Doing Well By Doing Good In Natural Brands
From its humble beginnings selling products as a vendor on the streets of New York City to distribution and co-creation of its flagship brands with major retailers across the U.S., Sundial is rooted in a commitment to community and a vision to fill unmet and underserved consumer needs. The company also is dedicated to making the highest quality products possible with natural, certified organic and ethnically sourced ingredients. Sundial Brands is a leading skincare and haircare manufacturer and maker of brands including SheaMoisture, Nubian Heritage, and Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture.
Sundial founder and CEO Richelieu Dennis began the company in 1992 with his college roommate Nyema Tubman, and his mother, Mary Dennis, shortly after graduating from college. They were unable to return to their homeland of Liberia due to escalation of a civil war. To earn a living, Dennis drew from culturally authentic family traditions passed down from his grandmother and incorporates four generations of recipes, wisdom, and global experiences into efficacious natural bath and body formations.
A certified B Corp company, Sundial engages in cruelty free business practices. Dennis recalls in the early days how they had to educate consumers about soaps, shea butter, and other natural products. Today, the company earns $200 million annually. What’s more, its products can be found on the shelves of major retailers such as Macy’s, Sephora, Whole Foods, Duane Reade, and Walmart.
Taking a lesson from his retail supplier handbooks, start at the bottom. “You don’t have to start at the top to introduce your product or service. You shouldn’t view a major retailer as a corporation but a collection of people in which you can build relationships. A number of entrepreneurs introduce new products through associates at local stores,” advises Dennis.
Also, never take “no” for an answer. “Make sure that you have a compelling offer and stick to it. We had several meetings with a buyer where we weren’t prepared. It can take years before ending up on a retailer’s shelves,” he explains. The most common bit of advice at the Buyers Meeting: slow and steady. Says Dennis, “vendors that have the greatest odds for developing a lasting relationship are those that successfully grow from regional vendors to national suppliers.”
Gain customer insights and learn how to best serve your consumer segment. Although price is a major factor, distinguish your company’s offerings by capturing a new trend or filling an underserved niche. From the beginning, his family-owned business has targeted underserved consumers, including African American women.
“We recognize that African American women have long been at the forefront of the natural hair and body movement that has created the dynamic cultural shift that we see today,” Dennis says. “It is exciting for us to see how naturalistas have now empowered women from all backgrounds to embrace their natural beauty. In addition, they have compelled multinational beauty brands and retailers to acknowledge and be more respectful of their needs.”