I created JSC (Jersey Shore Cosmetics), a non-toxic beauty brand which include a kids line and a mens grooming line. My objective was to offer all natural, cruelty-free products for the whole family. I also wanted to teach that natural beauty and radiance could come from within through proper nutrition and the use of simple, well formulated [non-toxic] products.
Admittedly, I was a bit naive when I launched the company. I am a seasoned professional when it comes to non-toxic beauty, skincare and makeup application. I did however, have much to learn about the startup side of the business. There were many stumbling blocks and set backs in the beginning.
Finding all natural formulators that were willing to work with a start up (with limited funds and big dreams) was a challenge. The cost of product development and production was enormous. Selling all of my worldly goods wasn’t good enough but it was a start. Let’s fast forward through the many obstacles and betrayals to the present. To answer some frequently asked questions:
When I got started, I joined SCORE, a national network of small business mentors. At SCORE, advisors and peers introduced me to some more pretty cool people who gave me contacts for major formulators and manufacturers. I was turned away again and again by major manufactures because I couldn’t afford to run the high minimum quantities that they required, so I set forth searching for smaller all natural formulators and herbalists.
Did I meet some pretty uncool people along the way? You bet. I’ve had manufacturers “lose” my merchandise because they couldn’t follow through with what they promised. I’ve had some do shoddy craftsmanship which would reflect poorly on my company if I hadn’t handled the situation properly.
What exactly was I looking for in a formulator and how would I position my company so that it gets seen and heard in a very crowded and noisy demographic?
I wanted formulators who were educated and who used all natural, organic and petrochemical- free ingredients. They had to be cruelty-free and eco-conscious as well as honest and knowledgeable. In addition, I wanted the products to be something that was useful and necessary. I would work on getting that product seen and heard in order to gain brand recognition, and then work from there.
How would I get the brand recognition that was so important and so valuable?
The product had to have a valuable point of difference and reasonable price point. I started with sunscreens and lip balms because sunscreens are the worst offenders when it comes to petrochemicals and hormone disruptors in skincare products. It was necessary to offer safe sunscreens. They were useful and necessary.
I created an eCommerce website with the help of developers and listed my few natural products for sale. How would I go about getting my products seen? I felt that I had to gain credibility as well as brand recognition, so I reached out to the most reputable organizations with the most stringent safety guidelines to review and sponsor my products. Aligning ourselves with these organizations would give my brand credibility. The Environmental Working Group reviewed and rated my products and it’s ingredients. Healthy Child Health World (HCHW.org) now a part of The Environmental Working Group (EWG.org), wanted me to submit each of my product labels for review of every ingredient and they scrutinized every word of text for ambiguity and potentially misleading claims.
I was happy to do this as I pride myself on being transparent as well as wanting to know if I’ve misstepped in spite of all of my diligence and research. I hadn’t misstepped. We received the best scores with both organizations and eventually I was asked to donate my products to their causes and programs. We were happy to partner with any organization that cared about the wellbeing of family and our environment, including animals. It was important that consumers knew that our products were cruelty-free so I submitted my products to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and they listed us as a cruelty-free company. Our company received the highest score possible with EWG.org and is voted #1 all purpose sunscreens by livestrong.com every single year.
This was a great start for gaining brand trust. Now, I had to get seen, and seen by lots and lots of consumers and quickly. I had to generate sales. With an eCommerce website, a Facebook fan page, (for the hundreds of thousands of fans that I hoped to gain) and a few other social media accounts, I felt that I was ready to roll. I welcomed unbiased feedback and was ready for public scrutiny. I checked my Alexa ranking frequently and it didn’t even register at first.
Soon enough, I was being courted by subscription box businesses like Benevolent Beauty Box. This was new to me. I’d never subscribed to a beauty subscription box and yet I’d considered myself all knowing and makeup savvy. Still on a very tight budget, I could barely afford to create products for free as content for these boxes that promised get my products into the hands of thousands of consumers.
The idea was appealing so I made it happen with small subscription boxes at first and eventually with some larger boxes that were willing to share the cost of placing my products for their boxes. With the boxes willing to cost- share, I could only think that, “They like us. They really like us!” To date, subscription boxes helped to get our products in the hands of literally millions of consumers.
Jersey Shore Cosmetics began to grow by word of mouth and online reviews. We now had a national distributor with headquarters in Spokane WA and we were in Whole Foods market in Princeton, as well as a few other brick and mortar stores. Consumers loved us but the sales were not so great. We needed greater sales and a larger distribution channel. Our cost of goods were very expensive because our natural and organic raw materials were expensive in small runs. The cost of our products were very expensive and WFM purchase orders dwindled as a result.
Website sales were steady, but how would I get into better distribution channels with $10.00 - $15.00 lip balms; balms that cost 4 times the amount of an average lip balm? Who would be willing to pay $40.00 an ounce for natural sunscreen? I would need additional funding to create inventory to secure a large purchase order. Seeking investors may be the next chapter of my entrepreneurial journey. Just when it seemed like we’ve come so far, a new small business challenge awaits us.