When single-product, “hero” brands began to pop up and get stocked by retailers like Sephora and Violet Grey, indie brands began to market their solo products as be-all-and-end-all versions of wherever they sat in the beauty aisle, be it masks or face moisturizers.
But soon brands have given in to the pull and pressure to expand to more products. After all, brands need to show growth potential to retailers and investors, and one surefire way to do that, along with additional distribution, is with more product.
In the last year, Vintner’s Daughter added an essence product to complement its serum; Summer Fridays launched more masks, as well as a serum; and Augustinus Bader built on its face moisturizer with a version for the body. Introducing these products seemed natural enough (all sit within the larger skin-care category), but there have also been bigger, less obvious swings. For example, Too Face moved from makeup to skin care, and Ouai moved from hair care to body care.
Sometimes product development can be rationalized when a newer product or category shows more potential to drive the business. This was the case with Skyn Iceland’s Hydro Cool Firming Eye Gels. This item was not one of the company’s original seven products when it launched in 2005 (it came a year and a half later), and it only saw a spike in sales after repackaging the gels and dropping the price in 2010.
“Strategically, we thought we would use the eye gels to build out and support our eye cream, which was our No. 1 product at the time, but then it surpassed our expectations,” said Skyn Iceland founder and CEO Sarah Kugelman.
Today, Skyn Iceland’s Hydro Cool Firming Eye Gels are the company’s No. 1 best seller, with Ulta driving 54% year-on-year growth. In 2019, the brand brought in $20 million in retail sales. Kugelman has also let the product’s popularity serve as a guide for future innovation. For example, Skyn Iceland launched its Dissolving Microneedle Eye Patches, a take on its firming gels, on its site last week; it will go into Ulta locations in February.
“You can never walk away from your hero product, but you have to stay on the cutting edge of what’s next so you don’t lose your magic,” said Kugelman.
This also provides an explanation for Vintner’s Daughter’s new essence product, which was meant to be the yin to its serum’s yang, said founder April Gargiulo.
Still, interrelated product poses a cannibalization problem, which Kugelman acknowledged. To combat this, the company priced its Dissolving Microneedle Eye Patches higher (two eye patches are $14) and gave clear directives on its site and to Ulta that the newer item is meant to be used overnight, while its original gels are better used for a quick fix.
Careful consideration in building the brand assortment was paramount for Sara Happ, founder of her namesake brand, because she said a second product can make consumers weary of a brand’s first. Happ introduced the company’s lip scrub for dry or chapped lips in 2005 and waited to launch lip glosses until 2008. The decision was twofold: one, to build customer trust, and two, because the category is so saturated.
“All retailers say to you is, ‘Oh, can’t you make lip scrub for your face?’ or ‘Can’t you just make lip scrub for your body?’ and my answer is no, because those products are perfected by other people. We wanted to do one thing, lips, and one thing perfectly to make sure we didn’t undermine ourselves,” said Happ,
Directives from retailers as well as customers push younger brands to move faster than ever in today’s Instagram age.
HoliFrog, a brand that launched in September 2019 with only cleansers, planned to stay in the face wash category until January 2021. However, co-founder Emily Parr said it will advance that timeline and launch a new category in September 2020. She would not disclose the product segment.
“Holding the consumer hostage in one category beyond a year is something I realized very quickly needed to shift,” she said. “I don’t want to completely rewrite my wash-first storyline, but after about two months [in business], the echoing sentiment from customers and influencers was that they loved our cleansers so much, they were already ready for us to start taking over the rest of their skin-care routine.”
For Happ, standing firm on her slow-and-steady hero product positioning has meant forgoing prime positioning in some wholesale doors.
“Maybe other CEOs wouldn’t say this, but we do lose shelf space because of the way we approach our business. If we decided to launch 60 lip glosses and 25 lipsticks, we could do that and land more attention. I would rather know we put out good product,” she said.
In 2020, Happ said her brand cut its product launches from eight products to four. That didn’t deter Ulta from taking a bigger bet. After a longstanding relationship with QVC, Sara Happ launched in 200 stores in January 2019, and today, it’s in 600 locations with plans to enter the entire 1,200-store fleet later this year. The company will also raise its first round of funding to accelerate the business. Sara Happ saw 20% year-over-year growth in 2019.
“Ulta doesn’t have anyone that owns [the] lip [category], and so they are giving us that role in stores,” said Happ. “We need to be smart about how we grow and make sure we can’t miss opportunities.”