Beauty isn’t just for a Caucasian audience — but you wouldn’t necessarily realize that from many mass-market beauty floors, opines Richelieu Dennis, founder and chief executive officer of Sundial Brands.
Dennis, who was born and raised in Liberia and came to the U.S. for college (“back then we were known for civil war, now we’re known for Ebola,” he said dryly) turned in the early Nineties to selling products made from his grandmother Sofi’s skin-care and hair-care recipes on New York City streets. Later, along with his mother, Mary Dennis, and his college roommate, Nyema Tubman, he founded Sundial Brands, which now includes the SheaMoisture and Nubian Heritage brands.
“I learned very early on that with natural products, your customer is very broad,” he said. “It’s not necessarily who you think it is.”
The brand is now sold in mass distribution, including at Target, Walgreens, Duane Reade, CVS, Whole Foods, the Vitamin Shoppe, Wegmans and others. But when the brand was relegated to the ethnic aisles, Dennis was displeased. “We have a broad range of consumers, yet we were put in the ethnic aisle, which at the time was code for black,” he said. “This was not acceptable to us, and it took us 16 years to keep going back and saying, ‘There’s a broader market here that you’re missing. There’s a bigger opportunity here.’ The only place in America where segregation is still legal is in the beauty aisle. And our job was to change that. Every customer deserves equal access to the best options for their needs. And if you think about it that way, the market gets a lot broader.”
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Dennis wanted the message to be one of inclusion and came up with the idea of the new general market — what he calls the amalgamation of cultures, ethnicities and demographics. “The most important thing, for us, is the commonalities,” he said. “If we can focus on what those common needs are, then we can solve [problems] for much bigger populations. It’s time to think about how we can serve [all ethnicities] together, not individually.”
Marketers, rather than trying to problem-solve for very targeted demographics, should look at broad cultural cues — things that people are feeling strongly about as a collective, including natural, organic and mission-driven beauty. “I think if we can do that, we’ll start to see a much broader opportunity and some new avenues for growth,” said Dennis, whose brand is committed to fair trade. “The new general market approach is honest engagement with consumers as real people and not data. When we engage with these segmented strategies, we tend to be looking at the data. There’s a lot of proper uses for that data, but I think first we should start to think again about our consumers as people. Retail must change, brands must change. At the core of it, we need to bring people back to the center.” For instance, women with thick, curly hair aren’t limited to one race, yet the issue is widely perceived as an ethnic issue, said Dennis, “when, in fact, this is an issue that 95.6 million women in the U.S. alone have.”
Dennis points to Clinique’s Even Better range as an “extraordinary” example of this strategy in action. “[Hyperpigmentation] is an issue for 56.3 million women,” he noted, adding that they’re of many different racial backgrounds. “[Women with this issue] don’t want to be separated out and called out based on race.”
For the 52 weeks ending November 2014, natural and organic beauty products grew 24 percent, said Dennis, citing Nielsen as the source of the information. Some 71.8 million Americans feel that natural is important, he added.