Supply + Demand: Navigating Supply Chain Wins and Losses as an Entrepreneur (part 1)
Have you ever wondered about the process of how a product ends up on the shelves of your favorite stores? It has everything to do with the supply chain. The supply chain process is integral for any small or large business. However, successfully navigating the supply chain in the skincare industry comes with unique challenges. Olamide Olowe, CEO, and founder of Topicals, shares the challenges of the supply chain and how to overcome them. Topicals are a skincare company transforming the way people feel about their skin through effective products and mental health advocacy.
Olowe shed light on the process of supply chain at Topicals and how it affects the business as a whole. Some of the supply chain issues that she mentioned were ingredients of a particular product being out of stock, unreliable vendors, lack of delivery management, and difficulties in cash-flow management. All of these issues can have an adverse effect on the business. Yet, sometimes these issues are unavoidable. Olowe shared her experiences in dealing with these supply chain issues by walking us through a step-by-step process of how a product selection is made to how it comes into the market.
The World is A Supply Chain
When deciding what product to create, it is essential to research whether or not there is a need for the product in the community. Research allows one to determine if a product will be effective for the community and whether it will be cost-effective for the business. Creating and testing a product takes time and money and also depends on the supply chain. Olowe mentions that a product like Slather includes specific ingredients which only limited vendors sell. What happens if a vendor is out of stock of a particular product? It forces Olowe and her team to now find another vendor which is tricky because not all vendors sell high-quality products. The other option is to label the product out of stock and be transparent with retailers and buyers, which also has its drawbacks.
Money is made in the Supply Chain, not in Marketing
Looking at the supply chain as the core of your business is important. Being sold out of a particular product is bad for business because retailers get frustrated. Having a product out of stock also forces customers to start looking elsewhere for a similar product in the market. To tackle the issue of inventory becoming out of stock, Topical has begun to use mathematical models to predict when a product will be out of stock.
One of the issues with delivery management that Topicals experienced due to the shortage of labor was the failure of USPS to deliver packages on time. Due to this inefficiency, some packages were even being lost leading to angry customers. Olowe managed to tackle this supply chain issue by being transparent with customers and informing them of the global supply chain issues. Being transparent with customers by keeping them informed of the challenges the brand is facing allows trust to be built which is vital in managing the customer-business relationship.
Olowe’s Top Characteristics of Reliable Suppliers
- The supplier has a clean facility in terms of hygiene and safety protocols
- The supplier specializes in an industry-specific area and is experienced
- There is a direct line of communication with the supplier which means that the supplier is accessible whenever you need them. Oftentimes, suppliers do not respond back in a timely manner or lack in being transparent if there are any supply chain issues.
Topical’s Partnership with Sephora
Olowe’s goal for Topical has been to make it an omnichannel brand — a brand that is accessible to everyone, everywhere. Partnering with Sephora made this vision possible. Because Topical is a small business and has its unique pros and cons, Olowe believed that Sephora aligned most closely with the business goals. It’s important to mention that Sephora has a supplier diversity program called Sephora Accelerate which Topical supports. Olowe mentioned that Sephora Accelerate is a brand incubator focused on providing resources to women of color.
Speaking to Olowe about Topical’s journey to becoming a retailer brand was not only informative but inspirational. Being a young entrepreneur, Olowe has managed to discover best practices when it comes to the supply chain and her business as a whole. The key to brand success is navigating the supply chain in an effort to create quality products. Our advice to founders and entrepreneurs would be to treat the supply chain as the most important factor in their business. As Steve Jobs said, “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”