TULA Skincare CEO Savannah Sachs
By Jarrett Banks
TULA Skincare Chief Executive Officer Savannah Sachs is a woman on a mission. After the Covid-19 pandemic hit, many brick and mortar cosmetics retailers saw their businesses plunge. Not so for the digitally native TULA, which saw revenue triple over the last six months from a year earlier.
In an interview with Exec Edge, Sachs said her background in management consulting at Booz & Co. taught her how to be adaptable and lead with conviction no matter what the situation. The full interview is below:
Exec Edge: For those unfamiliar with TULA Skincare, tell us a bit about the brand?
TULA Skincare is a digitally native, clean clinical skincare and wellness brand with products powered by probiotics & superfoods to help you feel confident in your skin. TULA was founded in 2014 by Dr. Roshini Raj, a practicing gastroenterologist, who studied probiotics for over 15 years. Dr. Raj saw probiotics as a breakthrough innovation in skincare given their unique ability to restore the skin’s natural balance, as well as nourish and hydrate the skin to calm and soothe inflammation. As such, 100% of TULA’s products are formulated with probiotics – topical probiotics in our skincare line and ingestible in our supplement – which is why we sit at the intersection of beauty and wellness.
Exec Edge: What led you to TULA?
I began my career as a management consultant where I worked with Fortune 500 companies, including in retail and personal care, to help develop and implement growth as well as talent and change management strategies. After graduating from Harvard Business School, I went to work at Birchbox where I led that company’s U.K. business, helping build it from the ground up, before taking on the role of COO. During my time at Birchbox, I became increasingly passionate about the clean beauty space. Eventually, I learned about TULA via their investment partner L Catterton. In exploring the opportunity, I realized how differentiated TULA’s unique position is at the intersection of beauty and wellness, and was inspired by Dr. Raj’s story and vision to help restore confidence and balance in women’s lives. So, I was thrilled to join the team as CEO in 2018 for this next phase of growth.
Exec Edge: How has your role as a leader changed while operating a business during a pandemic and what advice would you give other leaders?
I have found that the key to managing and leading through an environment such as COVID is to be ready to adapt and change quickly as consumer behavior does. It’s more important than ever to be nimble and think about how to accelerate your digital strategy. Beauty and skincare has traditionally been a category that sold close to 90% of products offline, but COVID has fundamentally and significantly accelerated the ecommerce revolution. Even as stores reopen, we expect new shopping habits have been formed which will continue to influence consumer behavior indefinitely.
Exec Edge: Has COVID-19 affected your business and what has TULA been doing to adapt?
While this is certainly not business as usual and we are not without challenges, we’ve been lucky enough to be well positioned both in terms of our category, as well as our clean and doctor-founded brand positioning. Given our strong DTC business, our online sales are significantly up. Over the last six months, tula.com revenue was up 3x YoY and Q2 vs Q1 was up 80%.
While previous generations have seen “the lipstick effect” during difficult economic times, we’ve seen what we like to call the “skin-care” or “self-care effect.” The consumer is increasingly focusing on the ritual of her skincare routine because it feels like an affordable way to invest in your health and happiness while at home. Interestingly, our data shows that first-time customers are investing in a complete skincare routine versus a single product – basket size is up significantly by more than 25%, especially among new customers, which drove half of sales over the last 6 months. TULA is clearly very much aligned with the consumer psyche right now.
Exec Edge: How do you expect to see TULA grow in the future?
Prior to COVID-19, we had begun to see the ‘no makeup makeup’ look become increasingly popular and drive accelerated growth in the skincare category, and that’s now accelerated given that people are staying home. I don’t think the pendulum will just swing back, as good skin won’t go out of style and it’s traditionally a high loyalty and repeat category, so I think we’ve established a new baseline for the skincare category. We are also seeing a fundamental shift with consumers wanting clean, safe ingredients, but without sacrificing results – so the focus is on clean and effective.
Exec Edge: What’s been your biggest challenge while leading TULA?
The current COVID-19 environment has been a challenge for all leaders as well as an incredible high-stakes environment to learn how to be nimble, adaptable, and lead with conviction in the midst of so much uncertainty. Our biggest challenge has been with our supply chain and operations, which experienced extended disruptions that made meeting the increased demand from our consumer more complex. Of course, the safety and health of all of our partners is a top priority, so we’ve been working with our manufacturers and logistics providers to ensure that we can adjust our operations as needed, and as a result, we had been at reduced capacity across the board. Whenever there has been an impact to customers, for example in the time it takes to process and ship an ecommerce order, we proactively message to customers to remain as transparent as possible, letting them know before they make a purchase and continually updating them on the status of their purchase until it arrives.
Exec Edge: What’s the best way to motivate employees today given the current work-from-home environment?
Staying connected and investing to maintain the fabric of your team culture is critical. One simple tactic is that we always default to video calls so that you can continue to tap into nonverbal cues and discussions feel more personal versus distant. We’ve also gotten into a rhythm of each team connecting regularly in virtual “standups” for 15 – 30min so that you have that regular interaction and opportunity to align on priorities or even just chit chat the way you would at the watercooler in the office. The team has done an incredible job adapting to the new normal and remaining very productive and engaged together – I’m so proud of the team!
Exec Edge: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
For as long as I can remember, when I have asked my mom for advice, her advice was – just do it. In the 70s, at age 26, my mom started sewing and selling colorful canvas bags, and via hustle and grit she ended up building a specialty retail business with stores across the country. Her bias for action is remarkable, and I think that’s where I’ve learned how to quickly make decisions and have conviction – to move forward and make it happen.