When Ryan Babenzien launched his sneaker brand Greats in 2014, about three out of every 10 creatives he sent shoes to ended up posting about the brand. At the time, most of Babenzien’s direct-to-consumer peers were buying ads on Facebook and Instagram to supercharge their sales, and a word-of-mouth strategy wasn’t as effective by comparison.
But Babenzien was on to something much earlier. In December 2021, when she launched her new beauty wellness brand, Jolie, seven out of every 10 creators she sent the company’s cleansing showers to would spread the word.
Jolie may be operating in a different market, but the lessons Babenzien learned from his first venture apply to his second, even if he operates in a different category and caters to changing consumer preferences.
Flashy social media ads are no longer the most effective tactic to drive immediate sales. Instead, organic marketing that serves a specific audience is the marketing trend. Beauty startups today must also serve a distinct purpose of reaching young shoppers overwhelmed by choice. Babenzien and co-founder Arjan Singh claim they’ve been able to do this by selling a product that wouldn’t normally be classified as a beauty product at all; ; it retails for $165.
“We’re not shower heads. We are a beauty health tool,” Babenzien said.
So far, that positioning has worked. Since launching in December 2021, the company has amassed more than 80,000 customers, mostly women between the ages of 18 and 35. It already surpasses Babenzien’s latest venture. Jolly is on pace to grow sales by more than 500 percent annually to $25 million by 2023; When Steve Madden acquired Greats for an undisclosed amount in 2019, the sneaker startup had $13 million in sales.
Babenzien could be rooted in the first wave of digital-native brands defined by sleek branding, selling on its own channels and shaking up sleepy categories. But he’s now reshaping his approach to fit the second wave, which is more about building organic buzz, inking early wholesale partnerships and creating products that address niche markets.
Jolie has taken careful steps to further integrate into the health culture. It runs low-cost online and out-of-home marketing campaigns that link clean water to the beauty routine, and sells at retailers with a beauty- and health-obsessed clientele, such as Los Angeles-based Erewhon, Goop and 65 independents. barbershops across the country. .
“This shower is about values and this whole concept of wellness,” said Larissa Jensen, vice president and beauty consultant at Circana. “It’s not another cleanser, laser or toner. It has a very unique position.”
Testing the waters
With Jolie, Babenzien wanted a tighter and more predictable grasp of inventory management. Greats saw its initial profits disappear in part as the cost of keeping up with inventory requirements increased each year.
Before Jolie began selling its shower caps, it gauged consumer interest in such a brand. At the end of 2021, the brand promoted the water report on social networks. The report, produced in partnership with the Environment Agency, allows people to see what chemicals are harmful to skin and hair in the water in their area. The company received more than 20,000 registrations online, which served as an early indicator of demand for the product.
After Jolie sold out of the initial run of her showerheads due in December 2021, she used pre-orders to capture sales before the next batch of products hit her warehouse. The brand also has a subscription service where subscribers get a new filter every quarter for a recurring fee.
That instinct to test demand and plan accordingly is part of what has inspired investors like Rob Dyrdek, owner of brand-building company Dyrdek Machine. His company invested an undisclosed amount in Jolie in 2021 and is currently its largest investor. He was also attracted to the brand, he said, because of its potential to create a new segment in a saturated beauty industry.
“The potential, if it worked, to have a much greater and longer lifetime value was very attractive to us,” Dyrdek said.
Starting a conversation
Much of Jolie’s marketing is content produced by creators and customers discussing how Jolie improves their hair and skin. The company’s self-produced campaigns are similarly educational and explain why clean water is essential to a beauty routine.
In October 2021, before its official launch, Jolie released a “weather report”-style concept video on her social media pages, in which a model tells viewers that the key to better skin and hair is to eliminate chlorine and other harmful chemicals found. shower water.
“It’s done a lot of convincing and educating people and fundamentally reorienting how they perceive what we do,” said Singh, who also serves as Jolie’s head of brand marketing and operations.
The brand recently employed more guerilla-style tactics to generate organic buzz.
In May, the company sent five trucks wrapped in a dirty-looking facade bearing Jolie’s logo around New York with the question printed on it. “What if we told you that your shower water is dirtier than this truck?” At the same time, the brand organized a giveaway where the first five people who spotted the truck and posted about it on their social networks would receive a free Jolie shower cap. The winners were chosen within an hour.
Jolie’s awareness-focused and mostly user-generated content marketing has helped her achieve her goal of achieving profitability quickly. Jolie spends a little more than $100,000 a month on marketing, as opposed to the millions she could spend if she ran mostly paid ads on Meta and Google. The brand generates at least 12 percent EBITDA margin every month.
“We don’t pay to target it [customer]but she’s being targeted by this really vocal community that’s discovering Jolie, buying Jolie and then sharing Jolie,” Babenzien said.
Jolie also had to convince some potential retail partners that her showers were beauty tools. When Babenzien spoke with Erewhon executive vice president Vito Antocci last December, Antocci wasn’t sure what sense Jolie’s products would make at the high-end grocery chain. After one of Antozzi’s team members used the product for a week, he pitched Babenzien and Singh to collaborate. Jolie’s shower caps launched in May at the retailer’s nine locations.
A bet on a hero
Most beauty startups start with a few hero products. Jolie didn’t just start with one product, she’s betting it can take it to the next stage of growth.
The company expects to be able to triple its sales by 2025 outside of its filter shower capacity. “We see that revenue number as a fairly small decline in the size of the market,” Babenzien said. “300 million showers in the US is an incredibly large market.”
The early success of retail partners signals steady demand for Jolie’s hero products. Erewhon originally ordered nine units for each of its nine locations, and the company reordered the product 15 times in three weeks. Jolie has been the top-rated device in the beauty category on Goop’s website for the past seven months, said Jamie Holmes, Goop’s vice president of beauty and wellness.
Jolie plans to expand its retail distribution to support its growth projections. The brand may appear in more retail concepts that cater to health-focused consumers. Babenzien pointed to the farm shop at the Inness luxury boutique hotel in the Hudson Valley, which sells Aesop body wash and hair conditioner, as an example of a possible retail destination. The brand will also go the traditional route and eventually enter doors like Ulta Beauty and Nordstrom, Babenzien said.
“They’re in the right place to target that niche consumer,” said Circana’s Jensen. “If you want to reach those levels, you have to keep expanding your distribution.”