For most people, becoming general manager of a $1 billion division of Clorox might be the pinnacle of their career. But for Joy Chen, it was an event that made her see she wanted something more.
With 20 years’ experience in consumer-packaged goods, Chen hoped to work with a smaller, more entrepreneurial, high-growth company. She met with two equity investors, San Francisco Equity Partners and Simon Equity Partners, and really liked the portfolio of companies the firms had in natural products. The two firms saw her as a good fit for a natural beauty products company called Yes To Inc.
“The Yes To brand has been around for close to six years, so it is a very, very young brand,” Chen says. “When this opportunity came up with Yes To, they called me and I started as CEO 3 ½ years ago.”
Yes To is a manufacturer of natural skin and hair care products with annual revenue of more than $50 million. The company had a great mission and a great product, but there were a few matters that Chen saw as obstacles the company would need to overcome if it wanted to be among the top brands on the market.
“I knew that the brand had tons of potential just from looking from the outside,” Chen says.
Here’s how Chen helped open new doors to lift Yes To Inc. into the upper echelon of natural beauty product brands.
When Chen first arrived at Yes To, she wasted no time in creating a plan of attack for the company. She made a conscious choice to get something done quickly.
“During my first 30 days, I assessed the business to see what’s working and what’s not, and assessed the team to see who would add value to what we want to do and who won’t be part of the team,” she says. “It was a lot of assessment of the strengths and opportunities of the business and how we address those in the 30-day plan.”
The thing that was clear to Chen in those first 30 days was a need to focus on product quality. The brand’s products were being manufactured overseas.
“I moved all of our manufacturing to the U.S.,” she says. “This was a U.S. brand and I wanted it to be made in the U.S. and be able to manage the quality a lot better. When I did that I saw it as an opportunity to relaunch the brand under all new positioning.”
Yes To has six different product lines branded under different fruits and vegetables such as Yes To Carrots, Yes To Cucumbers and Yes To Tomatoes. Over the past three years Chen has repositioned and relaunched the entire brand.
“We positioned the product lines to be more benefit-based lines in the brand, whereas in the past they were viewed as flavor and scent differences,” she says. “The cucumber line is now a sensitive line and the tomato line is for acne.
“That repositioning really helped bring a lot of growth to the brand,” she says.
The company also launched new product lines — blueberry, an anti-aging line, and grapefruit, an even-color complexion facial line.
“We repositioned the entire business and launched the blueberry line all within the first nine months I was there,” Chen says. “I coupled that with the manufacturing piece because I thought it was an opportunity to do it all in one big package. From there we were able to get a lot more distribution and our business really grew.”
As Yes To kept climbing the ranks in the natural beauty product segment, the company began to have challenges keeping up with and forecasting growth.
“It was really hard for us to forecast how high is high,” Chen says. “For a small company you can’t just buy all the inventory you need to support that, so we inadvertently had supply issues because our growth was higher than what we projected, and we couldn’t deliver the product as well as we would have liked to some of our retailers.
“That happens when you’re in a small company because you have to manage your cash flow while you’re growing. You really have to balance those trade-offs in a smaller company.”
The second challenge Chen faced was realizing over time that the needs for talent within the team change. What you need sometimes when you first start the company is different from what you need three years later.
“You have to make sure that the people you have on your team a year ago are still the same you need moving forward,” she says. “The skills that you need change as the company changes and grows.”
Aside from tracking talent needs, anyone who runs a small company will undoubtedly get caught up in the day-to-day, but to be successful you must make it a point to look ahead.
“You have to make time to do that and think about what is required to continue to grow the company,” Chen says. “You can’t get complacent.”
With the new positioning, launch of new products and a focus on higher quality, Chen has helped Yes To become the No. 2 natural skin care brand in the U.S. It was previously No. 5. Yes To is also the No. 1 natural facial skin care brand.
“We have opened a lot of doors,” Chen says. “We’ve increased our distribution over the last couple of years with major mass and drug retailers. We’re No. 2 and it’s great, but there’s so much more to do. How do we get to No. 1 or get to be a stronger No. 2?”
Chen’s goal for Yes To is to double the business in the next two or three years. In the last three years, Yes To has quadrupled the business in size and increased the value of the company by five times.
“Doubling the business sounds easy, but it’s going to be a different kind of growth,” she says. “We opened a lot of doors over the last 3 ½ years, and we still have opportunity to open more doors, but we’re going to be more selective about what doors we open.”
For any small business driving awareness is really important for the brand. It’s important for Yes To that consumers are able to find its product.
“One way to drive a lot of awareness in the beginning is making sure that your consumers can find you in the different channels that they shop in,” Chen says. “The various channels and various doors that we’ve opened allow consumers to be able to find us and have experience with our brand.”
From there the growth relies upon the quality of the product and the continued innovation within the company’s various product lines.
“It’s hard for one set of products to do everything, so that’s why we have built them into families,” she says. “Innovation is really important for us because in beauty people love to try new things. They’re always looking for the next, new, better thing. In beauty people have different skin needs and hair needs, so innovation and bringing new technology to your brand is really important.”
The most important thing that Yes To has done for itself is to clearly define what the brand stands for.
“That is a sandbox that we need to find ourselves,” she says. “That’s something that we need to define as our right to win. I don’t believe in the consumer telling us to go somewhere when we don’t believe the brand should go there. You’re trying to create the brand and the equity behind it and you have to define what that is. From there you innovate within that space.”
Since Yes To is still a small, growing company, it doesn’t have large amounts of research dollars, so it relies on the marketplace.
“We tend to look at larger companies to see what’s successful and we rely on data to show how successful certain products are,” she says. “That’s how we saw a huge void in anti-aging in our product family. Anti-aging was a huge segment we were not playing in and it has seen a tremendous amount of growth year after year.”
Once Yes To defined the segment, it looked at who was already doing it well.
“We look at competitors, we talk to our consumers and then we look at what we want the brand to stand for,” Chen says. “The combination of those things is how we come up with innovation.”
Innovation will continue to be a huge part of Yes To’s growth moving forward, and its innovation will have to differentiate the company from other competitors.
“First-to-market innovations that really matter are really important,” she says. “We know that once people try our product they like it. So our biggest challenge is driving more people to try it.” ●
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The Chen File
Name: Joy Chen
Company: Yes To Inc.
Born: Hong Kong. Chen came to the U.S. when she was 9.
Education: Attended U.C. Berkeley and earned a degree in business administration. She went to Harvard Business School for her master’s in business administration.
What was your first job and what did you learn from that experience? I helped manage five maternity clothing retail stores. I took away the fact that as long as you put your mind to it you can get it done. It was fun to help merchandise the clothing and manage the stores.
Who do you look up to in the business world? Jack Welch. He never settled for complacency, always had really high standards and pushed his leadership team to think outside the box delivering extraordinary performance.
What do you like to do outside of work? My husband and I really enjoy adventure travel. We like to travel to less developed places. We recently went to Bhutan. What we like about going to those places is it brings us back to what really matters in life and away from material things.
Do you have a favorite Yes To product? Blueberry eye cream
How to reach: Yes To Inc., (888) 929-3786 or www.yestocarrots.com