Camille Rose CEO, Janell Stephens, Talks Growing A Beauty Empire During Uncertain Times
“Due to high order volume, we are currently experiencing shipment delays. We apologize for the inconvenience and are working as quickly as possible to ship your orders.” This is the alert firmly anchored at the top of Camille Rose’s website, the total wellness brand with its name at the forefront of the natural beauty industry. During a time when an alarming amount of businesses have ceased operations, having a banner dedicated to high order volume is not only a testament to the products themselves, but also to the company selling them and the minds behind it all.
The Camille Rose team, led by Founder, CEO, and Master Mixtress Janell Stephens, have collectively come together to offer continued support to not only their customers but other women-led businesses. I had the opportunity to speak with Stephens recently about all that she’s done with her company in efforts to pivot during these uncertain times and keep its products flying off the shelves. “That took us by storm because you did not know what to expect at all. And that goes for my employees to my retail distributors,” Stephens disclosed in our interview. “I mean, they’re telling us the country is shutting down. So what does that mean when you’re in business and the majority of your products are sold in major retail stores? The uncertainty of not knowing what would happen to our funds and our products. It was bananas.”
After talking through their initial concerns, Stephens and her team hit the ground running, brainstorming strategic ways to engage with the almost 400,000 followers with eyes on their platform. With their entire marketing and event planning schedule completely thrown out the window, it was time to get creative. “Okay, everybody’s at home,” recalled Stephens. “How can we entertain at home?” Recognizing the potential to gain their audience’s undivided attention, the team decided the best move was forward, dedicating their efforts toward continuing to educate their consumers on the brand they loved and giving them the options they’d come to expect.
Releasing a slew of new products, including hand sanitizer, and engaging with their following through dynamic live streams with a personal feel, Camille Rose has been successful where many others have, unfortunately, fallen. “We did it,” enthused Stephens as she discussed her team’s plans to stay at the top of their game. “It was a win for us. We’ve been talking to people I don’t think we ever would have come across had it not been for this pandemic.” Organically growing her business from her kitchen to now over 300,000 national retail chains including Walmart, Target, and Whole Foods, Stephens has certainly earned the title of expert entrepreneur (although she prefers ‘mompreneur’). Kind enough to share her insights, here are a few pieces of Stephens’ best advice for beauty founders hoping to follow in her footsteps during these trying times.
Identify New Opportunities
Growing up in a supportive household, Stephens says that her family encouraged her to do anything she put her mind to, whether she wanted to play it safe or take risks. But with many people in her family being entrepreneurs, it was obvious that being self-sufficient was of great value. “They encouraged me to just pretty much follow whatever I wanted to do,” said the Louisiana native of her upbringing. “But ‘do for self, have your own’ was always drilled into our head.”
Later in life when Stephens was faced with the difficult decision of whether she’d subject her children to possibly harmful medications for their severe eczema, the wife and mother of five fearlessly took matters into her own hands. Soon after researching and mixing the all natural, premium blended concoctions herself, and making some healthier lifestyle changes, Stephens and her family were reaping the benefits. Once countless friends, family, and acquaintances were inquiring about her products, Stephens launched a website. And when the brand grew out of its online shell, she approached a friendly ally in her neighborhood to take things to the next level.
“Whole Foods was my first retail store. I went to them.” Taking advantage of the high-end supermarket’s local vendor program, Stephens applied in-store and presented her products to the buyer. The moment they passed the organic giant’s strict ingredient guidelines, Stephens had put Camille Rose products on the map. “Then I started sending samples to each region of Whole Foods, and if the buyer was interested, they would bring me in there.” The brand’s success in Whole Foods attracted Target, then a deal with WalMart followed shortly after the retailer caught wind of the brand’s sales data in their rival’s stores. As of last year, Camille Rose has expanded to the UK.
Own Your Craft
With no previous business experience, Stephens initially struggled with owning her voice and trusting that she in fact knew best. But taking advice from her favorite book, Oprah Winfrey’s What I Know For Sure, Stephens began embracing the fact that only she could tell her story better than anyone else. “When I started, I knew nothing, and I thought that experts would be the voice and would tell us the best way to move,” Stephens explained. “What I know now is that it’s my passion and I know the product and I could speak it, whether I have experience in it or not. If it’s your passion, your drive, don’t let anyone bully you. Just stand firm and stay true to what you know.”
Stephens says that this confidence is exactly what comes into play during negotiations. “Just be honest,” she said while reminiscing what it was like for her to still be home mixing her products while they sat on the shelves at Target alongside some international names. Letting the retailer know that the brand couldn’t meet certain requests or afford to buy special in-store ad opportunities was the difference between Camille Rose making it or ultimately being replaced. “At the end of the day, they do understand, and there’s a reason why they wanted to do business with you. They put you in their stores. So just remember that it is okay to be honest with them and let them know the state of your business.”
Get Comfortable With Saying No
Officially launched in 2011, Camille Rose effortlessly blossomed during the aftermath of the 2008 recession to become the powerhouse it is today. Not having to rely on the brand’s profits to sustain her family, Stephens paced herself while building the brand’s notoriety and let her handcrafted products speak for themselves. “I had a different means of employment so I wasn’t dependent on Camille Rose. I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself at all and I just took my time,” Stephens said of the brand’s humble beginnings. And without the added pressure, Stephens felt more comfortable turning down retailers when they asked her to expand to more of their stores when the business wasn’t fully ready. “You have to have money to play in those spaces,” Stephens spoke of offers from big-box retailers. “If you’re not ready to make major moves, it’s okay to say no because you can always come back when you’re ready to say yes.” Specifically for those wanting to expand into retail spaces, Stephens suggests asking for a greater partnership, if needed, so the retailer can help with funding and development, eventually taking some of the work off of your business’ plate.
As Camille Rose grows to international status with Stephens continuing to mix new products in her home kitchen, staying stress free becomes of utmost importance, but the dedicated vegan and fitness enthusiast makes sure she continues to make time for herself. However, recognizing that not all women have been blessed with the help she’s had, Stephens hopes to alleviate some of the stressors they may be facing with the help of the Janell Ennis Stephens Foundation. “We’ve always given back to single moms,” said Stephens. “I started because I am a mom and I could not imagine doing what I do alone.” Starting last year, the foundation began giving away $1000 a month to working single mothers, first helping them with monthly bills, then expanding to help pay for daycare expenses so the women can keep growing and providing with less to worry about.
Lastly, Stephens believes that business owners will position themselves well if they always remember the phrase, ‘the customer is always right.’ “I didn’t realize how often people email companies,” Stephens exclaimed. “But I listen to my consumer.” Staying in the know with customers has helped the minds at Camille Rose keep calm and thrive. Recently branching off into new categories like facial skincare and always offering a diverse selection of natural beauty collections, with her multi-million dollar beauty empire, Camille Rose, Janell Stephens has become a beauty pioneer in her own right and arguably the Madam C.J. Walker of our time.
Photo Source: ALLEN COOLEY