For this Connected Enterprise episode, we interview Karen Behnke about Juice Beauty and how it successfully navigated the changes of the last two years.
Carl Lewis: Welcome to the Connected Enterprise podcast. I’m Carl Lewis, your host from Vision33, and my guest is Karen Behnke, founder of Juice Beauty. Karen, welcome. Please tell us about yourself, Juice Beauty, and your role there.
Karen Behnke: Hi, Carl. Thank you for having me. Juice Beauty is 16 ½ years old—we’ve been cleaning up the beauty space since 2005. We’re a beauty company that specializes in organic ingredients/products and offers antioxidant-rich skincare and plant-pigment makeup. We've been called the OG of the clean, natural, organic movement. That made me feel old, but I guess it's because we started our company so long ago and helped pioneer the clean beauty movement.
Carl Lewis: Where can people find your products?
Karen Behnke: Juice Beauty is sold at juicebeauty.com, alta.com, in every Alta beauty store nationwide, and Sephora International. We also sell at U.S retailers like Dillard’s, Bloomingdale's, and Credo.
Carl Lewis: Lots of places. Congratulations! How many employees do you have?
Karen Behnke: We have just under 100 employees. Our headquarters, wonderful solar-powered warehouse, and studio are in Southern Sonoma County, and our Juice Beauty farm is in Northern Sonoma County in the beautiful Dry Creek Valley. We organically farm our grape and olive ingredients on a 20-acre vineyard and olive grove.
Carl Lewis: Wonderful. How do those employees split up between operations, admin, etc.?
Karen Behnke: We have 35 employees at corporate, which is supply chain, operations, and sales administration. We have in-house product developments, two cosmetic chemists, quality control, me, marketing, and juicebeauty.com digital. Our headquarters is attached to our warehouse/distribution center, so we have our distribution center management there and distribution center workers who pick, pack, and assemble kits. We don't manufacture here, but the shipping and receiving are in corporate headquarters.
Carl Lewis: So, when the pandemic hit, you were a prime candidate for “some people have to be there, but some people can probably do things elsewhere.” How did you handle that? Were you prepared?
Karen Behnke: No one was prepared for COVID! We already had great systems, but we still had to shift a lot. We’re an essential business because we sell hand sanitizer, haircare, skincare, etc., so we stayed open in Sonoma County. Our distribution center manager and heads of operations did an amazing job setting up very strict protocols with N95 masks, keeping the doors open, making the warehouse safe, and testing.
Karen Behnke: Kaiser is right across the street from us, and they have a great testing system drive-thru for COVID. That was the first consideration. Our corporate employees all went remote. We didn’t know we had full access to Microsoft Teams! It sounds silly, but we didn't realize it was a video service we all had on our computers. We adapted to that quickly. But the biggest shift was our sales field force.
Carl Lewis: You were fortunate that most of your office folks used laptops. They went mobile quickly.
Karen Behnke: Yes. Almost everyone uses laptops. Several people took their big screens and keyboards home. Our finance department stayed close to the office, but they socially distanced, and luckily nothing happened in the last two years. That was great because they had checks coming in and had to make sure everything was working well operationally. Then, our corporate headquarters lease in San Rafael, California, was up, and our warehouse lease in Petaluma was up. We had three locations as a midsized business.
COVID made me ask, “Do we need three locations?” The answer was no, so we gave up those leases, expanded our warehouse function, and moved into a much nicer, larger warehouse in Petaluma. And since it had offices adjoining it, we consolidated two locations into one. I'm not sure we would've done that without COVID, but it’s had many benefits. Even though it’s more space, it’s more cost-effective, and now we only need one insurance policy, one cleaning crew, etc. And the communication is amazing. I can see everyone face to face with no driving, which has helped us streamline operations. Some benefits did come out of this crazy terrible pandemic.
Carl Lewis: Did you approach what the office space looks like differently than you would have before COVID?
Karen Behnke: We did, although we put all the space into our distribution center for growth. In administration, we’re more spread out because we rotate departments. Almost everyone has gone hybrid, so only half our corporate group is physically in the office at a time. That’s a big change.
Carl Lewis: Some companies found they use more of their office space for meetings and less for private offices. Have you found that to be true?
Karen Behnke: Definitely. We're lucky in Northern California because we can meet outside nine months of the year. We expanded our outdoor space with four big picnic tables and umbrellas, and we meet outside probably March through November.
Karen Behnke: If you visited, you’d see people outside even when it's chilly! We love the outdoors in California. We put on SPF 30 (don’t forget the backs of your hands), put on a hat, pop up the umbrella, and work outside. It’s wonderful, and we’re thrilled about it because it’s so much safer.
Carl Lewis: You couldn't do that in Portland very often. We've had five days of snow this week, and it's been cold; it was 26 today when I got up. That's not an outdoor day!
Carl Lewis: It sounds like you made the most of this, and some of it's been beneficial. Did any of your employees have personal/professional challenges while working remotely that you had to work around and be flexible with?
Karen Behnke: Yes. One thing was children. My kids are adults, so I can hardly imagine having school-aged kids through this. I don’t know how those parents did it—but we tried to help with flex time and things like that. Many people had to drop off their children with their sister, ex-husband, etc.
Karen Behnke: And we never minded kids screaming into the meetings. That was just COVID life. And I think that will be life from now on. I love kids and dogs, so Juice Beauty has always been kid- and dog-friendly. Before COVID, we had kids in the office, and now we have kids on the cameras.
Carl Lewis: Yes. I’m sure my 12-year-old grandson has appeared in several podcasts.
Karen Behnke: It took some adjustment, though. We had to figure out how to direct the camera to avoid showing our spouses in their bathrobes! But I believe everyone in the business world had to think about stuff like that the first few weeks.
Carl Lewis: Even though things aren’t back to normal, are people glad to be back in the office and working together? Did people miss interacting when they couldn’t do it?
Karen Behnke: Some people are glad to be back, and others prefer working at home. It will be an adjustment because I feel we need office interaction. It doesn't have to be five days a week, but we find it very valuable. And hopefully, the younger and up-and-coming people starting into the workforce understand that face time with top executives is important. And that since they won’t likely be in one-on-one meetings with those execs if they're just starting their careers, they shouldn’t underestimate the power of walking by them in the café.
Karen Behnke: I would give that advice to anyone: Don't underestimate the power of face time with the top executives if you're career-oriented and want to make an impression and get ahead. I know it's different now, but I still consider it critically important.
Carl Lewis: I think you're right. Even at my level, I'm not in meetings with the company president. We only see each other in more casual settings, like when I've been to dinner with the executives before. We know each other, but only from casual interaction. That’s valuable, even if you're on the last leg of your career like I am.
Karen Behnke: I'm always thinking about the younger crew, but you're right. Face time is valuable even for people who report to me! For example, our head of international. He lives near Amsterdam; normally, he would be here three times a year, and he's always on camera in our management meetings, but we've always valued having him here in person and getting to know him a better.
Karen Behnke: It was wonderful when I went to Paris right after the boosters but before the new variant. I spent time with him and one of our other fantastic chemists over there. It was so valuable to sit down, socialize, and hash through business issues face to face.
Carl Lewis: Have you done much recruiting recently?
Karen Behnke: We have so many departments that we're super stable, including our warehouse, operations, supply, chemistry department, QC, sales field, and sales team. But our digital department had some turnover, so we were recruiting when everybody else was recruiting, and it was challenging because we hired people we never met in person. Crazy, right?
Carl Lewis: We do what we have to do. Was it harder to find qualified people? Was there reluctance in the marketplace, or are you in an area with lots of folks to choose from?
Karen Behnke: We’re fortunate because Juice Beauty is a unique company. We're one of the few organic ingredients companies in a sea of "naturals" and things that aren't regulated, and not many brands have their own farm. We attract a lot of celebrities and a lot of résumés! So, the recruiting wasn't hard. The hard part was figuring out who's passionate about it. Who's mission-driven, career-oriented, etc. Also, working through the schedules. Person A’s good, but they're far from corporate headquarters. Will that work eventually, or should they be hybrid all the time? Working through issues like that was new to us without meeting people face to face.
Carl Lewis: It expanded the geography of where I could choose people from, but I had to ask myself, “Is that what I should do if I want people for three to five years? Is this a three-to-five-year thing or an 18-month thing?” And then I moved on to the next thing: experience. You can invest a lot as a company and not get much return. We hired more people remotely than ever. And they never have to come to the office. Who knows how that's going to work out over five years?
Karen Behnke: Carl, let me ask you something. You're in the SAP, IT, high-tech, digital, etc. arena. Have you noticed that many résumés show people staying in jobs for 12-18 months? That surprised us—so many résumés that say 12 months per job. I'm like, “Wow, those are job hoppers.”
Carl Lewis: I think that's a trend among younger people in their careers. They’re career-minded, but they don’t think of it like you and I did. I wanted to find a place where I could be in the same career for 20 years, and I did that with only two companies, one of which was mine. But they want to move from company to company. Learn some, take it to the next company, learn some, take it to the next company, and so on. I never asked for a raise—I waited to be given one. They purposefully ask for one at every job. That's part of it.
Carl Lewis: I think it's a cultural change, and the pandemic has escalated it in the IT world. I see it a lot. Before the pandemic, we had about 20% turnover. And initially, we reduced our HR department, which was a mistake because we soon discovered we needed all those people back. We laid off less than 12% of our workforce, but we needed them all back.
Carl Lewis: And then we were challenged to find enough people. If you look at our website, there are 10-20 positions we need to fill all the time. HR has become a more important piece of our recruitment mentality. Karen, with everything you’ve done to adapt to what life has dealt us, what trends do you see coming regarding the employee and working experience?
Karen Behnke: Hybrid's here to stay. Employees have gotten used to it. I hope the trend of people not staying in jobs long doesn't stay, though. For Juice Beauty, we don't hire anybody—except maybe in digital—with shorter tenures at other companies.
Karen Behnke: Everyone we hire has at least three years at their last company. That works for us because we feel at least three years means they don't like to hop around. It'll be interesting in the digital world if that trend of 12-18 months stays. I'm not sure that’s great for the company or a person. They might get more money and get ahead a bit, but will they be qualified, and will they learn enough to go ahead to the next levels?
Karen Behnke: So, I hope that trend doesn’t stay. Another good trend is valuing employees more. The workforce is tight, and we need to show our employees we value them. Before COVID, we did yoga and lunches every week, but those stopped for obvious reasons—but I want to get them back. And I hope the general mentality is to value one another up, down, sideways, everything.
Carl Lewis: I hear that. In my line of work, you didn't become a consultant until after you'd worked for 25 years and had knowledge to offer. Now, people are coming out of college as consultants. I'm not sure I would hire them for my business, because I'd want them to be working in a junior position, at least for a while.
Karen Behnke: Absolutely.
Carl Lewis: And that's a great way to close our time together: We will all value everyone more. I've lost three friends because of this, including one of my dearest friends and career mentor who got me into this industry. I just released my new book, and I’d already written the preface, dedicating part of the book to him. Two weeks later, he passed away.
Karen Behnke: I'm so sorry, Carl.
Carl Lewis: So, I have those same feelings, and I’ll treasure the people I know much more—and won’t procrastinate letting them know it.
Karen Behnke: Great words for the future.
Carl Lewis: Well, Karen, thank you so much for joining me today.
Karen Behnke: Thank you, Carl.
Carl Lewis: ‘Til next time, everyone stay connected.