How This Feminine Care Entrepreneur and Advocate Tackles Multichannel Retail

 
Beatrice Feliu-Espada, CEO and Founder of The Honey Pot Company, a plant-based collection of feminine care products changing the way consumers look at the period aisle. AMPERSAND AGENCY

Beatrice Feliu-Espada, CEO and Founder of The Honey Pot Company, a plant-based collection of feminine care products changing the way consumers look at the period aisle. AMPERSAND AGENCY

 
 

This article was written by Shani Syphrett and originally published on Forbes.com


"Feminine care is a human right, not a luxury,” says entrepreneur Beatrice Feliu-Espada.

Her plant-based collection of products, The Honey Pot Company, is on a mission to change the way women shop for feminine care. Feliu-Espada started the brand from her kitchen and raised over $1 million in funding to scale it to what it is today, a multi-million dollar competitor in the fast-growing feminine hygiene products market that is expected to reach $42.7 billion by 2022. And she is succeeding in something few independent brands have, multichannel retail.

Feliu-Espada did not learn to scale a business from a prestigious business school or from veteran mentors when she was starting out. She used what she learned from working in-house with large and small product companies and creating her own service businesses from the ground up. She created her own strategy with the end in mind: owning an entire aisle at a major retailer and selling her company for a massive wealth-generating profit.

First, it’s about product differentiation and creating the right assortment. While the space for all-natural feminine products is crowding, The Honey Pot continues to push for innovation. Beyond being free of chemicals, parabens, carcinogens and sulfates, Feliu-Espada has done the experience-based research to include essential oils, herbs and nutraceuticals in The Honey Pot’s product formulations. And she is frank about the benefits in its branding and marketing. She's also created a full product line that isn’t just about pads and tampons. The Honey Pot aims to own the entire feminine care process with washes, wipes, sprays, lubricants and a forthcoming CBD-infused pain salve that will be the first of its kind to soothe menstrual cramps.

Then, it’s about diversified distribution and brand awareness. The Honey Pot is currently sold direct-to-consumer online and also carried in Target and Whole Foods locations and on Amazon. Feliu-Espada wants to be where her customers are to reach as many as possible. So she’s built her business model to accommodate both online and offline as core channels. And while she invests heavily in digital marketing, she also invests in her community through on-the-ground social impact efforts with local nonprofits.

Most of all, Feliu-Espada is as pragmatic as she is strategic. Her success stems from her ability to keep her eyes on the end goal, think quickly on her feet and pull from her past experience. Below she shares the nuts and bolts of The Honey Pot and her how her personal mission factors into the company’s success.

Shani Syphrett: Tell us about your background before launching The Honey Pot and the lessons you brought from your former careers?

Beatrice Feliu-Espada: I started my career in pharmacy and worked in that field for nearly ten years in many different environments: hospitals, retail, mail order, chemotherapy. I think the lessons I brought from that to The Honey Pot were in formulation—how to formulate and how to be a natural healer in some shape or form. When I stopped working in pharmacy, I left healthcare altogether for a couple of years. I ran, owned and operated a few service businesses: a cleaning and organizing business and a laundry business. And though we were able to grow and scale it, it got to a place where I couldn’t take the service part out of it and still make money. I had to get out of it because I felt it was way too much work. However, all of that brought me an understanding of how to run a company.

Syphrett: So scaling was important to you. Had you had any experience with larger businesses?

Feliu-Espada: Yes, after my service-based businesses, I worked for Whole Foods. It was a powerful experience for me because it taught me a lot about herbs and nutraceuticals and also about wholesale. When I worked there, I went on a lot of health immersions and got a ton of learnings. I left Whole Foods to be a food broker and that taught me about selling products to a buyer versus customers in a store. I was eventually able to turn Whole Foods into a customer. And all of my experience has led me to this point. When we started to develop The Honey Pot, it came out of me having bacterial vaginosis and trying to heal myself. I’ve been very fortunate in my career because almost everything that I’ve needed to learn to get me to this moment I learned from past experiences.

Syphrett: You’ve spoken about the ingredients for The Honey Pot’s first products coming to you in a dream, why was creating an all-plant-based line important?

Feliu-Espada: Creating a natural, plant-based line that’s powered by herbs is really the bigger aim. Calling it just plant-based is not fully doing it justice. We go a step further because our formula is very much herb-based. That’s so important to me because herbs reach to a cellular level when you’re using the right combination. What we use on our skin acts like skin food. Your skin is an organ and it’s really important that you give it the right nutrients, supplements, plants and herbs. For me, I don’t really have any other option. When it comes to what I choose to put in any of my products, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else except to use non-toxic and herbal ingredients.

Syphrett: The trend of paying attention to what ingredients are in our feminine hygiene products is recent. Why do you think the large CPG brands were able to get away with using potentially harmful chemicals for so long?

Feliu-Espada: Marketing and the way humans react to it. It’s all made up. Think back to the 1950s, when sex appeal was added to advertising. Ad execs saw that if you made an ad sexy, it would entice people to buy more. If a company can paint a pretty picture with their ads, they can pull the wool over your eyes.

The natural movement started with food—eat well, eat clean—but the more we know, the better we get. It used to be that eating tofu was the way to go, but then we realized that eating too much soy isn’t good for you. Then it was about being gluten-free. There are so many different things that have come up over the years, but I think that people understand the basics of needing to eat well. Still, there are many vegans I know that use terrible skincare products. There’s a disconnect between seeing what we put inside of our bodies as the same as what we put on it. But just as we have organs inside our bodies that need to operate, the skin is an organ too. People are starting to understand that, and so are brands.

Syphrett: How do you think it’s changing?

Feliu-Espada: You still have brands that put labels on toxic products to try to make them look natural, but I think consumers are getting smarter. They’re doing more research. They’re understanding what they’re putting in their body, they understand why, and they see that what you put on your skin does go inside of your body. There’s also social media and the fact that you used to have to call an 800 number if you had an issue. Maybe you had to contact someone through email, or on the phone, or report them to the Better Business Bureau. Now you can just put up an Instagram post and make your complaint known. Consumers have gotten smarter and they’re holding brands accountable to create products that are effective and safe.

Syphrett: How have you approached marketing and advertising for The Honey Pot?

Shani Syphrett: Tell us about your background before launching The Honey Pot and the lessons you brought from your former careers?

Beatrice Feliu-Espada: I started my career in pharmacy and worked in that field for nearly ten years in many different environments: hospitals, retail, mail order, chemotherapy. I think the lessons I brought from that to The Honey Pot were in formulation—how to formulate and how to be a natural healer in some shape or form. When I stopped working in pharmacy, I left healthcare altogether for a couple of years. I ran, owned and operated a few service businesses: a cleaning and organizing business and a laundry business. And though we were able to grow and scale it, it got to a place where I couldn’t take the service part out of it and still make money. I had to get out of it because I felt it was way too much work. However, all of that brought me an understanding of how to run a company.

Syphrett: So scaling was important to you. Had you had any experience with larger businesses?

Feliu-Espada: Yes, after my service-based businesses, I worked for Whole Foods. It was a powerful experience for me because it taught me a lot about herbs and nutraceuticals and also about wholesale. When I worked there, I went on a lot of health immersions and got a ton of learnings. I left Whole Foods to be a food broker and that taught me about selling products to a buyer versus customers in a store. I was eventually able to turn Whole Foods into a customer. And all of my experience has led me to this point. When we started to develop The Honey Pot, it came out of me having bacterial vaginosis and trying to heal myself. I’ve been very fortunate in my career because almost everything that I’ve needed to learn to get me to this moment I learned from past experiences.

Syphrett: You’ve spoken about the ingredients for The Honey Pot’s first products coming to you in a dream, why was creating an all-plant-based line important?

Feliu-Espada: Creating a natural, plant-based line that’s powered by herbs is really the bigger aim. Calling it just plant-based is not fully doing it justice. We go a step further because our formula is very much herb-based. That’s so important to me because herbs reach to a cellular level when you’re using the right combination. What we use on our skin acts like skin food. Your skin is an organ and it’s really important that you give it the right nutrients, supplements, plants and herbs. For me, I don’t really have any other option. When it comes to what I choose to put in any of my products, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else except to use non-toxic and herbal ingredients.

Syphrett: The trend of paying attention to what ingredients are in our feminine hygiene products is recent. Why do you think the large CPG brands were able to get away with using potentially harmful chemicals for so long?

Feliu-Espada: Marketing and the way humans react to it. It’s all made up. Think back to the 1950s, when sex appeal was added to advertising. Ad execs saw that if you made an ad sexy, it would entice people to buy more. If a company can paint a pretty picture with their ads, they can pull the wool over your eyes.

The natural movement started with food—eat well, eat clean—but the more we know, the better we get. It used to be that eating tofu was the way to go, but then we realized that eating too much soy isn’t good for you. Then it was about being gluten-free. There are so many different things that have come up over the years, but I think that people understand the basics of needing to eat well. Still, there are many vegans I know that use terrible skincare products. There’s a disconnect between seeing what we put inside of our bodies as the same as what we put on it. But just as we have organs inside our bodies that need to operate, the skin is an organ too. People are starting to understand that, and so are brands.

Syphrett: How do you think it’s changing?

Feliu-Espada: You still have brands that put labels on toxic products to try to make them look natural, but I think consumers are getting smarter. They’re doing more research. They’re understanding what they’re putting in their body, they understand why, and they see that what you put on your skin does go inside of your body. There’s also social media and the fact that you used to have to call an 800 number if you had an issue. Maybe you had to contact someone through email, or on the phone, or report them to the Better Business Bureau. Now you can just put up an Instagram post and make your complaint known. Consumers have gotten smarter and they’re holding brands accountable to create products that are effective and safe.

Syphrett: How have you approached marketing and advertising for The Honey Pot?

Feliu-Espada: We are refining that every day, more and more. I look at marketing less as a direct sell. I do want to ultimately sell you something, but I want to educate you and give you a choice based on the information I’ve given you. If all I wanted to do was sell things, then all that would matter is my bottom line. But The Honey Pot is about more than that. The bottom line does matter but I want to create things for people that actually work and teaches them how to live better. So when we go to market with something, put up a social ad or talk about something on Instagram, we try to educate the customer first.

Syphrett: How did the partnership with Target come about and what was it like filling your first wholesale order?

Feliu-Espada: Man, that was crazy. We were very fortunate because our buyer, at the time, had just been hired at Target and she went in with the intention of cleaning up the feminine care aisle. Target was one of the first mass-market retailers to really commit to clean skincare. Around the time they brought her on, she went to see her hairdresser to get her locs done and her hairdresser brought up The Honey Pot, so she researched us and found us that way. We met over the phone [about a wholesale account] and she told me, “The things I’m going to ask you to do are going to sound impossible but I think this is doable.” And we worked on the deal for a year before we finally got in. So even though they came to us with interest, we still had to go through all of the same checkpoints you would if it was the other way around. However, that was the easy part.

You don’t realize going in that mass market retail means mass market [production] dollars. You can’t go into mass-market unless you’re getting your products mass produced and making north of 50,000 units per product. Then, you have to make sure you price your products so that you can actually make money selling to the retailer. It was a beautiful time for me because it was a turning point for my company but it was also a really hard time because I was using contract manufacturing [outsourcing] and not getting upfront credit. I had to pay before they ship my order, so after we worked on the deal for a year, we realized we had to raise money to actually get it done. It felt like we were going out and trying to find a million dollars out of thin air. We had to find the money and meet the deadlines to pay for the manufacturers at every level. There were a couple of times it almost didn’t happen, but by the grace of God and the ancestors, it worked out.

Syphrett: And you came out on the other side of it! Right now you’re balancing your wholesale accounts as well as e-commerce. Is one channel a focus or are you investing equally in both?

Feliu-Espada: We're focused on both. You almost don’t have a choice in today’s market—you have to be online. A lot of brands aren’t even going to retail and just staying digital. But the way I want to grow and scale The Honey Pot is different. I want to sell my company and I don’t want to sell it for pennies. I want to build something big. I don’t even want to sell it for a hundred million dollars. I want to be able to really create wealth for me and my team. If you want volume and you want big checks, you can go the digital route but you’re going to have to invest a lot of money on digital marketing. For retail, we’re looking at a volume play. If I can pick up 5,000 doors [locations] at a retailer, that alone can bring me $5-6 million a year. Then I try to match that through our online channel. It’s a strategy. I want to meet my customers where they are. My customer is a millennial—she shops in the store and online, so we need to be both places.

Syphrett: You’ve consciously built a mission-driven brand that’s championing equal access to menstrual care. Tell us about your partnership with #HappyPeriod and why you chose a US-based non-profit.

Feliu-Espada: We’re investing in communities that don’t necessarily have access to the things we do. The Honey Pot is developing our own social impact investment, and I really loved what Chelsea VonChaz [co-founder of #HappyPeriod] is doing with the nonprofit. She’s got 32 satellite offices across the US and she pulls together these really cool period packs that have pads, tampons, wipes, soaps, panties—things we take for granted. I went with Chelsea to a women’s shelter on Skid Row [Los Angeles] and just being able to give someone something that gives them some dignity was incredible. So simple, yet so powerful. These women don’t have access to pads or tampons and sometimes can’t wash themselves.

We also send things out of the country. We work with AFRIpads. I’m sure when we develop our own social impact—which may not happen until 2020—it will include working with humans all over the world. But just like growing your business, it doesn’t make sense to grow internationally if you haven’t grown domestically first. So we’re starting our social impact in our backyard because there are so many humans that need our help right here.

 

Shani Syphrett is an expert marketer and business strategist helping to build the next generation of innovative brands. Follow her @ShaniSyphrettfor updates.