A New Leaf | Big Changes for Bear's Beauty & Loner's Apothecary

It has been a rollercoaster of a year for me, my family, and Bear's Beauty. The last several months have been a whirlwind of one change after another and a whole slew of lessons in improvement and humility. There is always room for improvement, but before we talk about the changes and the hurdles, a bit about how we got here. 

From inception, Bear's Beauty was created as a means for me to positively impact the lives of those around me, while also minimizing our impact on the environment. In 2012 and early 2013 I was working at a strip mall hair salon part-time, while I finished beauty school. I suffered from daily migraines among other auto-immune issues. I started looking at natural solutions for my acne and stumbled upon hemp. Bear's Beauty was not planned, and it was not my intention to start a business or a skincare line.

In 2007 my grandpa passed away from Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. This loss started me on a path that would eventually lead me to look at the chemicals in my beauty products, food, and environment. He took his vitamins, ate balanced, did his exercise, and never smoked. The more research I did, the more I was convinced products I was using were having a negative impact on my health. I knew I had to stop using my collection of perfumes, skincare, and makeup.

So much of my identity was tied up in cosmetics, I sought alternatives. When I tried natural skincare, nothing really worked that didn't either clog my pores or irritate my skin. So, because I loved to cook, I got into the kitchen and started making my own skincare to replace things I was having to throw away. I started with DIY recipes and found that the usual olive and coconut, mentioned in most recipes, just wouldn't work for my skin.

It was early 2012 when I discovered Hemp Seed Oil. Organic Hemp Seed Oil was one of the few oils I could find that was readily available as Organic, renewable, and non-comedogenic. When I did my first recipes at home with Hemp, I quickly saw the impact it made on my skin. Within weeks of ditching my old acne products and switching to oils and plant waters, my skin was starting to clear up. Over the next few months, customers at the salon, friends, and family started to suggest I sell the products I was using.

I had a friend who sold tie dye on Etsy, so I checked it out. I started selling five or six recipes while still working part time. I hadn't known about Etsy or the world of small-batch skincare at all. Soon, I developed a real passion of organic chemistry and natural skincare and makeup, where my love of commercial beauty had once been. I had $500 from my Mom and I quit my job as well as beauty school. Beyond the fact that the environments both gave me severe migraines, I felt like I was poisoning people and being dishonest. I had gotten into the beauty industry to bring positive energy to the lives of those I interacted with. When I saw that was not what I was doing, I could not longer do it.

I tell you all of this, to explain why this overhaul of the brand happened the way that it has, and why it has taken me so long to make some of these changes.

We started with clear glass bottles, over time evolving to brown, and then green glass. For a brief stint we tried recyclable plastic, but it didn't go over well with me or you, so we then started using Cobalt and Violet Glass. Each time the bottles changed, the labels changed. With all the different scents and sizes, I offer 500+ products. This is the problem, and has only been a problem for about the last year.

You see, when things weren't really selling, having a ton of items helped me to make enough sales each day to keep the business running. I was only making very tiny batches of items and so I never ran out of supplies. Because I didn't really understand my numbers when I started, I did not know how to calculate my cost, let alone profit to keep growing the business. I knew I was buying the finest Organic ingredients, and that was my focus. As long as orders were getting out and you guys were happy, I was happy.

Because I didn't really believe I could run a business, or that it would ever grow beyond my little kitchen in Georgia, I didn't build any kind of infrastructure. I didn't know my numbers, as our dear friends on Shark Tank would say. Around October of last year, my part-time help quit right as I had a 20,000 unit order to go out and as I was supposed to be prepping for Christmas. Rather than having help for this project and the holiday rush, like I had planned the several months leading up, it was just me and my family a when they could help. Because I was suddenly alone, I just went into machine mode. I was just reacting, putting out fires, so to speak. My main focus was the products, as long as the formula integrity was not compromised, I was happy.

I somehow made it through Christmas and the 20,000 units, working around the clock and taking no days off became my schedule. Since October 2018, and even before, I wake up at 7am and work through the day until I make a post office run at 6pm, return home and eat, and then continue working until 10 or so. I don't take weekend off and until a few weeks ago, I had not taken a real break for almost two years.

In February of 2019 I was approached by some possible investors. This forced me to look at the business critically. As tended to happen in my life, I learned via brick wall. I remember hearing stories about when LUSH had their first brand, they were losing money with every sale.  When I started looking at each item and the numbers, I started to understand why I was struggling to keep items stocked and grow the business. I was charging $30 for items that cost me $35. I knew about the demise of those who came before me, yet made the same mistake.

So, I buckled down. I decided to get a handle on the shop and start learning about book-keeping and finances. I spent the last several months working on a plan to update my website as well as my Etsy. Etsy has been my main platform for the last several years, but that has proven to be a double edged sword. Etsy can make changes whenever they want, so when they decide not to take PayPal or to only promote shops that offer free shipping, or they have some issue with messages; I am at their mercy. So, its like having a shop in the mall. I have a shop, but the mall rules win.

In June, I was stoked to finally be ready to update my store with the numbers I now knew.

I took a month to go through each listing of my 180 and updated pictures, price, and shipping info. I took time to calculate every ingredient and destination. Less than a week after I finished this project I had been working on for five months (at least) Etsy tells us that they are going to be changing the way we do shipping and advertising. Now, only shops with free shipping will be promoted. All the time I had spent for the last month updating the shop had been a waste, and I would now have to re-do it... on top of catching up on the messages that fell behind while I worked on the numbers. On average, I get between 15-25 messages per day. If I spend just five minute per message, that works out to 45 minutes to over two hours of just responding to messages, that is not counting responses that come in and messages I answer throughout the day. I was doing my best to answer all the messages coming in, but as of now, I still have several hundred messages that I am working through. It is beyond important to me that each message gets my full attention.

So, while it may take me forever to answer, I will answer with my full attention and at length.

Then, life smacked me upside the head, literally. One night at the end of June, while feeding my dogs, my glasses slipped, and because I was in a hurry, I didn't fix them. When I leaned over to pick the bowl up off the floor, I smashed my temple into the side of my hardwood dresser. Instantly I knew that I had done damage. I have decent pain tolerance, and I was in a lot of pain. Fast forward two days, I managed to give myself a concussion and was unable to work for a few days. I had never had a concussion before, and it was beyond eye opening. I then stressed myself out so much that I gave myself bout of immune-related mono. I was struggling to stay above water and emotionally as well as physically burnt out.

I finally managed to get the listings updated and the orders caught up right before my birthday on July 20th. I was so happy to be caught up, and then, USPS changed their shipping rates causing all of my supplies and numbers to change...again...for the third time in a three month period.

It was like each time I thought I could finally get back to usual, I had to re-do my whole shop again because of an outside influence. I was livid...and more than that, I was exhausted. I felt defeated.

I was so tired of disappointing you guys, of un-answered messages, of shipping orders out late, of ordering supplies in tiny amounts, and of not being able to afford to do anything but work. This is not what I signed up for...this is not what I wanted to present to the world.

So, I took a step back. I gave myself five days off. I would love to tell you that I am great at self care and made that decision for myself. That is not the case. What actually happened is that my Mom took me on a special trip to our favorite gem shop to pick out something special for my birthday. When I burst into tears over the smallest interaction with a woman at the shop (granted, she was rude.) My Mom all but said, please take time off for all our sake. So, I booked a train to go visit a friend in North Dakota that left the next morning, before I could change my mind. Taking a week away gave me the perspective I needed.

The reason I was struggling to keep up, is that I created too much for one person to keep up with.  I had one balm with four different scents, when in reality I could come up with one blend that would be perfect with the base oils. I had 7 deodorant strengths and 20 scents for each strength (why yes, that is 140 products, 280 if you count the cardboard or plastic tube option.) I had six different lip balms in two flavors each...and so on. There was just so much in the shop I had set myself up for failure. Have you ever watched those restaurant rescue shows, and they go in and take a menu with 200 items down to 50, and the whole staff is so surprised at how great the food is and how they are able to get their work done easier. Because I was making these items fresh, all of them, every week... I was pretty much always in the kitchen.

So, it is time for some change. The first big change is that many items will be discontinued in order to make room for new and improved formulas, formulas infused with CBD that will be placed on our Loner's Apothecary site, and some items will be offered only in sample and larger sizes. Using all I have learned over the last seven years, I am reformulating and updating existing formulas to be the most balanced and effective they possibly can be.

By having less items in the shop, I will be able to better focus on those items that I offer. For way to long, you guys have been getting hand-written labels because I was not confident in my design skills. I was always so busy just making product, that the other details didn't seem as important. Granted, I would rather a hand-written label and amazing product than a pretty jar full of ineffective, but you guys are not just buying these products for yourselves, but as gifts for those you love. I literally LOVE reading product labels as a consumer, so I definitely want to optimize and improve all of our labels during this process.

More than anything, I miss you guys. I miss the conversations and getting to know about your lives and families. I have been so busy working to help people, that I lost touch with what we all really need. Connection and community. I have lists of products you guys have requested, ideas you have had, media opportunities and and PR requests, and pages and pages of ideas for sets and products. It has been my intention to circle back sooner than now, but when I reach back out, it will be with an ideal solution or product.

You guys are the reason I keep at it, and the reason I strive to deserve this gift. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for supporting me through this last year. You will never know just how integral each and every order has been to my growth and well-being, and how much I appreciate you.

More updates to come, but for now, if an item you love is not in the Etsy shop, just send me a message or email and I will get you set up. I can still make everything and will be keeping all my recipes, but not all items will be offered in the shop all the time. This will finally bring the shipping to under a week :)

More to come - Jer


Comments

  1. Hi Jer,

    I love how passionate and how much you care about what goes into your products. I would of loved to have been able to help you out in December when you were having such a difficult time keeping up with your orders. I think it's amazing how well you are doing given the sheer volume of your orders, messages ect. My items will be here any day. And I am even more excited to try them out. The world needs more people like you that have such integrity and high standards in their products. This blog post truly comes from the heart and I can hear it with every word I read. Keep doing what your doing! I think you now have a customer for life. :)

    Danielle

    ReplyDelete

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