“It’s freedom,” said Renée Rouleau, when asked what attracts her to riding motorcycles — her preferred mode of transportation for the last 20 years.
“You’re out on the open road, and it just clears your head,” she added. “I daydream.”
It was her late husband of 22 years, Florian, the former chief executive officer of her namesake skin care brand, who introduced her to bikes. They first rode together on his Harley-Davidson.
“He was French, and when we got together, he said, ‘Buying a Harley-Davidson is like buying a piece of America,’” she said.
They traveled the world, riding in Greece, Cape Town, Bali.
“The list goes on and on,” she said. “That was always a fun thing we did, rent motorcycles when we traveled.”
In the U.S., they often took long-distance trips, even joining the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota — the annual, 10-day excursion that attracts as many as 700,000 riders.
“When you’re on a motorcycle, with no window, there’s all the smells, the wind, the fresh air,” continued Rouleau.
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“And then the downside of that is the bugs, the rocks, the gravel and all those kinds of things that hit you as well,” she added with a laugh.
Her first motorcycle was a Kawasaki Vulcan. “The drifter model,” she said. “A cruiser.”
Two years later, she got her first Harley. She would have two in the course of 15 years, before switching to a Triumph three years ago. Manufactured in the U.K., it’s “more of a European bike.”
“I wanted a bike that I could do road trips with, for long distances, but I wanted something lighter in weight that could be for around town,” she said. “The bike I have now is literally 200 pounds lighter than my last Harley-Davidson.”
It’s a more practical option for getting around downtown Austin, where she currently resides. She relocated from Dallas, where she moved at the age of 26 without knowing anyone. It’s there that she opened her first skin care spa, working as a practicing aesthetician in the ’90s, before launching her beauty brand in 1996 — offering personalized skin care through a proprietary line of natural, performance-driven products — followed by an e-commerce business in 1999. She celebrates 25 years in the industry this year.
“People ask me, ‘What’s the secret to success?’ And I think the big thing is change and reinvention,” Rouleau said. “We’ve rebranded four times, new logo, new packaging. We come out with new products. We continue to innovate. We keep our finger on the pulse of the industry. Change has been the theme of my whole life.”
As a kid, she moved every two or three years due to her father’s work in retail; he was among the first, in a team of 26 people, to work for Target in the early ’70s.
“We lived in Minnesota three different times, Boston twice, Wisconsin once, so primarily the Midwest,” said Rouleau. “But two different times, we lived in Boston. I graduated from high school in Boston, actually. Nothing was ever the same, though. I mean, from kindergarten to my senior year, I was in seven different schools.”
As the youngest of four, she was often left to her own devices. It’s made her adaptable to change — and often seeking it — she said, which has helped in business: “You have to constantly be agile and open to new things and not get settled in a comfort zone.”
It’s also made her a risk-taker — a trait that likely drew her to motorcycles.
“The statistics show that it’s a dangerous hobby to have, but it’s a thrill, an adventure, excitement, but then also a challenge — you’re basically riding out in the open air,” said Rouleau. “I have tons of different stories of getting caught in rain storms or getting to a road that’s flooded over and unable to drive through it, because it’s not safe on a motorcycle. It’s the same with business. Statistics show it’s hard to have a business. Most businesses fail within five years. I’m lucky that we’re about to celebrate 25 years. The highs and the lows, the problem solving, the thrill, the wins, the losses, the challenges. Yeah, there’s a lot of similarities there.”
Looking ahead, the business has “a one-year plan, a three-year plan and a 10-year target for where we’re headed,” she said of Renée Rouleau Skin Care.
One element has stayed constant; she enjoys educating consumers on skin care, a mission she’s had from the start. In the beginning, back in the ’90s, she shared her knowledge through blog posts online.
“We were kind of the darling of Google for search, because they would give us so much organic traffic since nobody was putting out skin care content as consistently as I was and with the authority that I have,” she said.
“People want that information and expertise,” Rouleau continued. “Sharing my knowledge is really important, and [so is] continuing to innovate and continuing to make sure that we’re staying focused as to where we’re headed. We control our growth. I own 100 percent of my company, and I want to remain that way.”
As she continues to manage the business, she’s adjusting to a new life, one without Florian, who passed away after a short, six-month battle with cancer two-and-a-half years ago.
“That was not a change I was expecting,” she said. “But life is full of change, and so now it’s been a new chapter.”