Getting your brand into a national distribution deal is the dream of many entrepreneurs. But launching in a nationwide chain less than two years after you bring your product to market? That’s a dream come true. And it’s exactly what Kristina Tsipouras, founder of Boston Business Women, did with her latest venture, Moroccan Magic. Here’s how she got CVS to pick up her line of natural, organic lip balms—and where she’s hoping to see them next.
The Right Fit
Kristina, a Massachusetts-raised, self-made serial wellness entrepreneur with eight years of experience, was in the market for her next venture when she receive a bottle of argan oil from a friend who’d recently been traveling in Morocco. Though familiar with the ingredient, Kristina says she hadn’t seen it in as many accessible products as she thought it could be. “I was getting curious about ingredients at that point,” she says, “and I like to work in spaces that haven’t seen innovation in a while. So, argan oil products that were available and affordable seemed like a good fit.”
She began working with an organic lab to craft products where argan oil could be the star ingredient—skincare, hair products, lip balms. “I planned on doing something with hair or skin,” Kristina says. “I didn’t set out to do a lip balm. But when the balm [samples] came back, they were clearly the best product. They were smooth, luxurious and healing—we noticed healing on our lips within hours of using them!”
She also recognized it as a good fit for mass-market retailers like Target and CVS. If she could get the right price point, she could create a luxury product with high quality ingredients that out-performed others on the market, all while making them accessible to everyone from the editor in New York to the mom in Kansas. “I wanted to create something for the everyday consumer,” says Kristina. “Something that felt good and like a little bit of self-care every time you applied it.”
With its metallic and black branding, luxury feel and affordable price point (one tube is $3.99), Kristina landed at the near perfect point between high quality and accessibility. “We wanted to mimic high-end retail brands, but have mass market price appeal,” she says.
Steps to CVS
Once Kristina had secured her formula and brand name (“I was completely shocked that ‘Moroccan Magic’ wasn’t taken—so many argan oil products don’t have ‘argan’ or ‘Moroccan’ in their name”), it was like “everything had aligned,” she says. And her previous experience as the founder of an herbal iced tea company taught her that success was “definitely a numbers game. I reached out to as many retailers as possible each week because as the founder, that’s my job.”
She also had her sights set on CVS as a possible national distribution partner. She thought that Moroccan Magic was the right brand to sit on shelves next to products from companies like Burts Bees, and she believed that her formula was superior—and if she could just get it in people’s hands to try, they’d agree.
So, she did what she could, not having any initial contacts at CVS corporate: She scoured LinkedIn to find connections to the drugstore retailer, and dug as deep as she could until she found their corporate address. From there, she sent handwritten notes to the office, along with samples of Moroccan Magic. “I told them to try the balms, pass them around the office, and reach out to me if they liked them,” Kristina says.
“One rep really loved us immediately, and became an advocate,” she says. “They wanted us right away. It really was as simple as that. I was focused on getting us national retailers, so that’s what I spent my time on, and it paid off.” Moroccan Magic was picked up in 1,000 CVS stores in March of 2017, just a year and a half after the brand launched. After four months of good sales numbers, the balms were pushed up to the full chain of stores nationwide.
Standing Out in the Beauty Industry
As a serial entrepreneur, Kristina says she knows what it takes to build a brand, and how to differentiate herself in a crowded indie beauty space. “There are so many amazing brands in this space,” she says, “and the gift shop/boutique space is really overwhelmed.” But, she says, over-saturation in that marketplace didn’t concern her, as she was shooting for national distribution from the beginning.
“In indie beauty,” she says, “there are a lot of makers. As a business owner, you have to decide: Are you going to stay a maker or are you going to become a brand? I didn’t want to rent a facility, buy equipment and have all that overhead.” Instead, working with an organic lab to formulate Moroccan Magic products helped Kristina reduce costs, and translate that to the consumer. “We’re buying from the same organic ingredient suppliers as a lot of other brands, but we figured out how to keep the lip balms affordable.”
That affordability hasn’t inhibited the brand’s success either: Kristina says they’ve been profitable since year one and have sold more than 300,000 lip balms to date. “There’s something wrong with the industry,” she says, “if we can sell at our margin and be profitable and others can’t.”
To Self Fund or Not to Self Fund
Kristina’s first entrepreneurial attempt, Zoos Greek Iced Tea, was not the kind of success she expected. She says she ended up leaving the company after making a few decisions she wouldn’t advise any business owner to make today. “I gave away 50 percent of my company’s equity—you’re not supposed to do that,” she says. “And I brought on a woman who I hadn’t worked with long enough to know that I could trust doing business with her.” Those two decisions ended up forcing her out, and leading her to Moroccan Magic. “I’ve become smarter and stronger because of it.”
That experience also made Kristina reluctant to take outside funding, lest she lose control of her company again. “There are different ways to get funds without giving away your equity,” she says. “A lot of business owners might think you need a million-dollar marketing budget, but that’s not true. Using micro-influencers and targeted events like WELL Summit can build your brand without tons of money.”
She also admits that Moroccan Magic is less cost intensive than other products. “If we were venturing into larger bottled products, we’d have to do fundraising,” she says. “Or if we’d launched with a skin cream—that’s a large investment, and it’s risky. We could also have 50 SKUs, but I’m trying to have the patience for a marathon, not a sprint.” And that’s part of Kristina’s genius: She calculated it all out before launching her brand and was able to both fill a hole in the market and position her company for quick profitability.
Often in the beauty industry, you find brand creators who launch a business because they believe so strongly in a product, they can’t not bring it to market. In Kristina’s case, she was an entrepreneur first and a skincare aficionado second. Yes, she’s passionate about argan oil and Moroccan Magic, but she made informed and strategic decisions about which argan oil product was likely to be the most successful before she tried to pitch anything to any retailer. And that intentional research has afforded her the ability to stay away from outside investments for the time being.
What’s Next for Moroccan Magic
Kristina says while she’s testing new products like skincare currently, her biggest expansion is staying firmly in the lip category. Lip tints, serums, scrubs and masks are up first—”It’s a smarter way to grow,” she says. Moroccan Magic is also releasing new lip kits for spring and Mother’s Day. “Rather than launch brand-new products,” she says, “we’re putting together sets of our products to make gifting easy.”
Kristina is also preparing to launch in more than 20,000 stores nationwide by fall 2018: Moroccan Magic is being picked up by the full chain of Wegmans supermarkets, The Paper Store, Vitamin Shoppe and Vitamin World—plus another national retailer she’s not yet allowed to name. “Once you have a foot in the door with one retailer, it’s easier to get the next one,” she says.
Advice for Entrepreneurs
During our conversation, Kristina was a wealth of advice for blossoming entrepreneurs. Here are a few tidbits that really stood out:
1. Be selective about who you work with: “Do business with people for at least a year before you sign legal documents or contracts giving them equity or even partial control over your company. I learned that the hard way. There are a lot of kind-hearted, good people in the industry—but you have to know their motives before you connect yourself to them.”
2. Reach out to people at brands you admire. “Both the founder of EO and the former CEO of Burts Bees will get on the phone with me. All because I asked. I didn’t know them before, but if there’s someone from a company you want to talk to, just reach out.”
3. Assume you can always learn from others. “I defer to other people when it comes to our new flavors/scents. We use focus groups and potential consumers, because sometimes I might love a flavor but it’s not right for the market. Our Rose scent is our bestseller—it outsells other scents by three times—but it’s not my favorite. We originally did unique flavors, but that didn’t work for a mass retailer. Don’t fall in love with a flavor or formula. Even on a small scale—do blind tests with a few girlfriends and a bottle of wine, and ask your consumers what they want. And set emotional boundaries for yourself around your brand, so you can listen to what others want.”
4. Get online. “There is so much out there online. Spend time on YouTube searching ‘how to launch a consumer goods brand.’ Go to a professor at a local design school and ask to be the subject of a class’ final project on branding. Use your funds smartly—bootstrap. I teach a three-month entrepreneur book camp and I see all these business owners who’ve spend so much money and legal and design that they can’t be profitable. But you can be successful by bootstrapping.”
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