Advanced Skincare Brand The Route Paves A Path To Ulta Beauty
Nancy Pellegrino, a nurse practitioner and operator of NP Aesthetics Inc. in Newport Beach, Calif., bonded with her patient and beauty industry veteran Courtney Baber over their mutual love for skincare and the coincidence that they both cut their entrepreneurial teeth with paper routes at a young age.
“We used to talk skincare all the time,” says Pellegrino, known in her practice as nurse Nancy. “Courtney has difficult skin. 70% of people say they have sensitive skin, but it was so hard to find products she could use. That was our aha moment.”
After trying numerous medical-grade ranges that ended up not effective for Baber, the pair decided to create their own called The Route, which is named for their first jobs. Now, Baber’s and Pellegrino’s skincare journey has led them to Ulta Beauty, where their brand debuted last month online.
In January, The Route will enter stores with Ulta’s Love Your Skin event, followed by distribution in 400 doors as part of the third collection of Sparked, the platform for up-and-coming brands. Industry sources estimate the retail rollout the brand is executing could generate $5 to $10 million in annual sales.
Throughout the course of three years of development, Ulta was high on Pellegrino and Baber’s retail partner wish list. “We pinched ourselves when we heard [we would be sold there],” says Baber. She’s had experience with Ulta in previous roles. Prior to The Route, Baber was senior vice president of global marketing at Urban Decay, general manager at C.O. Bigelow and vice president of merchandising at Sephora.
“The moment we brought someone in to help it was a game changer because they looked at our business in a different way and built our infrastructure for the long term.”
Pellegrino isn’t short on experience either. She’s been in the aesthetics business for more than two decades and, during her tenure, she’s never been fully pleased with a clinical skincare line. She’s cherry-picked products—an exercise that can be confusing to her clientele—and hasn’t been jazzed with the appearance of brands’ packaging. The Route aims to bring luxury aesthetics to sophisticated skincare.
Pellegrino and Baber set out to simplify advanced skincare for beauty consumers. They handpicked potent ingredients like lingonberry superfruit, shiitake mushroom and peptides for specific benefits, and developed the proprietary Nurse Nancy Complex, a cocktail of hydrators, antioxidants and skin barrier-restoring ingredients. Known for her bubbly personality, Pellegrino wanted to infuse The Route’s products with her positivity. The products’ phospholipid base is meant to boost people’s moods and overall sense of wellbeing.
From its inception, The Route eschewed phthalates, triethanolamine, metals, sulfates, PEGs and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. The brand also doesn’t put synthetic fragrances in its formulas, and is vegan and cruelty-free.
At the core of The Route’s lineup is its proprietary 24-Hour Skin Rhythm approach syncing to the body’s circadian cycle to deliver the right ingredients at the most opportune times. The lineup contains daytime moisturizer The Everything Day and nighttime multitasker The Everything Night. Rounding out the assortment is The Golden Rule, a retinoid crafted for those with sensitive skin; The Party Peel, a gentle illuminating oxygenating peel; and primer The Girlfriend.
“We listen to each other. We are each other’s yin and yang.”
There’s also a duo featuring The Girlfriend, The Party Peel and a travel-friendly kit with smaller sizes of the range. Prices run from $65 for The Party Peel to $90 for The Everything Day and The Everything Night. The founders say The Party Peel is the bestseller because it yields instant results. They have plans to grow The Route’s product assortment, and a sun protection item and eye cream are in the pipeline.
On top of Ulta, The Route is available at Pellegrino’s practice, where it’s sold out four times so far. Access to patients provides immediate feedback that guides the brand’s product releases. “Right now, our biggest channel is online with theroutebeauty.com and ulta.com, but our biggest brick-and-mortar store is definitely Nancy’s practice,” says Baber. Surprisingly, Pellegrino shares patients coming in for services often don’t have efficacious skincare routines, giving her a chance to expose them to The Route.
The founders acknowledge they balance a lot between family and business, including Pellegrino’s practice. When they started self-funded The Route, they admit to wearing too many hats. “We should have added a strong operational arm sooner,” says Baber. “You can have the best idea, the most beautiful thing, but, if you don’t have that to support it, you will fail. We learned the hard way. We thought we could do it all. The moment we brought someone in to help it was a game changer because they looked at our business in a different way and built our infrastructure for the long term.”
How do the best pals get along as business partners? “I’ve always been a fan of Nancy’s,” says Baber. “We listen to each other. We are each other’s yin and yang.” Pellegrino chimes in, “We like to have a good time, and we get over anything easily.” And their paper route connection could pay off. Research shows a common thread among many billionaire entrepreneurs is they got their feet wet in the work world with a paper route.