The Secret to Having a Successful Business? Solve Problems for Consumers
With the U.S. unemployment rate hitting 14.7 percent in April and major companies announcing a secondary wave of coronavirus-related layoffs, the labor market is looking particularly grim. Nearly every industry has been hit hard by COVID-19, but a key challenge facing consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands has been manufacturing.
However, one of these companies has managed to stay ahead of the curve. With three channels of sales and a production process based solely in the United States, Hint has been able to quickly pivot its priorities and keep up with consumer demand—without furloughing or laying off any of its 200-plus employees.
“I think it’s a matter of you just don’t stop,” Hint founder and CEO Kara Goldin explained on Thursday. “I always tell entrepreneurs, especially, that we’re a 15-year-old startup, we’re still scrappy enough where the CEO during COVID is going into stores and helping stock shelves.”
In a discussion with UBS private wealth advisor Kathleen Entwistle and Worth CEO Juliet Scott-Croxford during the second session of Worth’s newest online event series, The Next Normal, Goldin explained how her company’s mission from the get-go, to solve consumers’ problems, has been essential throughout this crisis; Goldin’s early recognition of COVID-19’s potential impact and the brand’s quick pivot to focus on direct-to-consumer and online sales haven’t hurt either.
“During a fluctuating economy, if you’re solving problems for people, you’re going to be OK,” Goldin said, adding that no matter what the economy looks like, being able to actually solve a problem is the number one thing.
“It’s common sense,” Goldin explained. “Solve problems for consumers, make them recognize why you’re doing this and then, you get the stickiness of that consumer. Also, it just makes you feel good as a leader. Prior to starting Hint, I never used to get emails saying, ‘You have changed my life.'” If you’ve never gotten those emails from consumers, it’s really powerful and it creates purpose, it creates energy for you as a founder. It’s a powerful thing.”
Today, Hint, known for its unsweetened flavored water, is the largest independent nonalcoholic beverage in the country that doesn’t have a relationship with the big soda companies. The brand also produces oxybenzone- and paraben-free scented sunscreen and aluminum-free deodorant. But it all started when Goldin decided to develop a product that could get people to ultimately enjoy water again, and thereby, get healthy.
“I decided to venture into the beverage industry when I recognized that what I was actually putting into my body—diet soda, in particular—was not as healthy as maybe I had originally thought,” Goldin recounted. “I had developed some health issues that I really started to see come out in my skin, terrible adult acne that I didn’t even have as a teenager, and also, I had gained weight over the course of a bunch of pregnancies.” But by giving up diet soda and switching to water, Goldin lost over 50 pounds, her skin cleared up and she developed a lot more energy. Her goal was to “get a product on the shelves of Whole Foods, and that’s really how it all started.”
As an FDA-regulated essential product with all manufacturing done in the U.S., Hint has had an advantage over many of its CPG counterparts trying to navigate through this pandemic. The company produces its products in a clean room, and there are no actual people in the room where products are filled. This “makes business more reliable and less likely to create any hiccups,” Goldin explained. While other brands were dealing with international supply chain issues and factory closures, Hint was never worried about its manufacturing.
But that doesn’t mean Hint’s business has been immune to the coronavirus.
On March 13, as the crisis was beginning to emerge in the U.S., Goldin stopped at Target on her way home from the airport and was surprised to see how low the store was on product. “The shelves had been decimated,” Goldin said, noting that she spent the next day visiting other stores and found the same issue. Grocers were relying on an auto-replenishment system to keep items, including Hint, stocked, but with panicked consumers stockpiling products, the system didn’t seem to be working. So, Goldin and her sales team started reaching out to buyers, offering to send over truckloads of product to get their shelves stocked. Over 50 percent of Hint’s grocery partners took the company up on the deal.
“We actually gained space in so many stores because many manufacturers were just relying on old ways of doing business,” Goldin said, “but we were willing to jump in and help.”
And helping—their consumers, their partners, even their employees—has clearly been Hint’s key to success.
“It’s about the experience, you want to make people feel something special about what you’re doing or the product that they’re using,” added UBS’ Entwistle. “It’s about knowing the quality, knowing that you’re putting good things into your body or around your body, and that it’s coming with a purpose. And I think that is really a sign of an incredibly thoughtful leader and the product that follows.”