When Ulta Beauty Came Calling, Terra Beauty Bars Was Ready
Many beauty startups aren’t prepared when a major account comes calling. They don’t have the bandwidth or cash to meet inventory demands, and aren’t set up logistically to ship thousands of pieces.
That wasn’t the case for three-year-old Terra Beauty Bars, which was retail ready when Ulta Beauty expressed interest. The beauty specialty retailer has launched nine of the brand’s 12 natural skincare products on its website.
Inspired by farm-to-skin formulas steeped in their Brazilian and Italian heritage, three first-generation American sisters introduced Terra initially with natural bar soaps. The name Terra comes from the Portuguese and Italian word for earth. Unlike fledgling beauty concepts with little business acumen behind them, each sister brought advantageous brand-building skills to the company.
Fernanda Gomes, who serves as CEO, has experience in marketing and client services; middle sister Luana taps her real estate and finance background to run operations; and Jasmine is a paramedical aesthetician. Together, they have a combined 15 years in the beauty segment. Their mother, Angela, works in research and testing, and “rolls up her sleeves” to get the job done at Terra, says Gomes. The sisters also visit their grandmother on a farm in Brazil to connect themselves and Terra with their roots.
Terra began by vending its natural products at local festivals and markets, but the founders shortly realized it had broader potential. The brand transitioned from the local festivals and markets to selling merchandise online as well as at select apothecaries, spas, hotels and even producing private label goods for big box retailers. Outside of Ulta, Terra is available at Côte, Glow Raleigh, Gurney’s Inn Resort & Spa and Spa Elizabeth, to list some of its stockists.
As Terra planned for growth, a pivotal decision was made. Rather than outsource production to a contract manufacturer, the brand went through the arduous process of securing licenses, buying machinery and opening its a facility in Deerfield Beach, Fla. Today, all of Terra’s products are conceived, formulated and manufactured in-house.
“Once you get in front of buyers, you only have a few seconds to get their attention. The rest your products need to do.”
Although it bore a hefty implementation cost, Gomes says in-house production allows the company become profitable faster. She notes her sisters worked at other jobs to fund Terra’s operations at the outset. By making its own products, Terra can pass savings on to consumers while sticking to strict natural ingredient standards and quality controls. Gomes says, “We want to make products everyone can afford.”
While the company won’t divulge financials, industry sources estimate Terra doubled its gross revenue in 2018 from the previous years. The brand is believed to be on track to quadruple revenue in 2019.
Prior to attending the trade show Indie Beauty Expo last year, Terra honed its brand story, perfected its packaging and edited its product selection. Beauty Independent is owned by IBE parent company Indie Beauty Media Group. “Once you get in front of buyers, you only have a few seconds to get their attention. The rest your products need to do. We waited two years before we went [to IBE], and the questions that were asked by buyers and the type of products we were offering really resonated,” says Gomes. “We were definitely ready.”
The thoughtful approach paid off. Terra caught the attention of Ulta and was equipped to supply the beauty giant. It was compliant with EDI, the back-end communications system connecting brands to retailers, and able to handle a sizeable order.
Ulta’s site is an ideal launch pad for Terra. “We want to take baby steps and make sure we are selling and meeting expectations, not in thousands of stores,” says Gomes. Her objective is for Terra’s online presence to lead to physical store distribution next year. To help foster sales, the brand will be executing an upscale sampling program in tandem with Ulta.
Terra’s product lineup includes the Marble Beauty Bar, a natural facial cleansing soap with activated charcoal and Brazilian yellow clay, waterless cleansing grains in matcha, volcanic, rose coconut and turmeric, and the Floral Infusion Multitasking Oil that’s created by a multi-week process that pulls vitamins and nutrients from flowers and infuses them into the oil. One of Terra’s bestsellers is Super Hemp Lite Oil. It doesn’t contain CBD, so can be sold across the United States, but Gomes says it has anti-inflammatory properties similar to CBD. Terra selected the hemp for its cold-pressed oil carefully to be certain it’s highly beneficial.
“A lot of people come out with 18 items at once, but our goal is one to two products every year and to make sure our core products are perfected and profitable.”
The brand’s cruelty-free products are vegan, and exclude synthetic fragrances and gluten. Prices range from $4 for single-use dry masks to $43 for the Noite 5 Plant Super Seed Elixir. There are new products in the pipeline, but they’ll be released at a paced cadence. In August, a Vegan Hyaluronic Acid Toner will debut. Gomes says, “A lot of people come out with 18 items at once, but our goal is one to two products every year and to make sure our core products are perfected and profitable.”
While Gomes is happy to see the beauty industry embrace natural formulation, she cautions there are companies treating it only as a trend. “Everyone wants to buy natural and more healthy. But the customer, especially the purist, will ultimately decide what products are truly good and natural,” she says. “For us, green beauty has always and will always be its own category.”
For those entering the industry, Gomes advises they should anticipate constant evaluation. “There used to be the saying that a company needs to stay open five years to know if it is profitable. But, with companies opening every single day left and right, especially in beauty, I would say to any potential company that is just starting out that they have to be willing to go in two-year increments. You have to understand one year is all investing, but the next year is also investing,” she says. “That prepares you to get in front of buyers. You can get in front of a buyer and not be prepared and have a lot of issues.” Patience is paramount since larger retailers can take anywhere from six to 12 months to finalize a purchase.
With mergers and acquisitions active in the beauty space, Gomes doesn’t rule out looking for a suitor down the road. “With any opportunity, you have to be cautious,” she says. “The company must align with what we are passionate about.”