As he reflects on a “wicked” year in 2023 and looks ahead to 2024, one thing is clear for Bushbalm CEO and co-founder David Gaylord: the world of e-commerce has changed.
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As he reflects on a “wicked” year in 2023 and looks ahead to 2024, one thing is clear for Bushbalm CEO and co-founder David Gaylord: the world of e-commerce has changed. Before co-founding the Ottawa-based bikini line skincare company, Gaylord was an operations lead at Shopify, so he knows a thing or two about online retail. But it isn’t where he’s putting his money when it comes to the future of Bushbalm. Over the past few years, the Ottawa startup has seen runaway revenue growth and has no plans of slowing down now. Bushbalm was No. 1 in OBJ’s Fastest Growing Companies program in 2022 and 2023, with three-year revenue growth in four-digit percentages. According to Gaylord, future growth will not be because of e-commerce. “The model used to be such that it was so much easier to grow digitally, using e-commerce, and spending money on ads,” explained Gaylord. “But that world has changed, and it’s very expensive.” In March 2023, Bushbalm entered into an agreement with Ulta Beauty to put the skincare company’s products in 990 stores across the U.S. That agreement was the first step in plans to diversify the company’s channel strategy away from e-commerce to more in-store opportunities, and Gaylord says it’s just the beginning. Bushbalm products are now in 1,300 Ulta Beauty stores and featured on the “wellness wall,” a “discovery-oriented” display showing a new look at the company’s hair removal products and skincare. Now, Gaylord said the company has set its sights on Shoppers Drug Mart as the next in-store retailer, with Target, CVS Health and Walgreens also on the agenda. “We’re talking (to Shoppers Drug Mart) and trying our best, I think it's a great fit,” Gaylord explained. “We’re Canadian, so it’s a good fit. We’re talking with them now, so that’s the goal for this year. Target is our next retailer in the future.” Bushbalm also targets salons and spas such as The Ten Spot Beauty Bars where its products are used in practice and stocked on the shelves. There has been a “huge shift” in the last year, Gaylord added, with Bushbalm products now sold in about 3,000 spas or salons, about 40 of which are in Ottawa. “E-commerce isn’t going away,” Gaylord said, going on to explain that an in-person, traditional retail approach is the key to sustainable growth. While Bushbalm is launching unique products in its online store, with limited-edition scents and other perks, it is focusing its efforts on getting products on physical shelves, in front of buyers. Part of the drive to partner with retailers is Bushbalm’s mission to be approachable and affordable, Gaylord explained. While beauty retailers such as Sephora might be perceived as luxurious, expensive or unaccessible, Bushbalm is honing in on demand for affordable and reliable hair removal products, he said. “What we think we're doing is making a better product for ingrown hairs and razor burn, and we’re going to price it the same or better than the existing products,” he explained. “There are products that have been around for 20 or 30 years, and now their price is too high for the quality. “We’re in the sweet spot … We want to be that $19 product and think that’s great value.” The dedication to affordability is also why Bushbalm hasn’t raised product prices, Gaylord explained. For example, Bushbalm’s new Roller Rescue product, which features a stainless steel roller ball that dispenses chemical exfoliant, is being sold for $19. “We could have gone in two directions and launched the new product at $28, but we launched at $19,” he said. “We opted for a product more people would get to buy and use more consistently. “There are so many price raises in our industry, it’s shocking,” he added. “Competitors are $36, years ago they were $14.99. Their prices have doubled in the last 10 years and consumers may not have noticed.” Whether it’s product affordability or ease of access, Gaylord said approachability is “a huge part of Bushbalm.” “When you’re small, prices are way too high, but as we got more margins, we at the time didn’t lower prices, we just lowered prices of new products so it all matched,” he explained. “We want to be approachable from pricing, whether it’s where you can buy us, in diversity … We want people to see themselves in the brand, and we work on getting better prices on every part of the process.” This year, for the first time since 2020, Bushbalm will also be looking to raise capital. Gaylord is no stranger to pitching his company. He and co-founder Tim Burns walked away from CBC’s Dragons’ Den with $400,000 for a 10-per-cent investment in the company in 2020. Now, after years of bootstrapping, Gaylord says it's time to work with a beauty investor with a goal of raising US$5 million. “We haven’t raised money yet, and this could be the year. We’ve settled into our strategy, we know what we’re doing, we’re dialed in, and it’s shocking how efficient it’s become,” he explained. “A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to say we could go to Walgreens and CVS. “I can say now it works really well in that section and we can outperform what you have now. We can clearly say that, and it puts the business in a really good position for 2024.”