This is a transcript of the June 18 edition of Working. These transcripts are lightly edited and may contain errors. For the definitive record, consult the podcast.
Jacob Brogan: On this season of Working, we left the East Coast behind and flew to Detroit. We’re speaking with eight people who are drawing on the city’s complex history, as they work to create its future.
What is your name, and what do you do?
Gwen Jimmere: My name is Gwen Jimmere, and I am the CEO and founder of Naturalicious.
Brogan: What is Naturalicious?
Jimmere: Naturalicious is a beauty company. We focus on skin care and hair care. Most of our products are hair care products. We started out as a company that focused on creating hair care products, specifically for women with curly hair, that saved them time.
What we found is that the majority of women who have any sort of textured hair, whether it is curly, coiled, kinky, or wavy—basically anything other than straight—are spending lots of time, more time than they would like, on their hair. If you have a kinkier, coarser hair texture, you can easily spend three or four hours on what we call “wash day.” If you have more of a silkier, wavier hair texture, you might spend maybe an hour and a half on your hair.
Brogan: I have a really ignorant question, which is, why does it take that long, what’s the complication normally?
Jimmere: That’s not an ignorant question at all. That’s actually a really great question. The thing is that, scientifically speaking—
Brogan: —For those listening, I have straight, short, easy hair.
Jimmere: Yeah, exactly. When you have straight hair, it’s easy, it’s not a whole lot you’ve got to do to it. You don’t necessarily have to moisturize it, it doesn’t really get too dry. Scientifically speaking, we all secrete something called sebum. Sebum is the natural oils that our scalp secretes. When you have straight hair, the sebum is able to travel all the way down the hair shaft and moisturize it, keep it nice and all that staff.
When your hair has any sort of wave or curl or coil to it, the sebum actually dries up before it gets to the ends, so your hair tends to be drier. Therefore it takes longer, ’cause you’ve got to do a lot more work to your hair to make it look nice and feel nice and all that. You’ve got to moisturize, you need to do hot oil treatments, you need to deep-condition, you need to moisturize again, seal it with a natural ... there’s a lot work that goes into it.
Most guys have short hair, and so they don’t usually get it, and people who have straight hair, they’re like, “Well, why does it take so long?” So it’s a very valid question.
My customer tends to be a woman who is either a relatively high-powered executive or someone who is an entrepreneur—someone who is just very, very busy and whose life doesn’t revolve around her beauty, although it is imperative for her that she does look good. So, there’s the rub, right? It’s like, “OK, I need to spend all this time on my hair, but I really don’t have the time to spend all this time on my hair, so what do I do?”
When I created the product line, there was nothing that solved that pain point and people just took it as the status quo that they had to spend forever on their hair. So I came up with this three-step system that does the work of 12 different products—what we’ve done is combined several steps into only three. For a coarser-haired woman, instead of three to four hours, it will take less than an hour. For someone who has wavier, curly hair, who might, on average, take about an hour, it’s going to take them about 15 minutes.
Brogan: Wow. How did you get started though? It’s one thing, I assume, to have an idea for a hair care product that’s going to save people time and a totally different thing to be manufacturing and selling it. What was the process of getting from conception to execution?
Jimmere: I started it solely out of necessity. It was a very organic process. I was laid off from my job about 30 days before my divorce was final, and I had $32 in the bank. I was just like, “You know what? I’m so tired of having to apply for jobs and all that stuff. I’m done working for other people.” And I had this little hobby at home where I was making hair products.
Brogan: So you’d already been making hair products?
Jimmere: Yep. The idea for it actually came from when I was pregnant with my son and I realized I didn’t have the luxury anymore of spending hours on my hair ’cause babies kind of don’t care if you need three to four hours to deal with your hair. So it was my brainchild to figure out, “OK, how do I combine all these steps so I can get my hair done during his nap time, which is about an hour?”
Fast-forward a few months, I’m going through a divorce, I’m laid off from my job, and I don’t want to work for anybody else anymore. I took my little formulation to the farmers’ markets here in Detroit. We have something we call Eastern Market.
Brogan: Which is this huge market with mostly food vendors, right?
Jimmere: Mostly food vendors, yes. What was nice about it was there were very few beauty product vendors, so I kind of stood out—that helped a lot. I would take basically whatever money I had made, funnel that back into the business, use the rest of the money to pay my bills.
Brogan: How long did you do that for?
Jimmere: I would say a few months, maybe like four months. Basically, it was just my way of paying my bills, getting through the divorce process, keeping my son and myself afloat. Then I found out that Whole Foods was opening in Detroit, and I thought to myself, “Well, what if I could get into Whole Foods?” I mean, I have no customers, my mom is my biggest customer, and my packaging looks pretty horrible at this point. But I said, “You know what? The worst they can say is no, so let me just try.”
I called around, got the runaround for a little while, finally got in touch with the right person and set up a meeting, and, long story short, ended up getting the purchase order in that meeting.
Brogan: Wow. So this was like your fourth or fifth or sixth month out since first trying to sell the product?
Jimmere: Exactly. I lost my job on May 4, 2013, and we were on the Whole Foods shelves on June 5.
Brogan: Wow. That’s fast.
Jimmere: It is, but in the moment it seemed to take forever because I have no money and I’ve still got to pay my mortgage in the meantime and I still have this 2-year-old to feed, and it was only one store, it wasn’t nationwide or anything. But they brought us into that one store, we did really well, and they kept adding stores on. We’ve been with Whole Foods ever since.
Brogan: Is that the main place where you sell your product now?
Jimmere: That’s the main place that people know. No matter where you are in the country, even internationally sometimes, you know the name Whole Foods. We’re in about 2,500 other stores around the country, mostly independent beauty supply stores, but everyone knows Whole Foods.
Jimmere: So we’re actually in more independent beauty supply stores than Whole Foods, but we always just say Whole Foods ’cause everybody knows it.
Brogan: When you first started out, you were mixing these products ... I don’t know, in your kitchen sink?
Jimmere: Yes. Well, on the counter.
Brogan: Is that still what you do? I mean, not on a kitchen counter anymore, I assume, but are you still mixing and making the actual product itself?
Jimmere: I’m not actually mixing and making it myself anymore. I have a team who works with me at Ponyride, where we’re based. They’re amazing. We hire special-needs workers to work on our production line, and that’s my way of having a social impact with my business.
Jimmere: I always feel like whatever you do, you need to give back. I found out that a huge percentage—almost 90 percent—of employable people with special needs are actually unemployed because companies don’t think they can do the job. It was my mission to bring them here and say, “Well, I’ll give you job,” and they’ve been with me since we’ve been in Ponyride, and they’ve been amazing. There’s a supervisor who oversees them, and they mix and bottle all the products now. I don’t personally do it anymore.
Brogan: That all happens in Ponyride, where we are now?
Brogan: Are they still using those recipes that you originally developed for yourself?
Jimmere: They are. They use the recipes, and they mix and make the products. They do a great job. They do everything by hand. And I’m really so grateful to have them because it’s having that team that’s allowed me to work more on vision and strategy for the company.
Brogan: For you, as a small-business owner doing manufacturing here in Detroit, what is a typical day like? Is there such a thing?
Jimmere: Yes and no. I know for sure that on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays my team is going to be here at Ponyride. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, the team who ships out our orders is going to be here, so that has some sort of normalcy to it. Other than that, no.
I’m also a mom to a 6-year-old wonder kid, and he is in so many different activities, I feel like my schedule has to revolve around him. He’s in kindergarten, he’s in swimming, he takes Chinese lessons, he’s in piano, he now wants to play a sport—it’s like I’m always trying to make sure that my schedule works so that he can do what he wants to do. In that sense, my day is never the same.
Nowadays, I try to spend my time on the vision and marketing campaigns and that sort of thing for the company. My background is actually in marketing and advertising. Prior to starting Naturalicious, I was the global digital marketing manager for Ford Motor Company, so I have a very strong background in that. That’s really what I thrive in and what I like to do. I like making the stuff as well, but you can’t grow a business working the day-to-day.
Brogan: Not the best use of your time.
Jimmere: No, not the best use of my time at all.
Brogan: From where I’m sitting right now, I can see big old jugs of aloe vera and grapeseed oil, and five-gallon buckets of something.
Brogan: Big, white five-gallon buckets. Is inventory an important part of your process?
Jimmere: It is. If there are no raw materials or packaging here, you can’t make stuff, and I still have to pay for you to be here if you don’t have anything to do. So it’s vital that we have inventory, raw materials, appropriate levels of packaging, that sort of thing.
One of the exercises we’re going through right now is streamlining our whole process. We actually just moved a lot of stuff around. This table we’re sitting at right now is more or less in the middle of the room; before, it was on the right side of the wall, and the way my team maneuvered in the space was not optimized.
Now we’ve got a better flow of how things move around, which we took from the UPS model. If you’re looking at UPS, there are so many small things that add up to huge time savings, right? The fact that the workers don’t make very many left turns—they only make right turns when they go around—saves a lot of time and eliminates a lot of accidents. They don’t really back up if they can avoid it. Even the drivers’ keys are not in their pockets—they’re on their pinky finger, so when they drop a package off, all they’ve got to do is flip them around and get into the truck and go on. Multiply that over hundreds of thousands of workers, that’s a lot of time they save, right? Just looking at those models of things that seem so minor and figuring out how we can duplicate them here is great.
To your point about the raw materials, we try to keep high levels of things, but we never know, we’re a startup. Last year we got a really huge distribution deal, and it was far more units than we had ever shipped before, and we went from ordering one or two bags of this and three or four buckets of that, to having to order 15 buckets and 25 bags. That was an inventory thing because some of that stuff doesn’t come from Detroit. Some of that stuff comes from Florida, and our oils are all sourced in the country of origin.
For example, our jojoba oil comes straight from Argentina, so now we’ve got to get 35-gallon buckets of jojoba oil from Argentina and we need it in a week. Sometimes it’s a little bit of a challenge, but we try to do a good job of keeping levels up.
Brogan: Are you also involved with training employees on the process of mixing and making the product?
Jimmere: Yes, anything that needs to be done in terms of training someone, I have to do it, if that makes sense.
Jimmere: My goal is to eliminate myself from every job other than CEO so that I can grow this thing. That said, I have to train people to be me, to clone myself.
Brogan: In that process of cloning yourself, of imprinting your own process, your way of doing things onto your employees, are there ever moments when you realize someone is doing something in a new way, introducing some kind of switch-up into the process, that might actually make things better?
Jimmere: Yes. I think as entrepreneurs we know how we like things to be done, so the challenge is to relinquish control and let someone else do the job for you. They may not, like you said, do it the way that you do.
Just in the production space here at Ponyride, we’ve actually made several changes to my process—and they’ve been advantageous to the business, they’ve been advantageous to the employees, it’s just been better all around.
Some of those suggestions and changes have come from the folks who work here, some have come from outside sources, like advisers or mentors, and I think I’m pretty good at what my mother would call “eating the cantaloupe and spitting out the seeds.” Taking the good stuff and spitting out what doesn’t work for you.
We have this little bell right here, if you notice, and we ring that bell ... if you’ve ever seen the movie The Intern, Anne Hathaway’s character owns this amazing company and any time something good is done they ring the bell. I kind of stole their idea. We ring the bell whenever something cool happens that either saves us—
Brogan: —How often does it ring?
Jimmere: We’ve been ringing it at least once a day, every day we probably ring it. I would say we probably at least ring it three times a week, at a minimum.
Brogan: That’s a pretty good ringing.
Jimmere: Yeah. Some weeks we ring it every day.
Brogan: OK. So you’ve figured out a need for a product, you’ve found a way to solve that need by producing the product. How do you market it then? How do you get it to those customers who need it or want it?
Jimmere: One thing is to keep the target customer in mind. There are a lot of people in the world who buy beauty products, and not everyone who buys beauty products is my customer.
We have more of a premium price point—our shampoo is $23. I wouldn’t call it a luxury price point, but we’re also not $5, right? You won’t find us in, say, a Discount Drug Mart or something.
Brogan: Or a CVS maybe?
Jimmere: Yeah, you probably wouldn’t find us there. You would find us in somewhere more like Whole Foods. Keeping that customer in mind is so important because it’s easy to deviate and feel like it’s important to have a greater market share, and then you just start marketing to everybody.
But I created this line specifically for entrepreneurs, high-level executives—people who are very, very busy. A lot of them are moms, a lot of them are wives, girlfriends, that kind of thing. They have a strong need to long good because their career requires it, possibly, but also their lives don’t revolve around that, they’ve got bigger things happening. When I’m marketing, I try to really, really make sure that I have that person in mind.
In my home office, I actually have a huge picture of Shonda Rhimes. You know who that is?
Brogan: Yeah, of course, but why don’t you tell our listeners.
Jimmere: Shonda Rhimes owns a company called ShondaLand. She’s the creator of Scandal, she’s a producer on How to Get Away With Murder and Grey’s Anatomy, she’s just this amazing, wonderful woman—and she is the target customer, people who are like her.
Brogan: Busy, but they care about how they look.
Jimmere: Exactly, so she’s a boss, literally and figuratively. She’s a boss, she owns a company, and she’s figuratively a boss because she just runs things. She has two little daughters, she’s a single mom—probably not a single mom in the same sense as other single moms, but nevertheless, she’s unmarried. Her children, I’m sure, are probably her biggest joy, they’re the most important things in her life outside of her work, but because she’s in the public eye and just because she’s a woman, she needs to look good and wants to look good for herself.
When I’m marketing something, I say, “OK, would Shonda want this?” and if Shonda doesn’t want it, my target customer is not going to want it because Shonda is the customer. It’s a lot easier to sell to one person than it is to sell to a lot of people like a certain person.
You always see people talk about the target customer and demographics and psychographics, but I’m like, “Is Shonda into this? Because if Shonda is not into it, then Gwen and Marie and Shelly and whoever else the regular customers are, are probably not going to be into it either.” It just makes life easier for me to say, “Is this solving a pain for Shonda, and if so, how do I get Shonda to know that she needs this?”
Brogan: How do you get Shonda to know that she needs it? Does she know?
Jimmere: I hope so. No, I don’t think she knows yet, we’re going to figure out a way. (So, Shonda, if you’re out there, call me.)
I also try to find out what things people are using that are similar to my products but not as good. For example, our best-selling hair product, which is our Moroccan Rhassoul 5-in-1 Clay Treatment—rhassoul clay comes from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. It is extremely moisturizing but is also a natural detoxifier, so it removes a lot of stuff from your hair, while leaving it very soft and silky and that sort of thing. Some other people were using a product, a sort of clay called bentonite clay. Bentonite clay is fine, it does a good job of removing toxins, it does a good job of cleaning your hair, but it also leaves it really, really dry sometimes.
I figure, if you like bentonite clay, you’re going to love Moroccan rhassoul clay. It’s like finding a way to work smarter and not harder, right? Instead of just saying, “Hey, everybody, buy our stuff because it’s cool,” it’s like, “OK, here’s something that you already that like that’s similar, so there’s a good chance you’re going love what I have.”
Brogan: But is the way of getting to their customers and taking their customers from them, to advertise where they’re advertising, or is it just to reach out?
Jimmere: So bentonite clay is not a brand. Bentonite clay is a type of clay. Think of it as similar to aloe vera juice—several brands have aloe vera juice. Does that make sense?
Jimmere: It’s a raw material, essentially.
Brogan: In that case, my question then is, where do you find the customer? If you wanted to tell them, “We have this thing that is like bentonite clay but better?”
Jimmere: In the beginning I would go on Instagram and look for hashtags that said bentonite clay or just bentonite, and then I would look at their followers. I think we had 1,000 followers at the time. If you had more, I was OK with sending you a product to try it out.
So, if you said #bentonite or what have you, I would message you—hopefully you had like an email address or a website listed, because at that time, I don’t think they had direct messaging on Instagram—and say, “Hey, I have this product that I think is better than what you are using and you’re probably going to love it. If I send it to you, would you share your experience on YouTube and Instagram?” YouTube is the second biggest search engine, so if I can get them to share it on YouTube, that’s golden for me.
That was a very gras-sroots approach and worked really well, and it’s a lot less expensive than running ads and all that sort of thing. We still do that actually, we still go on the hunt for people who are using certain hashtags in different places to see if they’re using something like #bodybutter or #conditioner or whatever and then sending them our stuff.
Nowadays we have a heck of lot more followers on Instagram, so we’re looking for people who have 40,000 or 50,000 followers now ’cause it’s just more bang for the buck, but a lot of times now people want to get paid and that kind of thing. That’s one way that we do marketing.
Another thing we do is Facebook ads.
Brogan: There you can target much more specifically.
Jimmere: Exactly. Facebook ads are really great for us because we can not only target a type of customer,but also target specific zip codes. So if we’re in a new store in Duluth, Georgia, or something, who knows, we can post an ad in the zip codes of Duluth, maybe add a coupon to it and say, “Hey, take this to X, Y, and Z store for $1 off,” or whatever, and it drives them to the stores, which also helps us to continue to sell in those stores.
Brogan: I imagine the stores like that, too.
Jimmere: Stores love it.
Brogan: ’Cause you’re sending customers to them that they might not have otherwise.
Jimmere: Exactly, stores love it. And with the coupon, we have to pay the store a dollar, so it’s essentially a marketing cost. There’s cost with Facebook ads, too, but Facebook ads are great.
Brogan: If you’re doing that kind of micro-targeting, you can probably get away without paying too much, I would guess.
Jimmere: Yeah. We get a lot of people going to the stores that way because it’s challenging as a small business to figure out how to get your customer base to know you’re in stores. If we’re new in a store in a certain area, we’ve got to somehow educate the customer that, “Hey, you don’t need to buy this online anymore, you can go to the store.” It’s beneficial for us, the margins are less because it’s wholesale, but they’re buying greater quantities.
One of my focuses for the rest of the year is really to continue to build up our wholesale and distribution leg of the business. I feel like we’ve got the retail website stuff pretty on lock, but sending products to those stores can be costly. A lot of companies, they run ads and do billboards and all that stuff, and it’s like, why not just run an ad in that exact zip code to that exact customer?
It’s really cool what you can do with Facebook ads. We ran an ad once where we targeted women who liked Tracee Ellis Ross, who were fans of Whole Foods, who liked ... it was like three or four different arbitrary things, but all things that Shonda would like, right?
Everything revolves around Shonda. I have a marketing and graphics team that’s more or less virtual, so we have biweekly phone calls, and one of the things we do when we’re talking about marketing is say, “So, how many Shondas do you think we hit this week?” It’s kind of like this running joke we have, but it’s dead serious, that’s who the customer is. We try to market to Shonda in Duluth, Georgia, in Hollywood, California, like wherever Shonda may reside, people like her.
Brogan: Can you tell us about the original product line that, to some extent, you’re still featuring, right?
Jimmere: Yeah, our main product line is called the Hello Gorgeous Hair Care System. Now we sell our products as a set and we also sell them individually. Originally, they were never supposed to be sold individually, always as a set, but then, of course, people were like, “Well, I’m out of Step 2, I need more.”
Brogan: Because they’re used at different rates?
Jimmere: Exactly. So then I started to break it out. The idea is that all you need are three things to do everything you could ever need to do for your hair. A lot of times people become what we call product junkies, and they have ... I almost call it the drawer of shame, right? Like, the drawer of all the products you’ve ever tried, some of them worked, most of them didn’t, and they just got tossed into this drawer. Either they got tossed into your drawer in your bathroom, or you gifted it to a friend, probably one you hated.
Our products are these three steps in the system. We have a purple line, which we call for Tight Curls + Coils, and then we have the pink version, which is for Medium-to-Loose Curls + Waves.
We target two specific types of customers. Quite honestly, the majority of customers with the Tight Curls + Coils line are African American, for the most part. The Medium-to-Loose Curls + Waves line is pretty much almost everybody else—Caucasian women, Indian women, some Asian customers, even Latinas, a lot of them are buying this product line.
Most product lines are one-size-fits-all. No matter what type of hair you have, they say it’s for all hair types—and anyone who has used a product for all hair types knows that most products are not for all hair types.
Your hair is a lot finer than mine, right? So if you use a product that I would use, your hair is going to be extremely weighed down, it’s going to have too much oil in it and you’re going to look like a greasy mess. If I use a product that you use for your hair, it’s going to not be heavy enough to moisturize my hair because my hair is naturally very dry, and when you have dry hair you have breakage, you have brittleness, all the things—split ends, shedding, all the stuff that we hate, right? We have those two different lines to serve those two different types of customers.
Step 1 in the line is our patented Moroccan Rhassoul 5-in-1 Clay Treatment. This is a shampoo, it’s a conditioner, it’s a deep conditioner, it’s a detangler, and it does the work of a leave-in conditioner all at one time.
If you just think about the process that someone, for example, Shonda, has to go through. They have to get into a shower, wet their hair, and start to shampoo. Once they shampoo, they have to rinse that out, then they have to put on a conditioner and rinse that out. Then, if they’re doing all they’re supposed to be doing, they’re going to deep-condition their hair. They’re going to get out of the shower, put the product back on, sit under a dryer for 20 or 30 minutes, rinse that out, and then they have to detangle their hair and get that out. And then put in a leave-in conditioner. That’s a lot of work.
Quite honestly, the drier your hair is and the more coily your hair is, the longer it takes to detangle it. Detangling alone can take 45 minutes to an hour, and we haven’t talked about shampooing and all that stuff. This product is 10 minutes or less.
Brogan: For that same long process?
Jimmere: For that same amount of time. On average, even if it doesn’t take you a long time to detangle your hair, you may be spending about an hour to an hour and a half, maybe two hours on a really bad day, dealing with just this process. To go from two hours to 10 minutes for that Shonda “customer” is vital, because her time is her currency.
Brogan: She makes like three TV shows at once. She needs that time.
Jimmere: Exactly, she doesn’t have time to be spending forever on her hair. For that Shonda Rhimes sort of customer, time is her currency. She’s not price-sensitive at all. She has the money to afford what she wants, but she needs something that’s going to work for her the first time, and is going to save her time. That’s Step 1.
Step 2 is our Moisture Infusion Styling Crème. This is a styling cream, a heat protectant, and a moisturizer. Heat is very drying. When I say heat, I’m talking about flat irons, blow dryers, that sort of thing—anything that’s directly touching your hair that involves heat dries your hair out. If you already have dry hair, the last thing you want is for it to be even drier, right? You need a moisturizer that’s going to really penetrate your hair shaft, really moisturize it, really get in there and keep your hair from breaking, being brittle, and all that stuff. This does that.
It’s also a heat protectant. Most heat protectants are full of manmade alcohols. Manmade alcohols are drying. What are we trying to stay away from?
Jimmere: Exactly. It’s totally counterproductive because they coat your hair with like a barrier to protect it from the heat, but then it’s infused with all these drying alcohols, which dries it out after you’ve used the heat, so it’s a total waste of time. This protects your hair from the heat and doesn’t have any drying alcohols.
Then it is also a styling cream. Whether you want to put your hair in a chignon, like I have, or a bun or you want to curl it or twist it or whatever you want to do, just wear it and go, this is going to enhance your curl pattern and moisturize your hair and it’s going to look amazing.
Step three is our Finishing Oil: it’s a hot oil treatment, it’s a finishing oil, it’s a frizz fighter, and it’s a moisture lock—it locks in moisture three times as long. No matter what sort of moisturizer you use, the air is going to make it evaporate over time. This actually locks in that moisture longer, so you can go further without having to remoisturize your hair.
Brogan: It’s in a spray bottle, looks like?
Jimmere: It is a spray bottle, yep. It comes out like a little spray, like that.
It’s also a frizz fighter. Frizz is a huge issue, especially in the summer. You’ve got people walking around with their hair kind of all out, and so this eliminates that. Frizz is actually a byproduct of dryness—surprise, surprise. This eliminates that. It’s also a hot oil treatment, so it stops the brittleness, stops the breakage. Again, everything you need for your hair is in these three products.
Same thing for the Tight Curls + Coils line. Same three products, just formulated differently. That’s our claim to fame, is creating products that save women time. The system is the best-seller, but individually, Step 1 is the best-seller.
Brogan: Even though step 2 is the one that’s used most heavily?
Jimmere: Yeah. Because No. 1, I think, is the thing that’s most unique. We have a patent on it. No one else can have a product like ours, you know what I mean? This is what we’re actually known for. When people think of Naturalicious, they always think of the clay.
Brogan: How long did it take you till you were breaking even with this business? You started out with $32?
Jimmere: Yeah, I will say that we’ve always been profitable. Naturalicious has never been in the red, thank God, knock on wood. We’ve always been in the black. Now, how much in the black is a different story, but we’ve always been in the black. That’s also because I hate loans, I hate debts. What little debt we’ve taken out, I’ve paid it back immediately. We have no debt on the business right now, that sort of thing. I have very intentionally grown the business as the business has told me it needs to grow.
For example, I stayed in my home making the products myself for two-and-a-half years, although I really would have loved to have employees making it for me. I knew that if I hired employees I was going to feel stressed about money ’cause I’ve got to pay them. It wasn’t until the business told me, “You know what? If you don’t get employees, you can’t grow any further.” That’s when I went and got employees and I got a space and that sort of thing.
I think a lot of times people go out and get those things before the business actually needs it. It’s more of a “nice to have” rather than a “must have.” I try not to do things until they are a “must have.” I think that’s what’s kind of kept me from being not profitable.
Brogan: Can you tell us about where we are today, Ponyride, because I imagine that this environment has played a part in helping you grow?
Jimmere: Sure. Ponyride is essentially ... think about it like a co-working space but for makers. Most co-working spaces are desks and what have you. This is more of a grow-into-it-as-you- need-it sort of space.
Brogan: It looks like it used to be a warehouse or something similar?
Jimmere: I believe it did used to be a warehouse, and they gutted it and created this space for people who make stuff. We make beauty products, the Lip Bar makes makeup, another company makes signs. Actually, my sign right here that we’re looking at, they made it. There are a few apparel companies, just various types of companies are in this space. Being here has allowed me to have employees, so it’s allowed me to kind of step away a little bit from the business.
Brogan: Because you can afford it?
Jimmere: Because I can afford it. Also, for a long time, when I was first here—we’ve been here maybe a little under a year—I was still making the products, even though I had people bottling and labeling. It has allowed me to get employees because the rent here is much more affordable than if we were to get a dedicated storefront space or even our own warehouse.
Also, being in this space is really great because a lot of collaboration happens. Like I said, the sign-maker makes all our signs, and just the knowledge you get from other companies doing different things but still being entrepreneurs is invaluable. You tend to work in a silo as an entrepreneur, so being here allows us to spread out and learn from each other.
Brogan: You’ve lived in Detroit for eight years, I think you said? How does Ponyride fit into the larger landscape of Detroit? Do you see this as an entrepreneurial city?
Jimmere: Yeah. Well, OK, when I first moved to Detroit, it was kind of toward the end of the auto industry going down, and I was recruited out of graduate school to come work for Ford and help them build up their reputation in the auto industry. A lot has happened in eight years. When I first moved here, that was kind of what was going on. It was like, “Oh my goodness, you’re moving to Detroit? I’m so sorry for you.”
Brogan: Like “boring car town” was the reputation.
Jimmere: Exactly. That was the consensus from everyone who found out I was moving to Detroit, but now, we’ve got places like Ponyride. Detroit is starting to become a huge entrepreneurial city. There’s people moving here from Silicon Valley to start their companies here. Detroit has a low cost of living, for the most part. There’s quite a bit of gentrification happening, that’s a different story, but people are moving here to start their companies because the city also provides a lot of opportunities for new startups. I really feel like they’re trying to turn Detroit into an entrepreneurial hub, and I think they’re doing a pretty good job of it.
Brogan: You sell all over the country now?
Brogan: But do you feel like you have customer base here in Detroit as well?
Jimmere: For sure. When I was first starting out and I was selling at the Eastern Market, I would also do lectures and demonstrations at various workshops happening around the city. I built a good customer base here because at the time there was really no one else coming here to talk directly to people. Once we got into Whole Foods and we kind of were in there for a little while, customers would know, go to Whole Foods and get our products, which helped us get into other Whole Foods and other stores.
One of the things that I feel works really well for Naturalicious is that unlike a lot of our competitors, I am very much engaged with the consumer. Most of my customers know Gwen, in addition to the products. People do business with people they like, know, and trust, so that’s helped us a lot.
Brogan: When you talk about strategy and growth, you are introducing new products occasionally?
Brogan: Is that something that you are focused on, figuring out how to develop new items you can sell that you would use?
Jimmere: Sure. We didn’t actually launch a new product for three-and-a-half years.
Brogan: Oh, OK.
Jimmere: We had the same products all that time. The packaging that you see us with now is not the packaging we had this time last year. We went through a whole rebranding of our packaging—same products, different branding. And actually, changing the packaging is what opened us up to having all these stores be interested in us, to getting into those 2,500 stores.
Brogan: Is it more professional?
Jimmere: It’s just higher-end.
Jimmere: It was fine before, there was nothing wrong with it, but it just has a different vibe now—unfortunately I don’t have any of the old packaging here to show you, but you’re not missing anything. It’s much better.
Brogan: Did you do the design yourself, or did you hire someone to help?
Jimmere: Luckily, the woman who handles my customer service and my email marketing also kind of moonlights in graphic design, so she and I collaborated with my idea and her execution.
Brogan: It looks like ... if I can describe it, your aesthetic is like a rich lavender color on a lot of the bottles?
Jimmere: Yep, and we’re now kind of known for having the gold caps, all of our tops and lids are all gold. The packaging is clear, whereas before it was opaque, so you can see what’s inside of it. I did a whole lot of research and studying and found out that in the food industry, consumers, whether they know it consciously or not, are more drawn to packaging that has some sort of transparency to it. That’s why you see the chips with .... you can see like the top of the bag, you can see the chips inside. There are a lot of similarities between the food industry and the beauty industry that a lot of people don’t realize, so we changed our packaging to clear from opaque and changed the caps to be more lux and that sort of thing.
To your point about the new products, after we launched this new packaging, I took a whole class on wholesaling and distribution, because I was getting into that sort of space and realized that we needed to be launching at least one or two new products a year.
We hadn’t had a slump in sales or anything, but definitely having that new product boosted the sales of that new product plus our current products because there’s a whole new set of customers who are now finding out about us.
Brogan: Someone is going to come for the new one and then go for the others.
Jimmere: Exactly. I still find it fun to figure out formulas. It’s more like a hobby for me. If I find something that I think is awesome, I’ll do a few informal focus groups, and then we’ll go ahead and launch it. We launched that one, that did really well. We’re probably going to launch a couple more products around the body care line and I have some skinc are—face products—that I’m looking at launching at next year.
Brogan: I don’t want you to share your trade secrets necessarily, but can you tell us a little bit about the process of designing that new product, the tinkering and experimenting involved?
Jimmere: Sure. It’s always about solving a problem first. For example, there’s a lot of shampoos, right? What’s going to be different about my shampoo that’s actually going to solve a pain that someone is experiencing? What pain are they having? Is the pain that their hair is really dry and they can’t find anything to moisturize it? Is the pain that they’re taking too long to deal with their hair? For me, I have to solve a pain. If I’m not solving a pain, it doesn’t make sense for me to do it ’cause then we’ll just be one of many.
With our body butter it was the fact that women want to have glowing skin, we like for our skin to glow in the sun and all that, but we also want it to be moisturized. A lot of butter body butters or body lotions are either too thin or they’re too heavy, they don’t smell like anything and women, we’re very sensory ... everybody is sensory, but women especially. Women consumers like things to smell good, we like things to look good, we like things to feel good, all of that.
There was nothing on the market that combined all the senses. If you look at our body butter, it has a little bit of shimmer in it, so it gives your skin a beautiful glow, but we’re also not tweens, so we don’t want to be walking around looking like we’ve got glitter on.
Two, what does it smell like? A lot of things smell very floral or what have you, but this smells like chocolate. Every woman loves chocolate, right? Who doesn’t like chocolate?
Brogan: I think most men do, too.
Jimmere: Yeah, exactly, and men like it on their women, right?
Brogan: All right.
Jimmere: It smells like chocolate. People say it almost smells like you could eat it.
Brogan: Can you?
Jimmere: I mean you could, it probably wouldn’t taste good.
Brogan: All right.
Jimmere: It’s got natural enough ingredients. You wouldn’t die.
Brogan: But you would not recommend it.
Jimmere: But it probably wouldn’t taste like much.
Also, it’s all natural, there’s no chemical in it. All these things were not in one specific product, and that’s the problem that we’re solving, having all those things in one. We’ll probably try to work on a body polish, things to go along with this body butter, but it always has to solve a problem.
Once I figure out the problem that’s being solved, I find out if there’s enough people with that problem ’cause it can’t just be like five people, you’ve got to have a lot of people with the problem. Then get to work and figure out, OK, what do I know of that is extremely moisturizing? What’s natural but won’t require a heavy chemical to sustain it on the shelf? It’s just kind of thinking through that.
Luckily, I come from a household where my mother was extremely resourceful and can do anything under the sun. She can reupholster chairs, hang drywall, bake pies, whatever. I remember when I was formulating my hair line, I would call her and say, “Hey, Mom, what does olive oil do versus argon oil?” Most people just think of them as being oils, but she has a lot of knowledge in terms of what they do to the skin, what they do to the hair and all that. She’s kind of like my consultant in that sense.
Brogan: I hope she gets royalties.
Jimmere: She gets free product for one.
Brogan: All right, good enough.
Jimmere: And whatever else she wants, I pretty much take care of it for her, and that’s how she gets paid.
Brogan: I guess we should probably sign off and let you go, but this has been so fantastic. Can you ring the bell for us?
Jimmere: Yeah, let’s do it. Now, when we ring the bell, we always cheer.
Jimmere: You have to cheer.
Brogan: We’re going to cheer with you.
Jimmere: OK, ready?
Brogan: I love it. Well, thank you so much for taking the time today to talk with us about your work, your business and everything you do.
Jimmere: Thank you for having me. It’s been great.
Brogan: It was our pleasure.
Jimmere: Have fun.