Laguna Herbals Heats Up As Demand For Natural Beauty Products Mounts
Laguna Beach has a mystique that far eclipses its tiny population of 25,000. That’s partially due to the popularity of MTV’s reality show based in the coastal California community and partially due to its alluring mix of warm temperatures, beaches, art galleries and creative people. Laguna Herbals brings the best of its hometown to sun care, bath, body and face products utilizing natural ingredients from the region and leaving out fillers that get in the way of their performance. “I’ve studied the actions of different herbs in skincare and made infusions with herbs that are regenerating, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and age-defying,” says herbalist Andrea Sands, who leads the brand with her investment banker husband Joe. “It is heartwarming to me to create variations of skincare formulas that have been used for centuries and largely dormant for the last century.” Beauty Independent chatted with her about Laguna Herbals’ history, distribution, customers, challenges and objective to continue to spread well beyond Laguna Beach.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? Did you start your career in the beauty industry?
Originally, I am from the East Coast. I grew up just outside of New York City in Westchester County. I attended college at George Washington University in Washington D.C., and, then, lived in New York, New Mexico, Massachusetts and now Laguna Beach. I did not start out professionally in beauty. I worked in corporate human resources and went on to build my own recruiting business for the retail industry. I recruited for the corporate levels of many well-known mall-based chain stores, including Williams Sonoma and American Eagle Outfitters. Parallel to that, I have always been a hobby herbalist. Ever since I was young, I have been fascinated by plants. I was obsessed with the root beer smell of sassafras, the sweet taste of a honeysuckle flower and the soothing properties of an aloe plant.
How did your interest in herbalism transition to making products?
I became a believer and advocate of herbal medicinals. I would tell all of my friends and family, and started making recommendations to them as well. I eventually decided to become a certified herbalist and studied with one of the most well-known herbalists in the country, Rosemary Gladstar. It was required in my coursework that I learn how to formulate herbal skincare products. At the time, my son was having allergic skin reactions and would get eczema from almost every product I would put on him. I started trying some of the balms I formulated on his eczema, and they were very effective at healing and eventually preventing his eczema. I began to notice in the marketplace that many skincare companies were touting some of the same herbs that I was using in these balms such as calendula, rose and chamomile. However, the products contained parabens, phthalates, sulfates, petrochemicals, and synthetic dyes and fragrances, all the things that were wreaking havoc on my son’s skin. I became obsessed and began formulating different balms and oils for face, body, nails and even hair. It is my calling to make others aware that you can use what the earth provides for your skin and overall health.
When Laguna Herbals launched, what was your vision for it?
My vision is a bit of a paradox from the traditional formulations in these bottles. I wanted to wrap them in a label that reaches and speaks to a broader market than just the green customer. The major beauty retailers such as Sephora, Ulta and Nordstrom are growing their green beauty category to a higher percentage of their merch sets. We envision supporting that with clean, effective products that we have developed and will be developing going forward. Most people are busy and don’t have time for long drawn out self-care rituals, that’s why I create multi-use products. It is important to respect consumers’ time and budget. I wanted the look of the products to be eye-catching, flirty, cool and fun without being too serious or too green. The product names like Whipped, Multi-Task Facial Grains and Clarify speak to more than just a consumer who wants a green formula. I wanted to bring this line as mainstream as possible.
Who is the Laguna Herbals target customer?
Our typical customer is health-conscious women aged 25 to 55.
What is Laguna Herbals’ price range, and how did you land on that range?
Most of our products range from $20 to $60. It is important to me to have our products be accessible to as many people as possible while still making a profit. We did a lot of competitive analysis in the green beauty space as well.
Pretend we’re a retailer. Give us a one-sentence pitch on why we should take Laguna Herbals.
Laguna Herbals’ formulas are made for the modern busy woman who wants clean, green and effective products with high-quality certified organic ingredients.
Where is Laguna Herbals sold today?
We are available in close to 100 apothecaries, gift stores, resorts and spas across the U.S. Our initial focus was local independent shops in Southern California. We were able to put the brand in those shops, and I think it’s important to have a good base of independent shops that will order and reorder from you. You see some brands that automatically go to the big chains before having that base of independent stores, and I think there’s that chance that you might do that too quickly. You never want to have all your eggs in one basket. Now that we are in a base of independent shops, we’re looking to grow into more well-known retailers in the industry.
What percentage of your business is direct versus wholesale?
We are about 80% wholesale, 20% direct.
Amazon, yes or no?
Yes, it’s necessary, especially in building our direct business. There are consumers who simply won’t buy a product if it is not on Amazon. It would be a missed opportunity to not be available on Amazon.
Is there a dream retailer for your brand?
There is more than one. Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Saks, Nordstrom, Sephora and Ulta are all dream retailers.
What are things your most successful retail partner does that you wish became an industry standard?
They really learn about the products and ingredients, train their floor people correctly and allow for in-store sampling, which sells the product very well.
What are things Laguna Herbals does to help its retail partners be successful?
We are in the fortunate position of being able to deliver on larger orders. Even with our smaller accounts, we have never faltered on an order. Our wholesale orders are out the door lightning fast. We demand that of ourselves. We always have inventory that is fresh. We never have anything laying around for too long, but we are prepared for business, so, if we get an order of 200 or 500 units, we could deliver it next week.
What is the Laguna Herbals hero product, and how did it come to be?
It’s hard to say as we have four different product categories: face, bath, body and sun. If I have to pick one, it would be the eye balm. We have gotten such an outpouring of great feedback on that product. The ironic part of it is that it was our original body balm formula. I decided the blend of oils was too astringent and toning to be an all-over body formula, and it hit me that the astringent, toning, tightening and highly absorbent properties of the formula would be the perfect under-eye formula. When you take so much time obsessing over formulas and even losing sleep over them, it’s beyond rewarding to hear from so many who love them.
What have you found most challenging in building the brand?
Our initial launch was our sun care line in June 2016. We only had one formula of sunscreen with just six ingredients and four flavors of lip balm. It was easy to articulate the story behind that and talk about the ingredient benefits of just two products. Then, in September of 2017, we came out with face and bath and body. All together, we launched over 25 new product SKUs. Marketing them has been a bit overwhelming as it is a much broader story than just the sun care products. I feel like we’ve really had two launches, each spaced one year apart from each other. The situation is unique. Overall, I’m glad we expanded because it’s refreshing not to have only sunscreen, which is a highly seasonal product. We have products now that sell all year.
Have you done any fundraising for Laguna Herbals?
We have been approached by potential investors, but it’s too early right now. I am in the fortunate position of not having to fundraise right now. However, it’s something that may need to be done as we grow as a company.
What changes do you see taking place in the natural beauty segment?
Awareness is growing, new businesses are forming and there are more industry-specific events and coverage happening. These developments help to educate consumers and increase demand. As consumer demand grows for natural skincare and makeup products, more stores will actively seek to stock natural beauty brands. There will be growth in this category across all retail channels, in department stores, Whole Foods and at mass retailers like Target, Walmart and Costco. Also, more retailers will private label their own green beauty lines like CVS has done, and more well-known brands will extend into green beauty.
What’s in your office or on your desk that’s precious to you, and why?
I keep Mother’s Day cards from my kids taped to the wall in front of my desk. There is no more important role to me than being a mother.
How do you embody Laguna Herbals when you’re out in public?
First, I always make sure my skin looks good, so I use only Laguna Herbals’ skincare products every day. Second, I have always been into living a healthy and green lifestyle, so I am often walking, hiking, running beach stairs, wearing exercise clothes and holding a green drink or a green tea.
What’s been the worst day at your business, and why?
Just before our launch, our website developer quit before completing the site. I had no choice but to quickly became an expert website developer with the help of BigCommerce tech support. It was a blessing in disguise and a lesson to never be too dependent on any employee or consultant. Always be prepared to wear any hat when needed. Now, I can make any changes to the website within minutes or a few hours without needing to call in a pricey web consultant. I love to figure things out on my own.
What’s your biggest fear as an entrepreneur?
Pirating of my label with a bottle full of synthetic ingredients. That would be terrible, and I have had nightmares about it.
For other entrepreneurs in your boat, what suggestion do you give them on how to pull through the tough times?
Remember why you started the company in the first place, hold on to your passion and don’t let obstacles stand in the way of your product and the customers who will love them.
What are your long-term goals for Laguna Herbals?
Our long-term vision is becoming a widely-recognized name. Our dream is for everyone to know Laguna Herbals like they know Johnson & Johnson and Seventh Generation. We are not in this to be a tiny little brand out of Laguna Beach. I don’t know how long it will take to become a household name, but we are working diligently to become broadly known as fast as we can. It’s not an easy task because it’s a big, big world out there, and there’s a lot of ground to cover.