The State Of Independent Beauty Post-Pandemic

On Friday, March 13, the White House declared the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency in the United States. Every day since for every person and every industry has been nothing like the days that came before it. However, the impacts have been unevenly felt. American billionaires added at least $637 billion to their whopping wealth during the scourge. Small companies and ordinary workers haven’t fared nearly as well. Almost 164,000 businesses on the Yelp platform have closed, and 2.4 million Americans have been out of work for 27 weeks or more.

But there have been some bright spots for beauty brands amid the pandemic. They’ve focused on efficient strategies, leaned into their strengths and fostered loyal audiences. Most of all, they shifted quickly, then shifted again and continue to shift. Beauty Independent checked in with 50 beauty and wellness brands about the short-term pivots they were forced to make, how they think the global health crisis will alter the way they do business over the long-term, and the new normal for the beauty industry post-pandemic.

1. How much have your sales changed since March?

Shuting Hu, founder, Acaderma

There has not been much of a change in our sales since March. 

Tiila Abbitt, founder, Aether Beauty

Luckily for Aether Beauty, we are hitting our targets. However, our mix is changing between DTC and wholesale. We were very retailer heavy prior to COVID, with a small DTC business. Now, our DTC spilt is rapidly growing and is 35% of the business, which helps with overall cash flow, especially being a small bootstrapped startup.

Triniti Gawthrop, founder, Ami Wellness

We have been a roller coaster of up and down, but it averages out to 9% growth month-over-month.

Nina Zilka, co-founder, Alder New York

While our wholesale sales were greatly impacted by different state shutdowns, there’s been a consistent increase in DTC sales. We’ve seen a 58% increase in sales overall compared to the same period last year.

Tim Hollinger, co-founder, Bathing Culture

We’re up over 200% since March year-over-year. We had some new initiatives that were in the wings that drove some of this, and a lot of growth this year is related to shifting routines and staying safe in the pandemic. 

Kristen Heaton, founder, Crave Naturals

Entering 2020, we had just gone through a rebrand and sales were higher than Q1 of previous years. Once March hit, and COVID started to affect the economy with shutdowns, we noticed a drop in sales related to shipping delays. Once shipping improved and we were not experiencing delays, we noticed a 24% increase in sales. It’s been steady since March, and we project it will continue into Q4 and holiday shopping.

Jill Rowe, co-founder, Cultivate Apothecary

March to May were slower months as people were grappling with understanding what COVID was and how drastically they were needing to adjust their day-to-day lives. People’s focus was very internalized towards their family’s immediate needs. That being said, once we were further into the summer and people were calming down and adjusting to their circumstances, our sales went up 25% or more as people started focusing outward and more on their day-to-day well-being and self-care. 

Beth Spruance Bennett, CEO, DpHue 

Sales have increased 3X since just prior to COVID-19.

Gertie Wilson, founder, Elevé Cosmetics

With the closure of our flagship store, sales are down 35% as compared to 2019.

Aminah Sagoe, founder, Emmaus

Sales have gone down tremendously. I would say as much as 60%.

Tom Feegel, CEO, EO Products 

As a result of COVID-19, we saw our sanitizer products sell at a dizzying rate, and we also saw an uptick in sales for our liquid hand soap. Over just a one-week period in mid-February, we saw sanitizer orders increase 1,300% for the Everyone brand on our website alone, not including our nationwide retailer presence. Fast forward to six months later, and our hand sanitizer SKUs are consistently out of stock every single day, even though we are adding new hand sanitizer inventory to the site each day. At this very moment, Everyone hand sanitizer SKUs have a waitlist of more than 26,000 customers, while the EO brand has almost 37,000 customers.

Ella Miller, founder, Exquisite Face & Body 

Of course, with so many of my spa partners and retail outlets initially on lockdown, there was a significant falloff in the numbers, but, as you know, we are a determined and resilient industry, so it wasn’t long before some of my clients learned how to more fully utilize online selling and offer a more personal connection for their customers. So, from March until May, the total drop-off was about 20%, far less than I had feared it might have been.

Rachel Daugherty, founder, Fine Healing Goods

Sales have decreased by almost 50% due to retail stores closing during pandemic. Sales intermittently have gone up and, then, back down again depending on the day or week, but the hard part is the consistency is gone. At least for FHG, we don’t know what to expect week to week.

Hellen Yuan, founder, Hellen

Our sales have been down 50% since 2019.

Angela Mustone, founder, High on Love

Sales for the first three months of 2020 were amazing. Then, the pandemic hit. From February to April, we had a terrifying 85% dip in sales since all retail shops were completely shut. Online sales did increase, but not nearly enough to make up for the lost retail sales. In May, we saw some overall improvement, and it’s been on a steady upward climb since then. We’re not back to 100%, but we see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Jennifer Culpepper, founder, I+I Botanicals

Since March, our sales have varied. At first, things slowed down quite a bit, but an initiative to shop small local businesses launched, and it helped with our sales. Overall, we can easily say we have had a reduction of almost 25% of our sales due to the pandemic.

Lynda Berkowitz, CEO, Ilia

Sales started to increase dramatically in February with our rebrand and continued into March with COVID and the launch of Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40. When the shelter-in-place started, we were mid-launch, with visual exposure in the front of every Sephora store. We didn’t know what to expect, so we just went with it. Business has increased 200% to 300% monthly across total company revenues.

Chelsi Oestreich, co-founder, Kinkō

We have seen an increase of 20% in our sales.

Allison McNamara, founder, Mara

Year-over-year, March to September 2019 versus March to September 2020, sales are up 280%. Previous period, September 2019 to March 2020 versus March 2020 to September 2020, sales are up 70%. I do think most of our growth is due to increased exposure, the addition of SKUs, and celebrity and PR placements versus being a direct result of COVID/people shopping online. The year-over-year comparison is tough because last year I only had two SKUs and, now, I have nine.

Jessica Heitz, VP of brand and marketing, OLLY

Total OLLY vitamin and supplement sales and OLLY beauty sales are each up over 100% year-over-year.

Brook Harvey-Taylor, founder and CEO, Pacifica

We have continued to bring out strong innovation. We take nothing for granted.  During COVID, we are seeing that clean beauty and understanding ingredients has been huge for today’s consumers. But, with that, trust is key. As a brand who has had a 100% vegan, clean position for the last 24 years, we have earned trust. And, so far, we have been able to sustain our super strong five-year growth trend. 2020 has meant being nimble, pivoting how we are thinking, and really listening. Our wins have been in digital, our own DTC channel and exclusive product launches with our few amazing retailers. 

Feisal Qureshi, founder and creative director, Raincry

Most of our distribution was luxury brick-and-mortar and, in light of the respective store/distribution center closures during lockdown, naturally our POs fell off.  However, when things started back up again, we were pleased to hear that, during the lockdown, our online sales had increased by triple digits and brick-and-mortar sales had also increased by around 20%. I think that we have been very fortunate during this time, but it wasn’t until the beginning of August that retailers began passing orders again, and we became confident those increases consistently reflected in our sales. None of our retail partners can provide us a why as there are too many unknowns (some have suggested government stimulus money), but, certainly, our ongoing PR efforts and the stage the brand is at since our launch a few years ago has helped. 

Aileen Dow, founder, Si Skin Organics 

Since March sales have been steady, with a slight decrease for the months of August and September. 

Toks Fahm Ajayi, founder, Skôt Beauté

When the lockdown initially happened, I halted everything to do with business. It really just didn’t feel right. Besides, the whole world had come to a complete stop. Unfortunately, sales were down considerably, 50%. However, as reality set in, and we started to adapt to our new norm, sales slowly but steadily picked up in May.

Dean Neiger, co-founder, Sky Organics 

Our sales have changed in March greatly in both directions, but luckily the impact on our business was mostly positive. Our sales since March have varied primarily by the item and the channel it is sold at. In general, our online sales have been strong and steady. As for our brick-and-mortar sales, they depend mostly on the store traffic, so they have been all over the place. 

Stacie Czech, co-founder, Thryv Organics

We saw a 25% drop in sales from April through June. But since July, our sales have increased by over 600%.

Amy Liu, founder, Tower 28

We have seen significant growth year-over-year. Month-over-month, we are up 70% from March.

Brittney Ogike, founder, Beauty Beez

We were in a unique position when COVID hit. As a business that launched seven months before quarantine, we already had advertising and marketing campaigns set that helped our sales grow 500% from March to now. We were impacted by our in-store sales since we were forced to close our doors for two months, but our e-commerce site grew significantly. Fortunately, once we were able to open the storefront again, our foot traffic increased dramatically.

2. What’s it been like for you to operate during the pandemic?

Shuting Hu, founder, Acaderma

As a brand that sells solely direct to consumer online, we spend a majority of our time in the lab formulating products. The shift to working from home changed our communication method from in-person to relying on online meetings and limiting visits to the lab. Additionally, production has been delayed as the lead time for supplies are longer than before, so we’ve begun to plan earlier to accommodate any unforeseen changes.

Candera Thompson, CEO, Bask & Bloom

It was chaotic in the beginning. We had just moved into our new warehouse on March 1, right before shelter-in-place orders were put into place. Inventory that we had on hand, which would normally last three to four months, was sold in three to four weeks. We had to hire more staff to increase production and, at the same time, stagger our warehouse hours to follow safety protocols. We’ve been working nonstop, adding in evening and weekend hours to stay within our already extended order processing timeframe.

The biggest issue has been the ongoing shortage of packaging and ingredients such as aloe vera gel/juice, which is being used to make hand sanitizers. We’ve had to push back new product launches due to production delays, so we simply decided to focus on what we can control and keep up the momentum with our current product offerings.

Stacy Keibler and Jared Pobre, co-founders, Caldera + Lab

Our team has always operated remotely from different parts of the country so not much has changed in terms of physical workspace. The more interesting challenge has been hiring new employees without ever meeting in person. We’ve made a couple important hires that have integrated well without ever meeting face-to-face. This would have never been considered pre-pandemic.

Lindsey Vanderbilt, director of marketing, Alastin

As a physician-dispensed brand, we quickly pivoted to digital early on in the pandemic and were able to provide education to our B2B partners on how to use their microsites to continue to sell skincare to their patients. We provided webinars and turnkey social assets for them to utilize. As their offices started to open around the country, we were able to provide them with tools that they needed to support their new way of seeing patients. This included additional education seminars, in-office tools that provided visibility in the treatment rooms (as most were not having patients in their waiting rooms), value-adds to the patient, and continued to provide social and digital assets to support replenishment needs for the patients.

Tim Hollinger, co-founder, Bathing Culture

It’s been a hike, and there have been some major ups and downs! We’ve worked hard to make sure mental and physical health are always top of mind, incorporating things like team yoga to alleviate stress. We also accelerated communications/transparency to make sure everyone knows what the challenges are and how we address them. 

When things first started and there was less certainty about how to stay safe, we were running production in three pods. Our product coordinator lives in a house with a few folks who were looking for some extra work during the pandemic, so we were able to create a dedicated production pod with a larger team on board.

Securing raw goods has been incredibly challenging. We keep thinking we’re out of the woods with different shortages, but other folks have copped onto some of our workarounds, and we’ve caught on to some of theirs. Everything is taking about three times longer than before and the shipping carriers are all really struggling. We’re pretty worried about this going into the holiday season. 

 Karen Minsky, Director, Dionis Skincare

We have dramatically changed since the pandemic. Our office team has gone completely remote.  Our manufacturing and distribution center continued to operate regularly, but our communication has changed from face-to-face to 100% digital.  

Aminah Sagoe, founder, Emmaus

I am a small business and I’m the only employee at this time, so thankfully I haven’t had to make any cuts as far as staffing goes. I was however looking to hire someone earlier in the year, but that plan is no longer feasible as my budget is very limited due to the loss in sales.

Distribution is nonexistent for me at this time. I sell my products in other countries, but I have been unable to send stock because many of the airports are closed. In fact, a couple of the freight companies I use have gone out of business due to the pandemic. I recently came out with a face line, but I’ve been unable to do a proper launch since everywhere is closed.

Production is slow due to the fact that many factories are closed. In fact, I am unable to restock my body line because a lot of the ingredients used to make them are sourced overseas, and being that many airports are closed, there just isn’t a reliable way to bring them into the U.S.

Alisia Ford, founder, Glory Skincare

Since the pandemic, we have made the shift to working remotely, which has lowered our overhead costs. We’ve experienced significant delays in our supply chain, and our partners have been impacted as well. Seeing that we’ll be working remotely for the foreseeable future, I’ve thought about hiring people in other West Coast cities such as Los Angeles to expand our brand presence in that city.

Laura Fuentes, CEO, Green Roads

Our first priority is safety, both of our employees and our customers. While our lab where we manufacture our oils, topicals and capsules already had very stringent sanitation protocols, we implemented measures in our shipping department to address health and safety concerns, made most employees virtual, and implemented additional safeguards throughout our facilities.   

The team has absolutely risen to the challenge. We’ve been able to launch 16 new product SKUs and two entire new websites, even while most of the key people were working remotely.  

Hellen Yuan, founder, Hellen

Due to the decrease in sales of our new Aromatic Inhalers, our B2B opportunities have slowed down, causing budgets to adjust based on our original growth plans. We also faced delays in launching the Aromatic Inhalers on our website, as we decided to take on the web updates internally instead of outsourcing the work to an agency. Production was delayed as we find our premium ingredients from all over the world, and the lockdown meant longer lead times on everything.

Barbara Jacques, founder and CEO, Jacq’s Organics

Operations are one of the first pivots I took during the pandemic. Our customers’ and staff’s health, well-being and safety was at the top of mind in light of our social responsibility and the current global situation. For Jacq’s, that meant putting a halt and limiting social activity like events, in-person meetings, and even production to practice self-care during this time. Because I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t think to buy supplies (packaging, replenish inventory, shipping supplies) prior to the global shutdown. That was a big mistake because once I realized many of the larger brands were buying packaging in an abnormal amount for fear of not having supplies like ingredients, packaging and closures. They were already sold out for months.

Thankfully, I already had a sufficient amount of inventory on hand, but it did suck having to explain to customers why there was a delay in shipment once we started to sell out. I would say that I was lucky because of the existing online sales strategy my team and I had been working on the year before that allowed us to keep the machine moving during the pandemic and not skip a beat.

As for delays, I did have to pause a product release until next year for several reasons, but that has given me time to focus on operations, sales and quality assurance in-house. I’ve implemented testing for new staff and random testing for existing staff, and steps are in place to ensure our high level of service continues in addition to virtual operations.

Monica Grohne, founder and CEO, Marea

While the past six-plus months certainly have been uncertain, we’ve been managing by taking it all day by day and week by week. Particularly given we launched amidst the pandemic, we’ve learned to be particularly quick on our feet and put processes in place to ensure we’re keeping up with demand for our customers. We’ve seen an increase in lead time for production, so we’ve kept a tighter watch on inventory management to make sure there’s no product shortages.

Gwen Jimmere, founder, Naturalicious

My entire team has gone virtual except those who are absolutely essential to be in the office, which includes our production and shipping teams as well as operations. Everyone else from marketing to customer experience are working from home. I’m even working from home.  

We’ve had a great amount of demand since the pandemic, but a lot of challenges when it comes to filling that demand. For example, bottles and jars have been out of stock for long periods of time. Currently, we are dealing with out-of-stocks on ingredients necessary to produce for our top selling product. All suppliers are out of stock. It’s nuts. When things do come back in stock, suppliers are charging 2X to 4X more than usual because the demand is so high, but the supply is so limited. 

Further, we have lost some necessary team members in our warehouse, which means it’s taking longer to fulfill orders than normal, not to mention that once we do ship orders out, USPS has had a ton of delays on their end. We stay in communication with our customers to let them know what’s going on but, at the end of the day, we are an experience-based brand. It’s been tough to provide the same experience that customers are used to from us. 

Naomi Furgiuele, founder, chief strategy officer and chief curator, Nuria

With the closing of retail brick-and-mortar, we shifted our expansion efforts to online retailers such as Amazon here in the U.S. and also to other markets given some were beginning to open up as the U.S. was shutting down. In partnership with the Roolife Group, we launched on Tmall Global, and we also have plans to launch in Southeast Asia through Lazada. 

The biggest headwind was that we could not interact with our consumers in person and give them the opportunity to try our products in stores. This meant we had to engage with them in new ways, and we tried to really view it as an opportunity to help our consumers take care of their skin at home through virtual guidance and personalized coaching.

Megan Merid, co-founder, Realher

We are grateful that our team has been going full-force 100% with no layoffs since the pandemic. Most of us are working from our homes and we stagger a few employees such as our shipping department so everyone is always socially distant. We are a small team of eight and close like family, so it has definitely been a challenge not being able to be with one another. We usually communicate via Zoom and phone several times a week to stay in close contact in regards to all projects at hand. 

Production for us happens in factories around the globe. At one point, the factory in the U.S. was shut down, but no longer in Italy. The pandemic has slowed down our launches for sure, but it has given us some time to really focus on product development and how we can elevate our brand with new innovation and savvy game changing ingredients moving forward.

Tiffany Thurston Scott, CEO, Róen

The first 30 days of the pandemic were a difficult adjustment and felt stagnant, but we made the necessary changes aka daily Zoom calls which were instrumental in getting our collaborative synergy back and, now, we’re able to meet with masks and social distance and have found a happy medium between meeting and working from home.

Jami Morse Heidegger, founder, Retrouvé

Procuring ingredients and packaging components has been a real challenge. We like to produce our products more frequently in small batches under vacuum because we want our preparations to be as fresh as possible. While we manufacture our products in the United States, we source ingredients from all over the world, and we have run into obstacles in obtaining certain select ingredients. Even if you have 99% of the ingredients, you can’t make the product! As a result, we ran out of stock on a few of our bestsellers early in the pandemic.

In addition to having difficulty getting necessary ingredients, until recently, most of the manufacturing facilities were only allowed to remain open to produce products deemed essential such as hand sanitizers. Now that the facilities are opening up again for manufacturing of non-essential items, they are very busy, and it has been very challenging to secure production time. Everything is just taking longer, and we are scrambling to make things happen in a timely manner. We had planned to launch a hand cream, toner and lip balm by year’s end. Thus far, only our Dermal Defense Hand Cream has launched. We do not anticipate that the other two items will be available until 2021.

Dean Neiger, co-founder, Sky Organics

Working during the pandemic has definitely opened our eyes to innovative and more efficient ways to handle our day-to-day operations and maintain an enjoyable work environment. As a business, though, it is very important to stay focused on your goals, so we cut costs where we could without straying from our initial vision and strategy to provide the highest quality products, while minimizing the environmental impact. 

From the start, we guaranteed our employees (even before the PPP loans) that no one would be laid off, and no salaries would be cut through the pandemic. Every member of our team is important to us, so it was crucial to demonstrate to them how valuable each of them are to us. Everyone has been working remotely since March 15, so we split the company into three separate teams that meet every day: e-commerce, marketing, and operations. This way, every member is accounted for and can stay on top of their tasks. Photoshoots, and most of our in-person meetings and tasks have been postponed, but we hope to return partly to the office by early 2021. 

As for production, we faced a couple of challenges at our warehouse at the beginning of the pandemic, but one of the owners flew to our distribution center, and packed and shipped all the order for two weeks himself. While we are still getting accustomed to this new normal, we are doing everything to uphold a positive workplace. For example, this week we are hosting a team happy hour including a surprise box with goodies inside that we will open together to encourage camaraderie. 

Sandra McCurdy, co-founder, Silked

It’s been challenging and definitely an adjustment for us. We usually source our sustainable fabrics in person, so working with our manufacturer with our new styles and patterns has been tricky. We’ve also done less in the way of photoshoots but it’s made us come up with creative solutions to getting the shots we need. Our meetings on zoom are just not the same as in-person collaborations, although it is nice to have the option of wearing your pajama bottoms!

Lisa and Vanessa Creaven, co-founders, Spotlight Oral Care

We have definitely had to adapt during the pandemic. A lot of our staff work remotely now, and we have been able to make some key hires during this period based on skills and experience rather than location which has been great for our business. We have had to reevaluate our supply chain in line with the increased online sales and amend our stock forecasts.

We have also had to work with our logistical partners to ensure that they’re also scaling with the growth of our business. This is really important to ensure a speedy turnaround time from order to delivery for our customers. We have had an increase in customer care queries due to so many new customers, and we had to audit and rapidly grow that arm of our team to facilitate the extra queries!

Jessica Jade, founder, SunKiss

My crafting process and workspace is completely compliant with the Department of Health’s social distancing standards. My production and distribution are for the time being delayed to seven to 10 days versus my three-day standard. I have increased the budget to accommodate paid ads and more influencer campaigns to attract as many customers as possible. I have, on the other hand, delayed the launch of one product for 2021, but proceeded with successfully launching our Rose Oil Cleansing Balm at the beginning of March. It has quickly become one of our bestselling products!

Bryan Taylor, COO, Taylor Beauty 

We’re a small, family startup, so managing the workforce is probably the easiest operational task. Our primary distribution previously was via large scale events like Curlfest in NY and e-commerce. Since the pandemic, we’ve shifted our focus to include additional outlets like subscription boxes and B2C advertising like social media as well as considering regional stores that carry indie brands.

We had to revisit our launch strategy from quarterly to more strategic windows like holiday in wake of the lack of in-person events to move massive amounts of product as we work to increase our website traffic and social following. We’ve also seen an uptick in the focus on BIPOC brands, which includes Taylor Beauty Products, and hope that impacts us in a positive direction moving forward. 

Stacie Czech, co-founder, Thryv Organics

In the beginning, it was scary. We had to temporarily close down our brick-and-mortar store. We switched to curbside pickup and home delivery for Dallas-based customers within a 10-mile radius. We already had a robust website in place to handle online orders, but we needed to get our message out there. We were fortunate enough to partner with a major influencer recently, and our products were well received by her community. The partnership has been amazing for us in terms of brand awareness and online sales.

Amy Liu, founder, Tower 28

As a work-from-home mom with three kids in virtual school, it’s been challenging to say the least. Let’s just say many of my professional colleagues have now met my children. Zoom is like a magnet for them! But the mornings feel less rushed which I really enjoy.

I miss working with my team IRL, though. I really enjoy them as people and part of the fun of work is coming together and collaborating. We’ve gotten better and more structured, implementing tools like Slack, Notion and GanttProject, but it still doesn’t replace the banter that happens when we’re in a room together. 

Polly Rodriguez, founder and CEO, Unbound

It’s definitely been an adjustment. For starters, we’ve been remote as a team for six months. It was really hard and sad to leave our office in Union Square in Manhattan. But our team has adapted really quickly, and they’ve done an incredible job of both going remote and managing the surge in demand for products. We’re lucky that we haven’t had to lay off any full-time employees and we’re grateful for that.

The biggest change is probably the increased communication required in order to launch new products and campaigns. It takes so much more organization when you can’t all gather in a room to plan in-person, but I also think it’s strengthened us as a team. We’re more empathetic and proactive in how we communicate with one another, and that’s a good thing.

Alexis Stanley, CEO, Uniqurl

The main two things that have impacted our business during the pandemic are shipping and sourcing supplies. Shipping orders to our customers has become such a challenge due to the instability of the USPS. Prior to July, 100% of our orders went out via USPS As of July 1, we had to switch to UPS. This switch has resulted in a more expensive shipping cost for our customers, which has increased our abandoned cart rate. However, we have seen a marked increase in timely and accurate deliveries.  

The other challenge we’re facing is a huge shortage of supplies and raw materials, with the biggest problem being sourcing plastics. We’ve had to adjust how and when we purchase our jars and bottles. We are now purchasing plastics several months before we actually need them due to long lead times and back orders. Some plastics have been out of stock since May and will not be back until January 2021. 

Heather Hamilton, founder, Zoe Organics

In March, when the stay-at-home order became effective, my husband and I were the only ones who went to our facility to keep as much going as possible. It was both nerve-racking and thrilling like we were returning to the early days working in my kitchen making products. For a while there, I made product as quickly as I could, and my husband shipped it out. That was obviously unsustainable, but we did what we had to do to keep going. Once we were able to bring some employees back, we launched our new Hand + Surface Spray and sold out in 48 hours. That was a record month of sales for us.

The biggest challenge for us has been sourcing. Starting in March, it was impossible to find most of our containers. We stay pretty lean, so we don’t keep huge amounts of inventory on hand. We were literally scouring the internet and buying up what we could. We missed out on sales because of out-of-stocks.

Shipping times from vendors has been about double the times pre-COVID,  and we have had multiple shipments lost or returned to sender. All of the delays add up and affect our customers as they have to wait longer to receive their orders. We have learned that we need to allow at least double, if not triple, the lead time for things to arrive.

3. What key pivots have you made?

Cora Miller, founder, Young King Hair Care 

As an emerging brand that launched in December 2019, our initial strategy was to focus on driving in-person brand awareness through industry and pop-up tailored events to help establish credibility within the beauty space. We were actually scheduled to participate in 11 regional and national key industry events. However, COVID-19 forced the cancellation of all physical events, and no physical events planned for the foreseeable future. We had to quickly pivot to ensure our brand could survive through the pandemic. We adapted our business strategy by reinvesting marketing funds into paid search and social campaigns, strategic partnerships, and promotions and discounts.

We tested various marketing campaigns to understand what creative and messaging resonated the best with our target audience. This test ultimately helped us prepare for a paid search and social media campaign, which launched at the top of Q2. Additionally, to maintain credibility in the digital space, we started partnering with mom bloggers and influencers who have national reach and an engaged following to provide an authentic consumer voice to our brand message. Through these partnerships, we were able to attract new consumers and increase our brand engagement while deepening our penetration in key African-American markets.

To make products more accessible, we also offered a variety of promotions and discount codes to consumers during this time. Such promotions yielded increased sales and results. As a result of all of these efforts, we experienced better than expected results, achieving 1,234% growth in Q2 versus Q1 2020 driven by 94% of sales from new customers.

Aba Gyepi-Garbrah, founder, Aba Love Apothecary

There was no outwardly facing pivot. E-commerce has held steady, and we have been able to reach new customers and reconnect to our existing customers with our related franchises with virtual workshops. Internally, we have, however, had to reconsider space and scaling as our business markedly changed over the summer. For us, that means maintaining the pace in a way that is financially sustainable.

Tiila Abbitt, founder, Aether Beauty

Our DTC was growing so rapidly that we actually brought on a new DC, as we were literally shipping prior from my home. Also, COVID affected one of our manufacturers as they have been closed this entire time and, unfortunately, just found out this week that they are going out of business.

Triniti Gawthrop, founder, Ami Wellness

We reviewed all our operating costs, from phone services to printing to water for the office, and we renegotiated terms with our vendors to reduce MOQ and extend payment terms. We cut everywhere we could to reduce costs. We made every change we could to protect the cash flow we had. We extended terms, and we decreased initial orders or order levels. We actually reduced our monthly costs by 180%.

We also brought most outside services in-house or cut them for the time being. Additionally, we’ve had to restrategize product launches (dates, messaging and rollout) specifically around immunity products due to the current climate.

Lulu Cordero, founder, Bomba Curls

At the start of the pandemic, we were dealing with major challenges coming at us from all sides: packaging shortages, cancelled POs and uncertainty about the future of our business. I’m a fighter, and I was determined to make the best out of the hand that we were dealt. We now source all of our packaging factory direct from overseas.

I quickly discovered that there are limited options stateside as far as packaging suppliers, and they were prioritizing orders from the big industry players. I now have a plastic manufacturer that I work with directly to secure all my packaging, and we always keep enough stocked as well. Focusing on getting ourselves in front of consumers allowed us to increase our sales and refine our strategies for growth moving forward.

Kristen Heaton, founder, Crave Naturals

Building my team has been an incredible pivot of mine. COVID really made me realize how much I was juggling, and it pushed me to find talented people that specialize in aspects of the brand that can really benefit us. It has helped me to delegate and put trust in my team.

Jill Rowe, co-founder, Cultivate Apothecary

I feel we, as brand founders and as a company, have been uniquely positioned to weather this discomfiting time in our lives because our brand is literally homegrown. We live and work on our organic farm and have been “sheltering in place” for years! We outsource very little as we cultivate, formulate and distribute almost everything from the farm. As a newer brand, we do not have any employees besides ourselves. We were able to get small SBA EIDL loans that were of some help.

We are self-funded, so that has been hard to keep going without the ability to get our products into stores, etc. As for launches, we went DTC with everything we did. We have a small, but engaged IG community as well as the brand’s mailing list and our farm’s mailing list. We were able to create opportunities through specific offerings of existing and new products that we launched that helped keep us going. We handle all the marketing in-house, so we continued to forge relationships and were able to translate those relationships into several podcast and press opportunities. 

 Karen Minsky, Director, Dionis Skincare

Key pivots for us has been launching our hand sanitizer and surface spray, and expanding our hand soap line. Prior to the pandemic, we would not have made those items, but we recognized a need in the marketplace and were able to launch and ship these items in early June. We are very proud to be flexible enough to pivot in such a quick way and offer this during a time where supply was not present.

Beth Spruance Bennett, CEO, DpHue

One of the most significant shifts we made was to increase the commission we payout to salon professionals through the DpHue Pro App from 35% to 50%. Licensed hair professionals can download the app for free and order products for their clients, which get shipped directly to the client and, in return, the pro earns a commission.

With all salons shutting down across the country, we knew this community had just lost their only source of income, so we were very proud to be able to offer them a chance to keep earning money. It has been a win-win for us as the pros have been incredible advocates for the brand, reinforcing our positioning of “fresh color between salon visits.” It has led to great user-generated content around the products they recommend to their clients and from the consumers using them, many for the first time, and discovering just how easy it is to touch up your hair at home.

Gertie Wilson, founder Elevé Cosmetics

We have diligently worked to develop our online sales using various marketing tools such as social media, text messaging and e-mail. We are handling most tasks, including photography, media design and advertising in-house as opposed to outsourcing. We have definitely seen an uptick in online sales, which has been very rewarding!

Elsa Jungman, founder, Dr. Elsa Jungman 

Our biggest pivot was in marketing. We had to shift our growth strategy to be more profitable in the short-term instead of spending as much, looking for more viral and referral ways to support our business and grow brand awareness. 

Ella Miller, founder, Exquisite Face & Body 

I offered all of my spa partners who usually stock Exquisite products the convenience of having me drop-ship orders for them rather than them having to hold inventory at a time when everyone is watching every dollar.

Rebecca Pinette-Dorin, North American brand manager, ExSens

We had a lot of ups and downs. We lost a chunk of our admin workforce during the shutdown because of childcare or personal problems. Everyone had to pull double duty while working from home or social distancing in the office. Logistically, everyone had to lend a hand, sometimes outside of their job description. The general fear factor through April and May really made it hard to keep everyone’s spirits up while people were dying all over America. Meanwhile, we were handling a ton of extra orders. It was not easy. 

Then stocking issues arose. Shipping from Europe became sporadic and unreliable. Manufacturing scheduling was already difficult because we were making hand sanitizer for hospitals in France to help with the pandemic effort. The unexpected added sales threw another wrench into the works. We had to scramble and revise the production calendar for the rest of the year and push off product launches for Q3 and Q4 until 2021. 

On the upside, the boost in business allowed us to hire another person to help with orders and take over Instagram. Because other marketing projects were on hold, our marketing team decided to rebuild our website. We invested our 2020 trade show budget into B2C marketing, mostly with Emily Morse and “Sex with Emily” podcast, and increased the frequency of our B2C email communication and added a blog to our website. With these steps, we advanced our planned online marketing push by about eight to 10 months.

Angela Mustone, founder, High on Love

While it’s certainly been a challenge, we’ve used this opportunity to pivot and change our strategy to gain more sales through e-commerce. We’re elevating our website and stepping up our social media strategy, even organizing Instagram Live sessions with wellness experts to offer valuable content to our customers and attract new ones. We’ve had success with influencer campaigns this month since so many eyes are on social media. This pandemic has been a setback for us as it has been for many brands, but, ultimately, we’re turning it into a time for improvement and connecting with our community online.

Lynda Berkowitz, CEO, Ilia

I think the biggest adjustment across the company is thinking like a DTC brand. It’s not an intuitive shift because our largest wholesale customer is also growing by over 200%, but building the experience for our direct consumer benefits everyone. We quickly built out a Find My Shade element to our website, which links customers with an Ilia employee who can assist with virtual shade matching while simultaneously building trust and long-term relationships. 

Chelsi Oestreich, co-founder, Kinkō

We pivoted in two ways. One was not to launch any new product this year. We wanted to stay lean and not take on the major investment that comes with a new product launch, so we have punted that to early next year. Another is how we are approaching our marketing. We are leading an initiative that we hope will be the first of many to come, working together with other female founded indie brands to raise brand awareness together. With the social unrest that is happening in our country, we wanted to take a stand and show that, when we work together, we are all better.

Monica Grohne, founder and CEO, Marea

Pushing our launch date has definitely been the biggest, most impactful pivot we’ve made thus far. Supplement demand skyrocketed, and we were faced with challenges sourcing our inputs. With existing pre-orders, we knew we had to put extra effort into customer care and communicating any delays to our customers. We also teamed up with Cora to provide tampons and pads to our customers while they waited for their pre-order. It has been amazing to see brands supporting brands during these times with these types of cross-promotional partnerships.

Jay Hartenbach, CEO, Medterra

In less than 60 days, we launched an Immunity Boost tincture to align with the growing demand. It is so easy to chase every opportunity in CBD. With the pandemic, we really have focused on simplifying our business and expanding on what we know works. We created new programs targeted to repeat online customers. We increased attention to our pet CBD line with new formulations. We leveraged our independent pharmacy relationships to develop out-of-store marketing programs that did not rely on foot traffic. All of those efforts were very successful and a valuable lesson in not overcomplicating things in such a complicated time.

Amber Makupson, founder, Meraki Organics

My key pivots are maintaining relationships with multiple sourcing options to assure inventory. I have also ordered 50% more from all vendors in the event the item that I am sourcing goes on back order.

Gwen Jimmere, founder, Naturalicious

Our focus has shifted from a sales basis to an education basis. We found that customers are now having to figure out for themselves how to deal with their hair, and our target customer simply doesn’t know. She’s used to being able to rely on her stylist at will, but, these days, how her hair looks is completely her responsibility. She’s constantly frustrated, routinely disappointed and at her wits end with her hair.

To answer that call, we’ve started teaching our wildly successful Repair Your Hair Challenge, which is a perfect mix of our high performance products and world-class hair care education. It was intended to be a one-time-only offer at the start of the pandemic to help our customers solve all their hair challenges in just 15 days. Because the demand for this program has been so great, we have added it to our regular product offering line up. Because of the price point, it has become one of our top-grossing product offerings, not to mention the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done professionally.

The first time, in April, we had 83 participants. The second time in July, we had 383 people, a 78% increase in sign-ups. We anticipate 500-700 participants next time, and it will continue to grow exponentially. What makes it work is that I have established myself as an expert for years prior to the Repair Your Hair Challenge ever being offered. It’s not like I just popped up out of nowhere claiming to have this knowledge and authority. Because I’ve been consistent for years with my customers, when it came time for this to drop, there was already a ton of trust created between the customer and me. 

Jacqueline Carrington, founder, People of Color

Our key pivots have been investing more time and education in growing our e-commerce, embracing going into the major retailer space, and making necessary operational decisions to be able to support increased demand and opportunities. The impacts have been positive in helping us better learn our customer base, what they want from us, and how we can deliver and continue to grow.

Aileen Dow, founder, Si Skin Organics

Finding ways to increase our visibility was important. So, we partnered with Beautyque NYC for a new online shopping experience, and we started to look into beauty box subscriptions, too. We also created additional informational blog content, rewrote product descriptions, and updated the overall look and feel of our website. The goal was to cut through some of the additional noise on social media and drive customers to our website as we’ve seen an overall engagement increase of 3%.

Kay Cola, founder, The Organibrands

One of the key pivots we made was using more machinery and ordering our necessary items that we need to manufacture three to six months ahead.

4. How has your shoppers’ consumption behavior changed, and what do you think will be lasting from the changes?

Nina Zilka, co-founder, Alder New York

Personal care will continue to be a fast-growing sector as people focus on self care and looking good for Zoom calls. We see our specific subset of clean, genderless and affordable skincare being increasingly important. People are more concerned about their finances and are looking for lower-priced, high-performing products. They’re additionally more comfortable shopping online for skincare. Consumers are continuing to see the value of shopping with small, independent brands, and we think that will be a long lasting trend in the industry.

Stacy Keibler and Jared Pobre, co-founders, Caldera Labs

We have an older demographic of 35 year old and up high-income men. Pre-pandemic, these shoppers required multiple touch points prior to making a purchase decision. Now, we’re seeing customers make faster purchases, requiring less interaction with the brand. We believe this shorter purchasing behavior is here to stay.

Tim Hollinger, co-founder, Bathing Culture

We’re seeing a lot more interest in our bulk products. We thought this would drop off after the early panic buying, but it’s only accelerated. We’re stoked about this, as buying in bulk is often way better for the environment. We think bulk buying will continue to be a trend.

Angela Mustone, founder, High on Love

The COVID-19 lockdown has undoubtedly caused some degree of stress and anxiety in many people, likely the majority of us. Self-care and sexual wellness are two industries that have really been thrust into the spotlight right now because we’re all realizing the importance of caring for ourselves, which should be a priority even in normal times, but has become more of an obvious necessity in times of uncertainty.

Our self-care products such as our Sensual Bath Oil have been doing well, and we’re even having a hard time keeping some of our sexual wellness products in stock. Mainstream companies such as Indigo and Urban Outfitters are now carrying sexual wellness products, which speaks volumes as to this change in consumer mindset. It’s slowly becoming less and less of a taboo. People are understanding that sex is natural, healthy—it can even boost your immunity—and a crucial component of a balanced lifestyle. 

Shelly Ann Winokur, founder, Kiss Kiss Goodnight

Most shoppers are online, so partnering with a retailer with a strong online presence is key.  Having a strong online community and understanding of digital ads is more important than ever. Amazon and are still the most popular with moms and that has intensified during the pandemic. Shoppers are also at the grocery store, so partnering with natural food stores is top on our list. Customers want to pick up their veggies and plant-based skincare at the same time.

Body care for the family is still relevant, especially with the increase in washing and being indoors. Effective moisturizers are as important as hand sanitizer. People are still having babies, so baby care and mom care have a strong demand.  Although people are more price sensitive as a whole, I imagine they are less so when it comes to care products for the baby. Having packaging that is giftable is very important to our business. 

Mabel Frias and Shaira Frias, co-founders, Luna Magic Beauty

Behaviors have changed in the sense that we’ve received more inquiries and support since we are a female- and Latina-owned brand. It seems that given the climate customers are demanding to see more diversity and inclusivity, and they are making their demands to big retailers (Fifteen Percent Pledge) and calling out established beauty brands to share their diversity stats on their executive teams. It certainly feels like the timing is right more than ever to be a brand like ours to stand for something that is authentic.

Julie Sawaya, co-founder, Needed

The pandemic has further blurred the lines between the direct-to-consumer and practitioner sales channels, with Needed sitting at the intersection of them. Many of us got through this period through Amazon and other online deliveries. That purchasing behavior isn’t going away. At the same time, consumers have never cared more about the science/trustworthiness of the products they take and science in general. A practitioner or other trusted authority’s stamp of approval matters even more than it did pre-COVID.

Tera Peterson, co-founder and chief creative officer, NuFace

There is no doubt that as shelter-in-place orders took effect, clients immediately sought out ways to deliver the results they were receiving from their monthly professional treatments, and NuFace devices are exactly that: easy-to-use, at-home tools designed by professionals to deliver results at home. However, what became clear is clients not only want the tool, they want the education that they receive from their aesthetician or dermatologist, and that’s where we’ve seen consumption of knowledge skyrocket and how we feel we’re continuing to best serve our clients.  

Jessica Assaf, chief education officer, Prima

Our current bestsellers are very reflective of current times and shifting consumer needs. Since COVID-19 started, Bath Gem, The Daily, R+R and Rest Easy have been bestsellers, all functional and targeted products for stress, sleep, body soreness and immunity. 

We’ve actually seen 4X our anticipated customer growth during this time, and Bath Gem sold out on both our website and Bath Gem also saw a 669% increase in sales during the peak of COVID at the end of March versus average sales the month previous. Sephora’s VP calls Bath Gem “a day at the spa for $16,” and its success during this time demonstrates consumers’ desire for carving out time for self-care.  Overall, consumer trends are reflective in this product assortment, people are valuing comfort, wellness, stress and sleep support, and creating new at-home beauty routines and rituals.

Tiffany Thurston Scott, CEO, Róen

We have definitely seen an impact on the in-store shopping experience, which has always been big for makeup. I have seen people who used to only purchase makeup in-store now purchasing online and trusting the online buying experience. I think there will be a lasting effect of more people purchasing makeup online and brands shifting to have more content available that showcase the products from how to use to showing various shades on different skin tones.

Darci Rosenblum, co-founder, Stryke Club

Our shopper’s consumption behavior has changed a great deal. Our purchaser is the parent, generally the mom, and we see her behavior has changed in three main ways. We find she’s spending more time online, so she’s seeing our advertising more frequently. She has more time to research her purchases than she’s had in the past, and she’s taking the time to invest in her family’s health and making purchasing decisions she’s thought about in the past, but hasn’t had the time to make.

Because of COVID, more people are buying products commonly purchased in-store online. Stryke Club is currently sold directly from our website, and we think the shift to purchasing more personal care online will continue. Thus, we are eager to enhance our website so that we can make it even easier to stock up on Stryke Club essentials from home.

Jessica Jade, founder, SunKiss

Customers are now purchasing products at a faster rate than before and at completely different times of the day. The majority of my sales were once made around 12 p.m., standard lunch break, after 5 p.m. and on weekends. Now, it’s very common to receive as many sales at 3 a.m. as we do at 3 p.m. any day of the week! My customers have mostly been online since 2016. However, I have noticed that they are more open to virtual consultations and purchasing products online. I believe the increase in virtual doctor’s visits, for example, has increased their comfortability with skin consultations and making online sales.

Bryan Taylor, COO, Taylor Beauty

We placed ourselves in the role of the consumer and priced our products to be conscious of the target demographic. We are competitively priced and include shipping with each purchase (no additional fee). We’ve seen reorders approximately every 60 to 90 days, when previously we planned for approximately 30 to 45 days. We hope to resume to the shorter timeframe for reorders, thus allowing us to better plan for new launches.

Polly Rodriguez, founder and CEO, Unbound

Overall, as customers are not actively dating because of COVID, we’ve seen a surge in demand for vibrators. My hope is that this massive shift will continue to erode the stigma associated with masturbation and that these products will be household items for the majority of Americans moving forward. I think it’s actually really wonderful that so many people are choosing pleasure during such a difficult time It’s really rewarding to think that we’re giving people a bit of happiness in the hellscape that is 2020.

5. How are you feeling about your business and the business of beauty more generally going into the end of this year? 

Aba Gyepi-Garbrah, founder, Aba Love Apothecary

I am feeling pretty good and, honestly, it feels like the right business to be in. We are lucky we did not have to deal with the overhead of a physical storefront. Of course, I have my own anxieties about the broader economy and the pain points with scaling. However, I do feel confident because, overall, the past six months have demonstrated that the beauty business can genuinely be of service.

Rachel Daugherty, founder, Fine Healing Goods

To be completely transparent, it can be scary. It is feast or famine out there right now and, certainly, not just in my industry. However, our brand is definitely all about growth and, as we reinvent the way we do business, our products and their quality will remain consistent. There are some big changes coming, and I am so thankful to our loyal customer base for sticking with us as we navigate these difficult times. I have loved birthing this brand, and it has been a wild ride that has already started to bear fruit.

Alisia Ford, Glory Skincare

Going into the end of the year, I’m optimistic about the growth potential of Glory Skincare and the business of beauty. The current social climate and Buy Black Movement has caused consumers to be more intentional with their spending power and Black-owned businesses are being amplified. It is a great time to be a beauty entrepreneur.

Laura Fuentes, CEO, Green Roads

I feel optimistic about our business. Just because our daily lives have changed, the desire to feel and look our best has not.  

Jennifer Culpepper, founder, I+I Botanicals

We have been self-funded since we launched with three products more than a year ago. Now, we are ready to expand and grow, so we are beginning the process of meeting with potential investors and partners who can help us get to the next level. We have a clear vision for the future of our business, and we have built a great brand with amazing products that have produced positive results for our clients. The current climate has taught us to be flexible, and to empathize with our customers so we can be a source of positivity and light in their lives. Though some shifts have happened in the beauty business, we believe self-care is a lifetime investment on yourself, which will never go out of style.

Amber Makupson, founder, Meraki Organics

I feel great about my business and the business of beauty going into the end of the year. There has been great opportunity for growth and expansion, which has allowed me to expand my business into major retail as well as secure salon partners and investors. I am also excited to see the diversity in beauty as it relates to Black and brown founders in the beauty space. I am excited for the continued growth in the e-commerce space as well as the new technology that has emerged to drive better customer experiences online. 

Julie Sawaya, co-founder, Needed

We have even stronger conviction that what we are doing—empowering optimal nourishment for mothers through products, education, and community—is needed. Optimal nourishment for moms is critical always, but especially in light of the strains placed on mothers during the pandemic with kids at home, limited childcare, added stress during pregnancy around attending appointments without a partner, fears of contracting the virus and more.

We are as optimistic as ever about our product offering and our practitioner- and education-first marketing approach, but without rose-colored glasses on. We expect this fall to be a challenging advertising environment with the election and COVID dominating the advertising landscape and editorial space. We are thinking outside the box about how to cut through the noise, and think practitioners are a strong bet as women turn to them as a resource to navigate their conception/pregnancy/postpartum experiences.

Late 2020 through 2021 could be a challenging fundraising environment (election, COVID, broader economic uncertainty). We’ll keep our team just the two of us through the end of the year and maybe well into next year to make our budget last amid broader uncertainty.

Jessica Heitz, VP of brand and marketing, OLLY

Consumers view beauty as vital self-care, and beauty routines help create normalcy. Pairing beauty supplements with their topical regimen allows consumers to pamper themselves during a time of uncertainty. We believe this holistic view of health and wellness is here to stay and, as a brand, it’ll be important to communicate to consumers that OLLY offers solutions that support both physical and mental health. 

Megan Merid, co-founder, Realher

We are still extremely optimistic. 2020 has been a tough year, but, in hindsight, it has propelled our team to greater heights. We are pushing ourselves to learn and listen carefully to what the customer is seeking. Our brand is based on empowerment and positivity, so we have no choice but to lead with that attitude and we hope that this is the message being received by those who follow us. Beauty as a whole is not going anywhere and will continue to grow and expand in innovation and inclusivity. It will be so interesting to see how we all grow through this and what each brand will accomplish in the next few years.

Jami Morse Heidegger, founder, Retrouvé

As a result of increased demand for our products and limited manufacturing opportunity, we have experienced out-of-stock situations with some of our most popular items such as our Revitalizing Eye Concentrate Skin Hydrator and Baume Ultime. We are looking forward to getting fully stocked and excited to introduce our new Conditioning Tonic with Chamomile.

While we are grateful for the significant increases in our e-commerce sales, we are hoping that, when it is safe again to do so, our retail partners will be in a position to bounce back. Many people do like to have that in-person store experience, and department stores, independent retailers and spas have always been a valued and important part of our business. We are pleased to see solid increases in the online business that we have with several of our retail vendors as well.

Azam Anwar, founder, CLn Skin Care

In beauty, people are washing their brushes more and are being more mindful of cleanliness in general. We are glad to see the beauty business emphasizing the importance of cleanliness. This includes cleansing hands properly and often, keep surfaces and brushes clean and having a clean surface on the skin before makeup application.

Banie Redelinghuys, co-founder, Skinesiology

Economies go through ups and downs. Most important irrespective of those movements is that you offer value, that you offer something that is not just a product, but has additional meaning or value to your customer. We feel that Skinesiology skincare offers this as its focus is on emotional well-being. 

For us, beauty is feeling good about yourself and, from a pure business point of view, that will never go out of business. In these times, the craving, not need, for feeling good is at its highest. We are optimistic about beauty as brands are genuinely customer-centric, and I believe this is critical for a sustainable industry. There will be new challenges, but there always are.

Alexis Stanley, CEO, Uniqurl

Speaking of my business personally, Uniqurl is doing great. Our slower months now are 7X more than our best months last year.  I couldn’t be happier! If sales continue as they have, we will reach $1 million by the end of the year. This is only our second year in business. The beauty industry as a whole can expect marked increases in consumer spending as people look for ways to look and feel better about themselves during such uncertain times.