As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Randi Shinder.
Randi is a Toronto-based serial entrepreneur, founder and CEO of SBLA Beauty, a science-backed skincare company that creates products that address universal aging concerns. Prior to SBLA, Shinder founded CLEAN Perfume, Dessert Beauty with Jessica Simpson and the first ever micro-injected collagen lip plumper, LipFusion, the first in a portfolio of products, within the popular brand FusionBeauty. LipFusion sold 3.2 million units in Sephora in its first nine months on shelf. Shinder’s mission throughout her career has been to deliver products that fill a void in the beauty space, and it’s this mindset that has guided her business endeavors and has led her to create some of the industry’s most iconic beauty brands.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you grew up?
IfI was writing my autobiography, I would start by saying that I had a very “typical middle class” upbringing. Born and raised in Central Montreal, my parents met at McGill University and my father was a CPA and my mom was a schoolteacher. There have been a few things that have defined who I am today. One is my family. I’m the oldest of three children, I have a brother and a sister. Today, I work very closely with my brother — his company, Blend 360 Media, manages my database and they have built the sites for all of the brands I have created. I also work with my father — he serves as my CFO and handles the financial aspects of my company. Another aspect of my childhood that has helped to define me is the summer camp that I attended from the age of 8 years old (in fact, both of my children went to that same summer camp). Each summer I spent five days a week in a national park, making food on an open fire, washing dishes in the sand. I believe that camp experience is a big part of who I am — my core values and independence. It’s part of my DNA and probably plays a part in why I am a little bit different than many in the industry I am in.
What were your early inspirations that set you off on your particular journey?
There were a few, honestly. And they started very early in my life. My late paternal grandmother was obsessed with skincare. When she would babysit us when my parents traveled, she would take me through her whole daily beauty routine — cleanser, toner, moisturizer — she used Orlane. She wouldn’t even use a towel on her face! She would use a clean tissue to dry her face. She had beautiful, porcelain skin, perfectly groomed nails. She instilled a reverence and love of this daily ritual.
My mother had a huge collection of bottles of perfume on her vanity — all the old school Estee Lauder bottles. I can remember the shapes and weight when holding the bottles in my hand. I would sit at my mom’s vanity and turn the bottles of perfume into characters. I would smell the fragrance and decide personal characteristics of each of them. When other children were reaching for toys and dolls, I could spend hours with my bottle characters!
My maternal grandmother worked at Holt Renfrew — it was more of a hobby than a career, I think– but she was so proud that she worked there. I would visit her at the store and was mesmerized. It is not entirely surprising that I have an affinity for beauty, fashion and lifestyle.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I can’t say this was a mistake — more a chance I took. When I was just starting my first beauty brand, CLEAN, I had the opportunity to preview the fragrance at a Grammy Gifting suite at a hotel in New York. I remember I was sharing space with Rock & Republic Jeans. It was so early on that my bottle had no carton, nothing was really made yet — the temporary caps were even leaking. We were putting the bottles all over the hotel. I had the opportunity — I took it — I didn’t wait until everything was perfect — it really could have gone either way. I remember I was shoe shopping in Saks during a break and I received a call that Steven Cojacaro, who was writing for People Magazine back then, was writing about CLEAN as his lead item in the StyleWatch column. That was it — from that column, we exploded. What did I learn? Take the risk. I read the book, Blink, I loved it. Sometimes you have to blink and jump in. If you have to adapt later and make some changes, then you will.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Yes — Diane Briskin — the publicist who told me I had to do the Grammy Gifting Suite! That’s what started the whole ride….and now she is working with me on my current brand, SBLA.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
The hardest thing I had to face when I started my first brand (CLEAN) was that I had two very young children and as the brand took off I had to travel so often. I can remember my daughter grabbing my leg and asking me not to go. I look at her now, an independent and strong woman who is poised to change the world, so I guess it worked out ok. To help manage, I had my office in my home (this was before that was a thing!). When the kids were in school and would run into the house once home, they knew if my door was closed that they should not interrupt. If they did run in, I would always keep my voice calm and ask if anyone was bleeding or having an emergency and the answer was always “no,” so I would tell them to wait outside and I would be right with them — and, I was. Dealing with young children while building a beauty empire was tough.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I always considered the work and building the business to be busy (versus hard). Extraordinarily busy. When we were mentioned in People magazine, consumers started running into stores and asking for CLEAN. Buyers were calling me. I had to quickly get up a website. I got messages asking where we had the product, how could they find it. I answered every single email myself. Everyone was clamoring for the product — I remember my first buyer was Fred Segal in Los Angeles. I have found that when you are passionate about what you are doing, you don’t need to find drive. The passion propels you.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
I have always had a passion for this space and, more than that, for finding the marketplace need. From a business perspective I had a lucrative liquidity event in 2006 and I eventually sold my equity. In some ways, this was the most difficult part for me. I found it was hard not doing what I loved. I had to figure out what I was going to do next because I just was not very good at not working. So I studied the industry to figure out my next move. I think this tenacity in looking beyond the trend of the moment has been a big part of my success.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
On the face of it, my brands may seem to be very different from each other. Dessert, my second beauty brand, was multi-sensory and it launched with 33 skus. Dessert maintains a place in beauty pop culture — it has never truly been duplicated. You can still find some of the original product — which is a little scary! Fusion Beauty began as LipFusion. Someone had brought me microfusion and asked me what I would do with it. I developed a product that would work with the body’s own water to swell the lips (no one was doing a lip plumper back then.) LipFusion took on a life of its own. CLEAN Perfume was simply an extraction of something in my environment that was “clean” — my shower soap, laundry detergent, baby shampoo. Whatever was considered clean — crisp, dry sheets. CLEAN was created because there was no fragrance that made you smell soapy shower clean, and that is kind of a universal concept, but it didn’t exist.
But the truth is, I believe in literal marketing. What is the product? What is needed in the market that doesn’t exist? What do people want? The story behind CLEAN was simple and literal: I didn’t wear fragrance back then, but I showered…. And people would ask me what I was wearing. That’s where the idea came from. I look for the white space and fill it. That is how I started my current brand, SBLA — there was not enough attention being paid to mitigating the signs of aging in the neck area.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
- Surround yourself with a good, solid team. This doesn’t mean hire people steeped in traditional, big beauty background. In fact, I prefer to hire people with more of an entrepreneurial spirit or background.
- Stand out. This may seem a bit obvious, but I see a lot of brands popping up, some are positioned in an interesting way but it seems that too often, a lot compete against each other for the same space. There are a lot of products that are exactly the same — — the industry is getting over saturated.
- DTC. DTC. DTC. I would recommend that a company tries to go directly to their consumer. Some retailers used to be champions of the independent brand, but unfortunately it is not the way it works anymore.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I hope that my greatest contribution and legacy I bring is not the brands I have grown, but the goodness I see in my children. My daughter is studying to be a marine biologist, a marine scientist — she’s going to save the world. My son is in his early 20s, he graduated last year. His questions and input into my company are always so intuitive — he is always spot on.
Their perspectives on the world, the questions they ask, it is inspiring and motivating. And, it’s this same spirit that I look for when I hire people. I try to hire people who want to learn and figure it out — and I find they become very valuable parts of the organization. I had a team of 65 people at FusionBeauty — a lot of those hires had absolutely no experience in the beauty industry and we were massively successful. I enjoy looking out for the young people who remind me a bit of me when I was starting out. If someone shows me they are earnest and hungry — I hear them out. I look to give people an opportunity to learn and advance. And I hope that opportunity is one they take forward as they find success as well.
Wonderful. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- The lead time for the components and raw materials you need for any product are quite extensive. Planning out the inventory is an incredibly complex and crucial part of running a beauty brand.
- Beauty is somewhere 70 to 90% marketing, 10 to 30% efficacy
- You have to have a solid marketing budget, this is the most competitive industry out there
- You have to make a name for yourself — but keep focused on your own self. It’s a competitive and challenging industry. Keep your head down and don’t worry about or engage in the drama.
- If you know you are on the brink of a big idea — keep it to yourself! Flesh it out, work through it, make sure you are ready to go, support it with an infrastructure and come out swinging. Go big or go home!
Now that you have gained this experience and knowledge, has it affected or changed your personal leadership philosophy and style? How have these changes affected your company?
When I first started my brands I was consumed and obsessed with addressing everything individually and personally. Every email. Every request. My then husband used to joke and ask me if there was “perfume crisis.” I realized that while my individual attention was and is critical, it was also important for me to take time on my own. I had too much open access. It’s a definite balance. You have to have time to really think without distraction. So now I try to balance the personal attention and the time I need to think and focus on what drives my business forward.
This series is called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me”. This has the implicit assumption that had you known something, you might have acted differently. But from your current vantage point, do you feel that knowing alone would have been enough, or do you feel that ultimately you can only learn from experience? I think that learning from mistakes is the best way, perhaps the only way, to truly absorb and integrate abstract information. What do you think about this idea? Can you explain?
Going with my gut has always been my path to success. There are things that could have saved time or created shortcuts, such as understanding the time planning around components, or understanding how much to allocate to marketing to start. My path to success has been consistently doing the research, understanding the market and finding the white space. And making big/bold decisions. As I have built brands, it has become a little bit easier (but never easy), so this speaks to the fact that my own experience helps pave the path for my future endeavors. This is a business that isn’t built on formulas or lessons. The marketplace is constantly shifting and how you work and develop is unique to you. So the power of personal trial and experience cannot be diminished.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
While the beauty industry is simply massive, it is surprising how much of the industry itself is housed in a small number of geographical locations. This has many advantages, but the challenge of that was spotlighted with COVID, when there was a severe lack of manufacturing and resources available because when those few were halted, it affected the world.
With the rise of excitement and interest in independent beauty brands, I would love to bring the top independent beauty brands together along with our favorite and most reliable labs, component companies, fillers and create networks and access in a number of different regions and states. Think about the food industry and how there are so many different nuances and interesting trends and output in regions across the country — like Nashville and Portland, in addition to New York and San Francisco. This is a really important industry that could innovate more efficiently and quicker if the independents had more of a voice and this would be a benefit to consumers in both accessibility and innovation of goods, as well as to their wallet.
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