection for Nordstrom consisting of CBD Luxury Soaking Salts, CBD Luxury Body Oil and three iterations of CBD Luxury Body Cream: lemon verbena, lavender bergamot and peppermint juniper. The premium collection’s prices and CBD doses are above those in the mass line, and its packaging is distinct. For instance, the body oil is $68 for a 30-ml. bottle with 500 milligrams of CBD at Nordstrom while the topical oil for mass audiences is $54 for a 30-ml. bottle with 227 milligrams of CBD. The premium packaging has white and rose gold foil. The mass line is black and white. Empower BodyCare relies on USDA certified organic hemp for its CBD, and tests each batch for cannabinoid potency, metals, pesticides and microbes.
“We are the oldest topical company in the CBD space focusing just on topical products, and that experience with formulations really differentiates us.”
“The reason we decided to do a prestige line as well as our mass line is because we wanted to reach a different demographic,” says Okel. “We are the oldest topical company in the CBD space focusing just on topical products, and that experience with formulations really differentiates us from a lot of other brands. Being experts in the space allows us to do the crossover more than companies that create topical products as a secondary action.”
She projects Empower BodyCare’s premium line could account for 25% of its sales in 2020. The brand is pursuing additional upscale retailers to stock the line. Meanwhile, its mass line and direct-to-consumer components are flourishing. Okel shares Empower BodyCare is in talks with large retailers to pick up the mass line, and her goal is for its website to be responsible for 50% to 60% of the brand’s sales at the end of the year, up from 10% at the moment. From 2018 to 2019, Empower BodyCare tripled sales. Last year, it raised $150,000 primarily from friends and family members. Currently, it’s fundraising with the objective of attracting $1.5 million in seed investment.
“We have healthy margins, and we are growing really fast. There is a lot of interest in our products from major retailers as well as consumers. We are holding our own in the natural channel, and the CBD market is supposed to reach between $20 billion and $24 billion by 2024,” says Okel. “It’s a great ride.”