Why Sarah Otto Went Back To The Drawing Board To Reimagine Her Dream Skincare Brand
Sometimes you have to start over, even when you just started.
After working in dermatology for six years as a nurse practitioner, Sarah Otto identified what she thought was a gaping hole in the skincare segment. “People came into the office with common skin issues, but they couldn’t find a concise product line incorporating the right active ingredients to use every day,” she says. “Many found most routines confusing and didn’t know if they needed brightening or anti-aging products.”
Otto’s goal was to create a line that included potent active ingredients and soothing plant extracts in efficient ways that was approachable and pretty. At Indie Beauty Expo in New York in 2017, she introduced Otto Skin Goods with face masks and body scrubs she formulated based on that premise. The trade show, which is produced by Beauty Independent owner Indie Beauty Media Group, was a big wakeup call. Otto realized she had to improve her brand to make it more competitive.
“I learned so much from that first show, specifically where you can cut corners and where you cannot,” says Otto. As an example, she says, beauty entrepreneurs can save on shipping boxes and distribution as startups, but not product quality, packaging and marketing. Otto emphasizes, “I made mistakes and still do every day, but it drives me to keep moving forward. If something isn’t working, I change it.”
“I made mistakes and still do every day, but it drives me to keep moving forward. If something isn’t working, I change it.”
Flash forward 18 months, and Otto Skin Goods has been completely retooled with new products and packaging to amplify its appearance and positioning in a crowded market that demands much of brands aiming to succeed at stores. The brand’s three-item collection consisting of The Fresh Start Face Oil ($65), The Go-Getter Day Serum ($74) and The Multitasker Night Serum ($76) is focused on high-performance daily skincare mainstays. There is also a Staples Sample Trio with .1-oz. sizes priced at $35.
Each product has a unique purpose and set of ingredients. Otto put her clinical experience toward combining active ingredients to achieve specific results at different times of the day. Plant-derived ingredients such as aloe, bearberry extract and apple fruit water were chosen to enhance the impacts of the actives, and were selected only if they have low potential to stoke irritation and allergies. Otto plans to expand her brand’s line, but vows to keep its product portfolio edited. She says, “If you are correctly using the right active ingredients, you don’t need a large assortment of products.”
One thing Otto isn’t into is the latest fad ingredients. “I only want to work with what is tried-and-true. I know what is effective,” she says. “Working in dermatology as a nurse practitioner, I understand there are not a lot of topical active ingredients that really make a difference. I select only the very best for our skincare essentials.” Otto Skin Goods’ website houses a complete list of the ingredients in the products and the percentages of the active ingredients in each product. Otto is also a firm believer in concise placement of active ingredients and doesn’t inject an active ingredient, however great, into a product unless it’s optimal in it.
“Working in dermatology as a nurse practitioner, I understand there are not a lot of topical active ingredients that really make a difference. I select only the very best for our skincare essentials.”
On a mission to support local businesses, Otto tapped local Columbus, Ohio firm The Wonder Jam to design eye-catching packaging. “We added pops of color to the boxes, so it would easily be noticed on retail shelves and die-cut boxes to add a bit of texture,” she says. Rather than handle production herself, she hired a chemist and sought out a manufacturer.
For distribution, Otto has clean beauty specialists, spas, doctors’ offices, department stores and skin clinics on her radar. She looking for retailers that can explain active ingredients such as tripeptide-5, niacinamide, alpha hydroxy acids and vitamin C to customers. Otto hopes to nurture her business to the $2 million mark within the next few years.
Skincare can be overwhelming, says Otto, who devised a quiz for Otto Skin Goods’ site to help direct shoppers to the products right for them. The quiz gives her a peek at the concerns of core customers, too. Otto envisions her brand’s consumers as women similar to her: largely millennial moms. She says, “We’re reinventing skincare staples [with] a no-nonsense approach for people who don’t have a lot of time, often women with families and busy careers.”