BURT’S BEES FUMBLES, BUT BUZZES BACK ON COURSE

Byline: Andrea M. Grossman

NEW YOK — Roxanne Quimby admits she’s made mistakes.
Consider the color chart on her newest product, Wings of Love Tinted Facial Moisturizer, where color options are listed as light, medium, dark and ethnic.
Ethnic?
“We totally made the wrong move,” Quimby said, explaining that creating color names is better left to the marketing department. Quimby received many complaints from African-Americans — some employees of Burt’s Bees — who told her that the slight, while unintentional, touched a nerve.
The blunder, however, is somewhat ironic. Appearing on blister cards next to the color chart is not a cookie-cutter-type spokesmodel, but Quimby’s yoga teacher, who is part African American.
Quimby, a child of the hippie generation — she lived in a cabin without running water for several years — wanted her naturally preserved moisturizer to emit a spiritual feeling. She also wanted to turn the tides.
“Think about how many African-American women buy products they know is right for them even though there is a white woman on the box. This will make every white woman make a little leap. That’s why I did it,” Quimby said.
Products have already shipped to stores, but Quimby is replacing the word “ethnic” from future boxes; consumer polls have drawn in the words “darker” or “deep” as possible replacements.
Since she and her sister Rochelle bought out Burt’s Bees co-founder Burt Shavitz for full ownership in October 1999, Quimby has taken a leadership role in expanding the natural beauty care company to the next level. While Shavitz now serves primarily as an icon for promotional tours — a Burt Shavitz look-alike contest is in the works — Quimby said she’s “focusing on building Burt’s Bees into a $60 million business” for 2001.
Some new products, along with the tinted moisturizer, which will retail for $11, could help her get there.
Appearing in stores now is Wings of Love Loose Powder ($16), Concealing Creme ($9), Blushing Creme ($9) and Burt’s Bees New Wild Lettuce Toner ($9). As always, Burt’s Bees products are as close to being natural as possible. Milk and sugar enzymes, as opposed to methylparaben, serve as natural preservatives in the company’s products, for example.
New channels of distribution, such as college bookstores, are also being considered as offering the company the most growth potential.
“I don’t think we have much of a chance of converting women over 30 to our products. We are investing in the 18- to 25-year-old, educated woman, who is now living on her own, making decisions that are different than what she made with her parents,” Quimby said during a phone interview from New Orleans where she’s attending a college book store show. Forty percent of the company’s sales are in health food stores. The remainder are in gift and specialty stores.
Quimby stumbled upon the college bookstore channel when a Burt’s Bees intern, hired while studying to earn an MBA, explored the college age demographic as a project for the company.
“We were left with the results and the business plan,” Quimby said, who just hired a college bookstore sales specialist to help close deals.
The college bookstore outlet also gives Burt’s Bees an opportunity where more traditional retail channels have not. Only a handful of drug, food and mass chains carry Burt’s Bees products, such as Longs Drug Stores in Walnut Creek, California and Rochester, N.Y.-based Wegman’s.