How Indie Beauty Brand Founders Are Shifting Business Practices Due To COVID-19—And Their Advice For Others

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 25 brand founders and executives: As the coronavirus global pandemic impacts the worldwide economy, what business changes are you making, and what business advice do you have for fellow beauty entrepreneurs trying to navigate these uncertain times?

MELISSA BOEREMA Director of Marketing, InstaNatural

We are an e-commerce-based business and, first, we are transitioning our team to 100% remote this week. We are using Zoom to have virtual meetings, so we don’t lose that connection with our team. Being an e-commerce-based company also has its benefits for what comes ahead. We are fortunate that our products are sold online in places like Amazon and Walmart at accessible price points, and we anticipate a possible sales increase because of this as more consumers turn to these online marketplaces to shop from the convenience of their homes. 

I anticipate the impact of the coronavirus will hurt retail stores and employees the most as doors begin to close for who knows how long. For fellow indie brands, I would advise to use this time to focus on improving your own operations. Look deeply at your financials to see if you can cut out unneeded expenses. Forecast out your cash flow for a worst case scenario. And work out any kinks in supply chain to ensure you never run out of stock of product, especially if you sell on Amazon.

Inessa Vike Co-Founder, Vike Beauty

Luckily, our business is mostly online, but we did have events happening in Manhattan which have since been postponed. We have a small dedicated team and much of our daily operations can be handled remotely. Right now, it's very important to state clear objectives that are required to keep things moving forward and to be realistic with your timeline and targets. 

Business advice we would give our fellow indie brand owners is to make sure they remain in contact with their suppliers and manufacturers to make sure they are aware of how this pandemic is affecting them, and to have clear communication with their team and potential customers.

Ellie Hang Trinh Founder and Formulator, Skin Probiotics

We wholesale to Hong Kong and, when orders stopped coming in December, we lost about 60% of our sales. We made efforts to keep in close communication with our Hong Kong wholesale accounts and recently offered an additional 10% off wholesale if they place an order within 30 days.

Ways we create online sales: We emailed and texted our regular customers and subscribers with special discount offers and 10% off all purchases. Reach out to your regular customers for their support. They are happy to help.

We also had to think and act fast and, with the help of a local lab, we created a much-needed product for our online store: a cleansing hand gel for $9.50 with a 10% off and free shipping offer. We reached out to our friends, family and IBE for help, and got sales within hours. This one product will help boost our sales and keep us afloat.  

We got a limit increase on one of our credit cards to fund raw materials and expenses, and save our cash in the bank. We were lucky all of our products and supplies are U.S.-sourced, and we formulate, extract and manufacture all products in-house.

Nikita Montgomery Owner and Founder, Hazel O. Salon

In terms of changes, we've really tried to listen and to take the pulse of our clientele to determine their level of comfort in coming to get their hair done. We acknowledge that everyone isn't staying in, and didn't want to jump the gun and cancel appointments. With this in mind, we informed clients of the measures that we continually take and additional measures that we've added such as removing the self-serve coffee bar, and replacing mugs and glasses with single-use recyclable. We are minimizing staff schedules to decrease the traffic in the space and making it more convenient for patrons to purchase products for at-home use by offering curbside service.

Regarding advice for fellow indie brands, we'd advise people to take the pulse of their customer base to determine their level of comfort and communicate a plan. Despite how things may seem, there are many people who are looking forward to getting out of the house briefly as a means of self-care. 

Jeannie Jarnot Founder and CEO, Beauty Heroes

Just like everyone, we are evaluating the situation every day. It feels like there are so many developments, our strategy is shifting daily. We feel confident our e-commerce business will remain open, and we will continue to deliver. 

Last week, I started having a daily leadership meeting where we all discuss what steps to take, then we take them. While our store is still open for limited hours, we have suspended skincare services. Based on where we are heading, I imagine we will close our store shortly. We have sent out an email to our local clientele offering free local delivery. Some members of our team are now working remotely, and some are coming in to pack and fill orders. 

Our warehouse is pretty isolated, and we have a lot of space, so we are working very separately and have sanitation stations. We have brought in gloves for our fulfillment team as an extra precaution. My question for our team is, “How can we serve our employees, customers and our local community best?” This week, we will be focusing on this, and I expect you will see some creative ideas come to fruition. 

I believe that, in these trying times, we need to find ways to help each other, all while being faced with the realities of our business. We had a bit of a dry run with the recent fires in Northern California, when our community had come together and made it through. I don’t have much more to offer than this. I definitely feel like I’m in uncharted territory as a founder.

PATRICK KELLY Founder, Sigil Scent

One of the joys of being an independent business is an ability to listen to the immediate needs of the communities we service. I think it’s imperative for founders to rise to these new challenges with a sense of empathy for our customers. With some agility and precision at play, we can find innovative solutions and reinventions for the ways we can connect and build community. 

We are thinking more about how scent can provide a positive emotional and physical experience by activating limbic brain activity. We can remind people how to connect to their senses—and to their intuition, emotions, and feelings—and help them to notice, to respond with intention. 

We’re also thinking a lot about partnerships. Less about new products just for the sake of newness and more about life-enriching cross-category innovations. Our original goal for 2020 was scaling in wholesale across global, but we’re now quickly thinking about how to pivot more of our resources into direct sales: connecting to our existing customers more meaningfully, meeting them where they are more frequently, more authentically in two-way dialogue. Physical event spaces are out, but digital is still a viable option to help people process and connect to the core values and reason for being behind our brand: community, inclusion, representation.

Wendy May Real Founder, Pure Bloom

As a self-funded indie brand pioneering the challenging CBD industry, we have always had to make every single penny count and survive lots of uncertain times. Navigating uncertainty or unforeseen obstacles can be extremely stressful and economically impactful.

But, as an entrepreneur, you must be able to effectively lead, especially during difficult times. My best advice is to remain calm, stay incredibly nimble, seek support from your network of fellow indie founders, and consider economic alternatives to your operations that don’t compromise your product quality or brand integrity.

The current coronavirus pandemic does present new challenges to most brands, including us. However, during this crisis, we are seeking ways to improve our social impact and establish long-term partnerships with local charitable organizations. We recently launched a sensory calming CBD Hand Sanitizer and Moisturizing Spray with a portion of every sale going directly to support vulnerable women, families and elderly patients who need immediate relief during this time.

Beatrice Dixon Founder and CEO, The Honey Pot Company

We shut down our office in Atlanta and the entire team is working remotely. We are very concerned about what's happening worldwide and want to keep our team safe. We use various platforms to stay in touch, and we have daily meetings via phone and email. 

As for other indie brands, it's really important to use this time to speak to your customers and alleviate their fears or concerns about finding your products and shipping delays. Take this time to rally your team, and create a plan of action to keep things moving during these challenging times.

Lili Giglia Owner and Founder, Essentially Lili

The decision to lock down Switzerland was made starting the March 17, with restrictions on travel/flights, perhaps even postal delivery services. High levels of stress will occur, especially for those at risk of losing their jobs, wondering if they will be able to support their family and stay virus-free.

I know my clients will prioritize what they need as financial strains are faced by everyone, and only certain types of skincare products will be sought after from my range now. Being in any kind of business will be tough right now, unless you're an online business offering other types of services. As a small business, I make my own skincare products and send them where needed. Restrictions may make it difficult to get my packages to customers. We need to ensure we stay healthy and prevent the opportunity to get unwell.

We could use this opportunity to focus on other important factors that we often miss whilst building our brand as business owners. I will continue my studies, work on my year plan, write blogs and newsletters with information to help my customers, rest and spend time with my family, who are currently schooling and working at home with me. It's going to be financially tough for everyone. Let's hope the period of lock down and isolation allows us to focus again on what's important in this life we have.

Janet Schriever Founder, Code of Harmony

As an aesthetician and a brand owner, we are obsessively cleaning the spa and our lab area with hospital-grade disinfectants. I have already posted a video to reassure our clients that we are doing all we can to keep them safe. We will continue to talk about safety as this crisis continues. 

The business side of me is a bit more worried about how long the crisis will continue as some of our business is offering facial services. That said, I feel like now is the time to focus on our direct-to-consumer business and supporting our wholesale partners any way we can.

It is definitely a time for innovative thinking and getting things done that have been on the back burner. When you can’t do business as usual, you get creative, remain responsive, adapt and make it work.

Preyanka Clark Prakash Director and Co-Founder, Bloomtown Ltd.

We're fortunate to be able to offer a highly in-demand product at the moment, an organic, palm-free hand sanitizer in glass bottles. So, our orders have skyrocketed. However, we expect that disruptions will occur, so we're doing our best to stock up on ingredients and packaging, and to keep our customers in the loop.

Lissette Monzon Founder, Lilly Be

We are undergoing so many changes. Changes began earlier in March when over 10 direct-to-consumer events and a handful of networking/marketing events that I had scheduled through April started emailing cancellations. This definitely impacted expected cash flow. I’ve had to be much more intentional in my budget. Marketing strategies have shifted to focus primarily on e-commerce with initiatives [involving] email campaigns, opening up free shipping discounts, and staying current on social.

Luckily, my supply chain has not been terribly affected, just some minor delays in product arriving, so I am able to fulfill orders normally. Being quarantined and home with my children also deeply reminds me of why I started Lilly Be. It was my passion and long-time dream, but also allowed me to stay home with the children when they were babies. Some core concepts come up such as gratitude for our health and happiness, and looking to nature to learn how to simply be. (These are the root purpose of Lilly Be).

My advice during this unique time, while filled with many uncertainties, is to use it as an opportunity to live in the moment, but also reflect and build strong campaigns for when life returns back to normal.

EVELYN SUBRAMANIAM Founder, Bija Essence

I felt it in my gut and knew this would be a tremendous disaster globally, especially when we couldn't order glass supplies from Asia in mid-January and soon started witnessing the virus spread throughout the Middle East. We had our last, but most memorable PR event at Diane Von Furstenberg’s flagship store on March 9, with many customers and supporters in attendance before New York was announced in a state of emergency. Before then, we were already following safe protocols at work and online.

My advice for indie brands is to follow the same, but, most importantly, to be realistic and understand that most businesses will loose between 20% to 40% of sales. Knowing this, cut back on spending, and focus on online and social media growth. For us, health is most important. Therefore, our team was working out of home and meeting in-person once per week. Washing hands for 20 seconds upon entering the working environment was mandatory. Wiping down all electrical devices such such as computers, phones and iPads was mandatory.

Avoiding physical contact such as shaking hands or hugging was discouraged. Even at the DVF store luncheon on March 9, most people practiced the elbow salutation or namaste. We posted safety protocol guidelines on social media for our community and friends to read and practice such as avoiding touching their faces, eyes and mouths. Avoiding crowded places, which by now we have been banned from, but we were not weeks ago.

We posted recipes to make at-home hand sanitizers as they were impossible to find at stores. We posted advice on mental health, and the importance of meditation and keeping calm. Using rest oil, which helps to calm the nervous system, will be extremely beneficial during these stressful and scary times. Stress weakens the immune system and, right now, we need a strong immune system.

We will continue to work out of home, communicate with our community via social media and offer 20% off on all orders as we know that any financial help is welcomed during a time when jobs are scaling back and the economy is weak. May you be safe, healthy and optimistic.

Serena Rogers Founder, Curata

We are scaling back as much as possible by working from home, staying close to those that matter the most, and staying connected to each other and our community. Operationally, we are now fulfilling orders from our off-site storage rather than a 3PL warehouse, and have set it up so that only one of us at a time goes to pack and ship orders as they come in.

On another note, over the past few days, we’ve noticed many business sending out communications about vigilance and precaution. While those are of course very important, we feel that messages of kindness, empathy and collective energy are just as essential during these unprecedented times. While we exercise distance, it is more important than ever to stay connected, and to share compassion and care with those around us. A gentle reminder that we each can make a difference, and that the power of one, is indeed the power of all.

Chris Cabrera

COVID-19 has shown many of us how quickly the market can turn, yet it also shows us how we can overcome as small businesses. It is a bit of a moral dilemma to sell products to customers concerned about the safety of their family members and security of their jobs. Our tactic is adaptability by becoming a solution to several obstacles.

We were already launching a product for sanitizing the feet this spring. However, we have rebranded it to be a multipurpose sanitizer. As social distancing is one of the top methods to reduce exposure, we are introducing virtual Pedi Parties to promote safe social gathering and DIY self-care during this isolating time.

Holly Harding Founder, O'o Hawaii

Right now, we are enhancing our direct-selling strategy and providing extra support to our online retailers as well as pushing our Beauty Boost supplement that boosts immunity while it improves skin.

Cathie Arpino Founder, Hudson Valley Skincare

We currently have five of our employees working in our building. We have 3,500 square feet, so we are distancing ourselves, cleaning and not letting anyone such as UPS or other outside people into our building.

We have suspended the manufacture of our lines Hudson Valley Skin Care and Stripped Beauty. We are currently producing 2-oz. hand sanitizers for distribution in our community. We are handing them out to our local women’s shelters, food banks and school lunch pickups. I want to produce a few thousand by the week's end. We will then reevaluate if we should continue. We think we have enough supplies to last for that much.

My biggest concern—and I have not received any information—is for my employees. We have a dedicated staff, most of which has been with us a long time. Do I lay everyone off? Can they collect unemployment? If so, when do they get it?

My personnel situation is my husband has multiple sclerosis and my daughter is an RN in a local hospital. My youngest daughter is in an apartment in Queens. Her college closed last week. We can not bring her home because her dad had an infusion of immunosuppressive medications two weeks ago. So, I am a mess, but trying to keep myself together by remaining useful to my community right now. These are incredibly trying times, but I am trying to remain optimistic.

YOEL VAISBERG Founder and CEO, Haielle

Before focusing on the business strategy for the next weeks, we need to realize that we are experiencing a situation without precedent in modern times. Some people may see it as a random event of nature that is disrupting our day-to-day life, but, if we take a deeper look, this is a wake-up call to all humanity to revise how we are living our lives.

We need to understand that, from the scientists working against the clock to develop vaccines to the doctors providing care, every human being in this world has a role to play in this transcendental event. As founders in the beauty and wellness space, this is a unique opportunity to positively impact the lives of our audience and communities in this difficult time, and build a stronger bond with them and within our team.

Our action plan for the following weeks:

  • Reorder priorities: I don’t know about you, but I have an ever-growing list of activities in my to-do list. Given the very limited time we have, they sink further in the list because of the high-priority tasks (generate sales). Now that sales are slow (to make it sound nice), and things are way out of our control, it’s the perfect time to focus on all these relevant tasks. Obviously, be mindful that these initiatives should not require considerable investments since our cash flow will be affected for a while. These are a few pending tasks on our to-do list on which we will be focusing during the next weeks:

    • Generate valuable content for our audience. We’ll have time to share it throughout the year.

    • Work on the development of new products.

    • Modify or make improvements to the packaging.

    • Remake or add sections to the website.

    • Catch up with administrative work.

  • Volunteering with the community. This critical moment is precisely the time to care most for each other. Are there seniors in your community that have to stay at home and need you to bring them groceries? Can your team allocate some of their time to explain to them how to use FaceTime or Skype to speak with their grandchildren that won’t be visiting them for a while? You may think, OK, but what has this to do with the business? Well, your clients may like your products, but they also like to support brands with integrity. Feel free to share your volunteering work on social media. If you are doing good deeds, you are more than welcome to saturate social media feeds with them.

  • Training. As multitasking founders, there are multiple tasks that we carry out every day in various areas. This is an opportune time to improve our skills. There are hundreds of webinars and online courses to join.

Hopefully, this situation will end soon, and our lives will get back to normal. Let’s not waste this rebalancing opportunity that the universe is providing, and let’s redefine what normality means, for sure it will be an enhanced meaning of life.

Sonsoles Gonzalez Founder, Better Not Younger

Luckily, we didn’t have to focus much time or resources on migrating to a remote work situation given our company was built by—and still operates with—a fully remote team. The largest challenge we’re facing is managing uncertainty across every facet of the business from lower sales as consumer spending slows due to economic factors to potential supply chain disruptions. Anything and everything could be disrupted, and very little is within our control. 

Our advice to other indie brands is to focus on what you can control. For us, this meant: 1) Helping however we could by donating a percentage of all sales through the end of March to Meals on Wheels, specifically helping homebound seniors who are most vulnerable at this moment, and 2) Using the time to pause and reflect back on our first year in-market to see what worked and didn’t, which we rarely get the luxury to do given our small team, and using those insights to put even better plans and content in place for the upcoming months.

Sarah Zimmer CEO, NAYA Skincare

During this time of uncertainty and worry, the most important thing for small businesses is to communicate with their customers and stay connected with them, and to think how one can take the offerings to digital platforms to provide valuable content to customers that go beyond selling the product. Drive value to customers in different ways that give them benefit. Poll your customers, and learn what their needs are given the uncertain environment. Then, consider how you can meet their needs.

In comparison to big organizations, small businesses need to take advantage of their nimbleness and flexibility to stay connected with their customer base to help retain their customer. Many small businesses rely on social media to drive sales. However, it is important to ensure the messaging is appropriate during a national emergency. Thus, messages need to be reevaluated on a daily basis. If the tone is right given what’s going on in the world?

These uncertain times shall pass sooner or later, but one should always stress test the business. No one is saying these times are easy, but preparedness is the key to continued success

Eha Urbsalu
Founder and CEO, Viking Beauty Secrets

We have empowered our team to work remotely in an effort to keep our employees and customers safe. Our marketing efforts are now focused on aspirational social media posts. This is a time that so many people are stuck inside, and feeling stressed and uncertain. 

However, it is also an excellent time to focus on self-care, and we are using our social media accounts to inspire people of mindful living with content focused on tips for self-care, immune-boosting practices, and clean vitamin C- and antioxidant-rich beauty products that hydrate and protect our skin, our most protective organ. It is at the core of our brand ethos to help our customers reach their lifestyle goals, and we want them to feel inspired throughout this isolating time.

Psyche Terry Founder, Urban Hydration

I think this is a great question. I read in a small business feed yesterday that it seems like only large corporations are responding to their customers and telling them how much they care and what they are doing to keep their employees and product safe. The feed went on to share that even small businesses need to talk to their customers.

At Urban Hydration, we’ve gone live on social media as owners every day for the past five days since we’ve learned of devastating news locally and how it impacts our customer and fan community base. It’s so important to us that I’ve done live Q&A sessions to connect with my customers and fans to hear their concerns, even if it meant doing it from a grocery store while piling up on groceries for my family.

I think the best bit of advice I can offer is, as a small business, this is where we get to shine. Customers appreciate us because we are small, we are nimble, we are creative and, most importantly, we are authentic. It’s our responsibility to help out.

Yve-Car Momperousse Founder, Kreyol Essence

Don’t panic. It’s easy during a time of crisis to focus on all that is going wrong. Instead, look at this as an opportunity to hone in on your direct-to-consumer strategy and engage your community. Keep them informed with regular updates on your business. It’s OK to inject a bit of humor, too. Don’t be tone-deaf to the situation, but realize that we’re all in need of positivity, encouragement and laughter during these rough times. The Kreyol Essence community created memes about Haitian Castor Oil fighting corona and how culturally it’s kept in close proximity right along with Robitussin when you have a cold.

Take the time to care for yourself. Stress levels are high for entrepreneurs right now, and it’s natural to feel the need to work yourself into a frenzy. Just remember that the health of your business relies on the health of you as a founder. Try to remain clear-headed by getting enough sleep, eating well, meditating and moving. Dance in the house or workout for at least 30 minutes. You set the tone for your employees, retail partners, service providers, customers, etc. Show them that you and your business will persevere and that collectively we got this.

Mélissa OBEID Founder, LA FERVANCE

The extraordinary thing about the significant impact of the Coronavirus on business and our global community as a whole is that it struck so suddenly.  Who would have imagined at the beginning of 2020, that in just three short months the global economy would be at a stand-still with total lock-downs and closed borders?

As a new brand launched in December 2019, and which was on a positive momentum having just entered physical retail in Paris and London (stores which have now shut), the impact is significant. We have some big things to navigate here - as Paris is being in total and enforced confinement – and with two pre-teens now being home schooled (yikes) etc, etc!

However, I see this period as being a major opportunity given that the entire ethos of our brand is based on total transparency around the provenance of our ingredients which are all from 100% natural origins, proven active, sourced from Australia and France and are all COSMOS certified.  This is the highest global form of certification possible.  So when we say “clean” we truly mean it and can guarantee it.  This is important. Our handcrafted packaging is 100% recyclable and the glass jars and exquisite papers are from local suppliers.

I believe that as a result of the Coronavirus, consumers will seek – more than ever – brands which offer multi-functional products, that are effective, indulgent, support “self-care” and truly authentic.  Thus, products such as our sophisticated gold infused hero launch product Eclat Extraordinaire, which may be used as an instant glow product, an intense treatment mask and as an overnight treatment mask are perfect for the confinement period.  Complimented by high-end 100% natural fragrances created with us in Grasse, the sensorially indulgent product is just what beauty consumers need right now.

In navigating these uncertain times, our focus has shifted from physical retail (whilst we continue to cultivate of course) towards more online retail and platforms, whilst emphasising our brand values and all-round efficacy of the launch product.

Jill Rowe Founder, Cultivate Apothecary
In light of the COVID virus and because we had planned to grow more of our own food this year, we decided to re-open (albeit on a smaller scale) our CSA this season to be there for our community. We are also (this was always part of our brand plan) opening an on-farm apothecary where we will sell our beauty + wellness products as well as those of other local artisans, and offer limited seasonal products such as floral essences, bespoke botanical masks, tinctures, etc.  In addition to Matthew and myself, we will have a resident herbalist who will offer her own line of internal wellness products and will have a dedicated apothecary garden to use for co-created products from the farm. We also plan to hold workshops on making products (hydrosols, teas, floral essences) as well as programs on small-scale sustainable farming. Matthew has been lecturing around the country on this subject for years, and now more than ever we believe people are thinking of ways they can in-source their food and wellness resources.

If you have a question you’d like Beauty Independent to ask beauty entrepreneurs, please send it to [email protected].