BURT’S BEES BUZZES WITH GROWTH PLANS
Byline: Julie Naughton
NEW YORK — Coffee and lip balm?
For Burt’s Bees president and co-founder Roxanne Quimby, the pairing is simply another way to promote her products.
The Raleigh, N.C., personal care company has just signed an agreement with Starbucks that will put Burt’s Bees’ beeswax-based lip balm in the Seattle coffee chain’s outlets for holiday selling. It reportedly will be the coffee chain’s first venture into personal care. According to Quimby, the deal came about when Starbucks buyers stumbled on the company’s just-opened showroom here.
“The showroom had been open for two days when three buyers from Starbucks were walking through the gift center,” she recalls. “They decided to try our lip balms for their Christmas gift baskets. That trial is paying a year’s rent on our new showroom space.” The deal with Starbucks is only for the fourth quarter of 1999, although Quimby hopes to parlay it into an ongoing partnership.
The arrangement is one example of the way Quimby hopes to build the 10-year-old company. Burt’s Bees products are in 4,000 doors, ranging from health food stores and gift shops to specialty stores, and Quimby says alternate channels of distribution, especially apparel chains, are a “wave of the future” for personal care.
“Certainly, there are a lot of apparel chains that are branding their own lines,” she said, “but I believe that a huge opportunity exists for brands like ours, because we have our own identity and name recognition. Many apparel chains’ private label products don’t. In fact, many of them couldn’t stand alone as distinctive lines.”
Quimby plans selectively to increase the company’s presence at mass, particularly with its popular lip balm, which contributes about $1.5 million a year to the company’s wholesale volume. The company did $8.2 million wholesale in 1998, and Quimby expects that number to top $13.5 million this year.
New product categories present other opportunities for expansion, said Quimby. One new area driving the company’s growth this year is the Wings of Love line, the company’s first foray into color cosmetics. The seven-stockkeeping-unit lipstick line was rolled out in February and has vastly exceeded plan, said Quimby.
“We expected the lipsticks to do about $500,000 at wholesale, and they have already done over $1 million,” said Quimby.
Based on that success, Quimby said, the company would roll out an expanded color cosmetics line beginning in January 2000.
Seven foundation sku’s and three facial concealer sku’s will be released in January, to be followed in June 2000 by blush and loose powder. Quimby expects the line to do at least $1 million wholesale during its first year of release.
“We’re also in development with eye makeup, but that will take longer,” said Quimby. “We don’t use artificial preservatives or colors, and some eye products are difficult to do without those two things.” Eye products won’t bow before fall 2000 and could take longer, she said.
The company’s 12 sub-branded lines are Quimby’s next area of concern. Under her plan, all will be brought under the Burt’s Bees name by the end of 2000.
“When we started, we thought that branding all the lines separately would make them more distinctive,” said Quimby. “But it’s very difficult to build one brand, let alone 12. We were really scattering our energy. And it confused retailers.
“For instance, we have a line called Green Goddess — a collection of bath items,” Quimby continued. “We would go into stores and compliment the managers on the Green Goddess displays, saying ‘We really like your Burt’s Bees display.’ Some retailers said to us, ‘We don’t carry Burt’s Bees.’ They thought Green Goddess was its own company. At that point, we knew we had a problem.”
The repackaging effort started early this year and will continue through the end of 2000, unifying each line with yellow packaging and the Burt’s Bees name, with a hive logo above it.
Advertising is another concern.
“We simply don’t have the world’s biggest advertising budget,” she said. “So we’ve got to be creative with what we do spend.”
Part of the company’s estimated $500,000 yearly budget is spent on ads in national consumer publications like Woman’s Day and The New Yorker — but a larger portion is spent on nontraditional ways of getting the company’s name recognized.
Co-founder Burt Shavitz recently took a three-week tour of North Carolina college bookstores, which wrapped up at the end of August.
“We are trying to raise awareness among college students, many of whom agree with our all-natural philosophy,” Quimby said. “Burt visited two college bookstores a day, handing out free samples, posters and T-shirts at each stop.” The best part of the tour? Its price tag of just $20,000, she said, adding that the effort would be expanded to California and Massachusetts soon.
Quimby considers the company’s sample-size kits — there are now six — another form of promotion.
“Each one contains seven to nine samples of products in our line, and each costs about the same as one full-size product,” she said. “We sell them to retailers at our cost, which allows them to easily promote our name — and their business.”
According to Quimby, the company’s sampling kits have had an unexpected bonus: They’ve driven the sales of their full-sized counterparts.
“Since we began offering these kits in mid-1998, we’ve seen a real spike in sales for the products we’ve offered this way,” Quimby said. More kits will be released in the next four months, she added.