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Scaling Up With Inclusivity and Authenticity with Matthew Herman, Co-founder of Boy Smells

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There are about a million different inspirational quotes about being your authentic self and how to bring authenticity to everything you do — including your business. Matthew Herman and his company, Boy Smells, brings those cliches to life in real and very cliche ways. Boy Smells produces candles, fragrances, and more that defy the traditional gendered lines that have been drawn for decades in favor of creating a genderful experience that allows all customers to bring a mix of masculinity and femininity to their lives as they see fit. On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Matthew and I talked about what that looks like in practice, and we dove into how and why Boy Smells has pivoted from focusing on wholesale, to DTC and now to retail and partnerships. 

Main Takeaways:

    • Finding Functional Experts: Adding headcount is one of the most stressful parts of scaling. To make things easier, the focus should be on finding and bringing in functional experts. You will save time and money bringing in a better candidate who might cost more but can get to work quickly rather than bringing in a novice and trying to train them to work in your system.
    • A Pyramid of Products: Creating products that can stand the test of time is important. But having one evergreen product won’t sustain a business. You have to strive to have a three-tiered pyramid mix of products, which starts with a base of core products, followed by seasonal products, and topped with special, one-of-a-kind, buzzy products that can drive sales and engagement. 
    • Don’t Jump In: You hear all the time that when you have an idea, you should jump in and do it. In reality, you’re often much better served by gaining experience at already-established companies so that you can learn from their successes and failures and bring that knowledge to your own venture. 

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

 

“Right before a big meeting, where you have to present or see the CEO or the president or whatever, people just put a spritz of fragrance on, it imbues them with a sense of confidence and power. And I thought that it was so interesting that my girlfriends were reaching across that binary aisle to encapsulate this more masculinity to it. And then I was reaching across the aisle to bring in this femininity to make me feel or each of us and all of us to feel more powerful. And I truly believe that being able to tap into your masculinity and your femininity simultaneously makes you a more well rounded, fully realized individual. And I think that there’s power on both sides of that spectrum.”

“I’m embarrassed to say but we never wrote some big business plan. And we were never like, ‘We’re going to disrupt gender values and fragrance.’ We were just doing what was natural to us. We were two queer individuals and we were reclaiming and redefining what it meant for us to be proud men or guys or boys and reclaiming what that space could mean for us.”

“I am a huge advocate to learn as much as you can from other people’s successes and other people’s failures, be a part of those teams, and then roll those skill sets into starting your own company. I didn’t start Boy Smells until I was 34. And I had a wealth of professional experiences that led up to that, that totally informed how we navigate through this solo journey of ours.”

“[During the pandemic] we re-imagined our supply chain in a way that could support the business during that time period. And then our team was insane and so scrappy, literally renting U haul vans, dropping off oils, glass and boxes, on people’s garages, buying them wax melters, buying them fold out tables, so people really have work from home candle factories. And we were doing that also ourselves at our home and at our office. And we were finding third party logistic companies that were still shipping essential goods to co-pack and ship out all of our candle orders and things like that. So we basically threw out all of our systems and just got super scrappy with pencil and paper, and we’re just making it work every single day.” 

 “We are conscious of the fact that we do not want to cause any kind of irritation with our customers or any kind of lack of confidence that will be in stock of certain items, or they won’t receive things on time if they buy it from us at a certain time. We’re trying to just get in front of things and be proactive with our communication. Try to be transparent and honest with our customers as to why these delays are happening.”

“Our product pyramid is not unique to Boys Smells, but it might be unique to candles, which we didn’t really see when we entered the market. The top of the pyramid is like a super pinnacle colab, sells out quickly, in and out, lots of buzz, halo effect. Then we have the middle of our pyramid, seasonal product, seasonal collections, they might stay for three to six months. And then we have our core business which is the bottom of the pyramid. It’s the foundation of our business and it should be the biggest part of our business.”

“Genderful is a term that is positive. Unisex, non binary, genderless. Those are all double negative… They’re negatives. And so genderful really is a positive. It’s a celebration of boundless identities that laugh over the lines and the confines of guardrails that society expects us to adhere to, to placate the history of gender or whatever. It’s really about living your fullest and most authentic and true self.” 

“Everyone’s always navigating, like, who am I versus who does everybody else want me to be? And genderfulness is really just about tearing down these fake walls that exists so that you can fit into other people’s comfortable ideas of who you should be.”

Bio

In 2016, Boy Smells began as an experiment in candle-making in the Los Angeles kitchen of co-founders and real-life partners Matthew Herman and David Kien. Herman and Kien began by making the things they’d want to use themselves on a daily basis, products that were fluid and essential. Their unique backgrounds struck a balance between design and production that reflects the balance of identities that come through in Boy Smells products. 

Prior to founding Boy Smells, Herman was a veteran of the fashion industry, previously serving as a design director at NastyGal. Herman is Boy Smells’ scent creator whose eye and olfactory palette are finely honed to tell the brand’s story. He is passionate about expressing the brand’s purpose, and translating his vision into Boy Smells’ aesthetics, from the smallest label to an entire retail space. His vision is the brand’s creative range.

Launching Boy Smells was an exercise in self-acceptance for both founders, and their process manifested products that reflected themselves and their values, products that re-imagined personal care. Starting with a line of candles wrapped in pale pink and subversively named, they disrupted the limited, binary based labels found in the personal care market. Since then, they’ve expanded into intimate apparel (Boy Smells Unmentionables), all designed to be avenues for every kind of individual expression.


Up Next in Commerce is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. Respond quickly to changing customer needs with flexible Ecommerce connected to marketing, sales, and service. Deliver intelligent commerce experiences your customers can trust, across every channel. Together, we’re ready for what’s next in commerce. Learn more at salesforce.com/commerce

 

Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hey everyone, and welcome back to Up Next in Commerce. I’m your host, Stephanie Postles, CEO at mission.org. Today on the show, we have Matthew Herman, who’s the co-founder and creator of Boy Smells. Matthew, welcome to the show.

Matthew:

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Stephanie:

Dive into this. When I was first looking through my prep doc, I was like, “Boy Smells? What is that?” So I really want to just start there with, what is Boy Smells? And how did you come about creating this?

Matthew:

Yeah, for sure. Boy Smells is called boy, but we are packaged in pink. So just poking fun at this idea that certain scents are assigned to genders, it begs the questions like, well, what’s a boy supposed to smell like? Well pink is not supposed to be for boys, why is pink just for girls? And provoking… Just pokes fun at some expectations that are embedded in the social fabric around gender and scent, et cetera. And creating this brand came at a time in my life, where I was opening myself up to tear down some of those boundaries that come with expectations around identity and gender for myself. As I was trying to embrace a more holistic, true version of myself.

Matthew:

So at that time I was wearing a lot of floral scents, because that’s what made me feel my best and badass self. And I was working in the fashion industry, before I started working in the fragrance industry. And my girlfriends were all wearing super masculine scents like the Tuscan leather by Tom Ford or Santalo 33 by Lolebo. And I don’t know the boyfriend blazer or the chunky Rolex of in olfactive fence. And I was doing the opposite and even right before a big meeting, where you have to present or you’d like to see the CEO or the president or whatever, people just put a spritz of fragrance on, it imbues them with a sense of confidence and power.

Matthew:

And I thought that that was so interesting that my girlfriends were reaching across that binary aisle to encapsulate this more masculinity to it. And then I was reaching across the aisle to bring in this femininity to make me feel or each of us and all of us to feel more powerful. And I truly believe that being able to tap into your masculinity and your femininity simultaneously makes you a more well rounded, fully realized individual. And I think that there’s power on both sides of that spectrum.

Matthew:

And so that’s what the Boy Smells name and the mixing of the color and the name, you can’t pull them apart without… You don’t understand the full spectrum of what our belief system is, if you take away the pink color from the Boy Smells. So on paper, it’s a little confusing, but when you see the branding in real life, it’s a little bit more poking a hole and peeking behind the curtain of what we’re taught and how we’re taught to see ourselves and what limitations we put on ourselves because of what society tells us.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I love that. Okay, so when you’re thinking of all these ideas, and you’re like, “I have this brilliant plan to make a product that’s going to question the narrative that we’ve all heard growing up,” what was the next step? Because it feels daunting to be like, “I have a really big plan here. And now how to actually make the product and get into it.” What did that look like for you?

Matthew:

Yeah, totally. So honestly, we started making candles for fun and for friends on the weekends and giving them to co workers and just messing around. I was working as a design director at Nasty Gal. And that’s why I moved to Los Angeles and my partner David was working in production at Elder Statesman, which is a luxury cashmere company. And I think we’re wanting to get off that hamster wheel of new product every month, “Here’s 40 dresses and we’re launching that 40 dresses 12 times a year.” And just like, oh my God, it’s just so much product and it feels almost like a waste of creative output to be on that hamster wheel. And David was doing the same in production, same cycle there.

Matthew:

So we really wanted to work on product that had a lasting impression. The first six candles that we launched, I believe that five of them are still in the range. And some of them are still our best sellers. So we made that, and it’s lasted five years, and we still get to share that. And people still get to discover that every day. And it’s so much more like a rewarding process to create a product that has a much longer lifespan. And so we just started putting one foot in front of the other, made them for friends. David with his production background was really good at figuring out the wax, the wick, all the manufacturing and science behind it. I was great at creating fragrances, together we came up with the branding, and we just bought boxes, we bought the glass, we put it together, and we just put it out to the world to see if it would resonate.

Matthew:

I’m embarrassed to say but we never wrote some big business plan. And we were never like, “We’re going to disrupt gender values and fragrance.” We were just doing what was natural to us, we were two queer individuals. And we were reclaiming and redefining what it meant for us to be proud men or guys or boys and reclaiming what that space could mean for us. And loving the color pink and loving floral scents. And we just literally… Dave was like, “What should we call it?” And I just [inaudible] turned on and I was like, “Let’s call it Boy Smells.” And then we got the papers, I was like, “That’d be cool, let’s put it in pink.” Because that’s really weird, and then it wasn’t this big premeditated thing.

Matthew:

But as the brand took off and we saw how much people loved it, we realized that poking fun at these expectations around identity is really saying, “Come shop at Boy Smells, because we stand for being released from all of those expectations, we stand for being released from the pressures that you might feel to fit into somebody else’s box. We are a path to living authentically, no matter what anybody else cares about. And it just took off way faster than we ever could have imagined.” And six months in David quit his job, 12 months in we hired our first employee, 18 months in I quit my full time job. And those are all really scary things. Because only this year did I start paying myself the same amount that I made before we started this company, and it’s been five years. So it was a long time of just plugging away at it.

Matthew:

We started the whole business in our house, no overhead for an office, we didn’t pay ourselves for the first two years. So no real overhead as far as headcount or human capital went. And so we really put every single cent made back into more inventory so that we could open more stores, et cetera. And because of our backgrounds in the fashion industry, we just had a bunch of great things happen early on, like By George and Austin. They were the first retailer of our candles because my friend bought By George from the original owners right around that time and I was like, “I’m just going to drop off the collection at your house. Let me know if y’all want to buy it.” And then when I worked at Nasty Gal, the buyer for dresses because I was running the dress department for InDesign was a girl named Lisa and she started a company called Lisa Says Gah which is an online fashion retailer.

Matthew:

So when she left Nasty Gal, I sent her the candles, I was like, “Hey, would you ever consider selling these on your store?” So also at that time, people from Ten Over Six, were consulting at By George and so Ten Over Six brought it in. And so right after we launched, we were in these really directional fashion boutiques that a lot of other stores and buyers look to as what they’re carrying, et cetera. So we had a halo effect early on of really cool stores, carrying the brand and that took us very far and gave other stores confidence to buy into us and so.

Stephanie:

[inaudible] first logo, first brand.

Matthew:

Yeah.

Stephanie:

And you’re good. What I also think is so interesting about your story is that so many people probably even listening are working within companies and to me, I feel like you’re within an industry. Learn as much as you can. And then that’s where a lot of business ideas can come.

Matthew:

Yeah

Stephanie:

Right now, so many people maybe coming out of school or just going, “I want to start a business right away.” And I always think the best lessons I ever had, and why even can own a business now is because I worked at the Googles and even the Fannie Mae’s and the places that maybe back then I didn’t really see a path, you start uncovering secrets and becoming very entrepreneurial. That’s the best way to put you on a path to actually know the ins and outs of that industry just like you where you’re like well, now, I already had a friend here and knew how to do this here and knew what to ask for and knew the language to use, which is so important.

Matthew:

Absolutely. And I’ve worked at places that have been less successful at times. So I worked in super high end runway fashion during the economic downturn, and that was a big eye opener, what does it take to stay afloat when nobody’s buying luxury goods and everyone’s just trying to keep their house? How do you pivot a business? At Nasty Gal I was there through the high highs and some of the low lows. And I saw what were some of the recipes for success? What were some of the recipes that were less successful? What were the opportunities that maybe nobody saw that we could have taken advantage of etc. And so, I’m extremely thankful for all of the skill sets that I’ve developed along the way that I never would have had.

Matthew:

This sounds crazy but when I was a fashion designer, I was working at Zac Posen. I was running the design team, and I was running the Atelier. And what it’s like, right before a fashion show, and you have like 200 garments to have sewn, cut and made and you have 20 sewers, and you have two factories out of house, et cetera. And you have all these moving parts. And you’re just looking at the whole puzzle piece coming together with a hard deadline. All of those skills, I rolled straight into pandemic Boy Smells. Our factory was shut down, our glassware factory was shut down, our pink paper came from Northern Italy. And all of a sudden, we were setting up people who work in candle factories, we were setting up home offices for them with fold out tables and wax melters and fragrant and dropping them off. And it was basically the exact same job that I had of getting garments made for a fashion show. But all the time trying to get candles made during the pandemic when everything was shut down and people had to isolate.

Matthew:

And I’m so thankful and that’s just one example. But I am a huge advocate to learn as much as you can from other people’s successes and other people’s failures, be a part of those teams, and then roll those skill set into starting your own company. I didn’t start Boy Smells until I was 34. And I had a wealth of professional experiences that led up to that, that totally informed how we navigate through this solo journey of ours.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s great. Okay, so how many employees do you have now?

Matthew:

There are 15 of us now, but we expect to be 30 people by this time next year. Which is crazy and slightly terrifying, but also really exciting. Because every time we bring somebody else on, it feels a little daunting, because our bandwidth is totally maxed out. So I think that a lot of people getting in this place where they’re scaling quickly, where they scale quickly then the idea of onboarding somebody feels like a monumental task because you have no time to develop that person. And I think that’s a very dangerous place to get but it’s a necessary place to be when you’re a small brand self funded because there’s not a ton of disposable cash to burn and bring on a bunch of people before the growth happens. You’re always backfilling after the growth. But every time we bring somebody else on, I see the relief of pressure, we let that pressure valve release a little bit, our bandwidth increases, then we grow into that capacity. The business grows with it, then we bring on more people. So-

Stephanie:

And if you bring on the right people, too. To me, that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past couple years. You’re investing a lot as a company to just bring one person on and yourself running the company. You have to train them and then your teams train them and there’s a lot that goes into every new person. And if you bring on the wrong person, and then three months later, you’re like, “This isn’t really working.” To me, it takes three months to scale someone up usually.

Matthew:

Yeah, absolutely.

Stephanie:

And once I started realizing the level of talent you bring on someone who’s better than you, better than anyone on the team. That’s when you really can not be as worried about every new headcount. Whereas early days it’s, “Let me go for someone who’s a little less expensive, I can train them up.” And now I’m like, “No, they need to train me.”

Matthew:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, we find that a lot. Because David and I come from a fashion background, we hired a CEO this year also comes from a fashion and accessories, apparel background. And we need functional experts in fragrance and beauty because that’s the area in which we’re playing. And we filled the house with a lot of fashion people, which I love, because we treat this candle brand and fragrance brand, like it’s a fashion company, I think that’s what sets us apart, because that’s all we know, that’s the only way we know how to market a product. That’s the only way we know how to exist in our creative output. But we do need for operations, research and development, product development, production, we really need functional expertise that come from the beauty industry, because those are the connections, that’s the technical knowledge that we really need in order for ourselves to be successful.

Stephanie:

So when it comes to hiring a CEO, what was the thought behind that? What did it actually look like? Because you hear a lot of both sides, you hear companies, hiring CEOs, you’re like, [inaudible]. What’s happening over there? Will they change CEOs?

Matthew:

Yeah

Stephanie:

[inaudible]seen it worked out beautifully, you’re like, “That was a good call.”

Matthew:

Yeah

Stephanie:

What were you guys thinking around that how to go?

Matthew:

I wish I always have much better… These much more premeditated… I put this grand plan in place and then we execute on it. But as is the case with a lot of Boy Smells, it just happened serendipitously. My parents moved to Mexico part time and in a town called San Miguel de Allende. And there was another American who had a home in San Miguel, who a lot of people suggested that I meet, and his name was David Duplantis. And he spent 14 years at Coach and left as a president, and was part of the senior leadership team there and really developed… Was in charge of store, planning, merchandising, E-commerce, consumer experience, social media, a lot of things lathered up to him.

Matthew:

And so I met him once when he was back in New York, and I was in New York, because his primary residence was in New York. And we just had breakfast one day, and then we stayed in touch, and I started getting his opinion on certain things. And then he just started being this fairy godfather to us. And he was consulting for us at no cost or charge to us just as friends. He was in a space where he was really focused on mentoring other people as just a personal reward to him. And as we developed and decided to do a search for senior leadership, I let him know that we were considering this to try to get his advice on the best way to go about it secretly hoping that he would ask to be considered for the position and he did. And so it just really happened very organically. We never actually did an official set it out to search or anything, but we had the advantage of working with David for 18 months before he came on as CEO.

Stephanie:

So he already knew all the ins and outs and had ideas around it [inaudible].

Matthew:

Yeah, we didn’t have to present the best versions of ourselves. He already knew what he was getting into when he signed up. But I think that it’s rare that people get that opportunity to work together for so long before making that decision. And I think it would be very daunting to have to pick a CEO after just meeting somebody two or three times or four times or off a paper, whatever. So we feel really lucky that we have that.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s great. So I want to talk a bit about your business models. I think you started as wholesale, you’ve pivoted to D2C, and you were mentioning earlier, you guys are making a big push into retail. And I want to hear about the evolution and what it looked like every step of the way.

Matthew:

Yeah. I think when you talk to any financial advisor, they’re like, “Diversify your portfolio.” You’ll avoid the most risks because when certain things do well, and other things don’t do as well. You have that opportunity and the pendulum is always shifting. So coming from high fashion backgrounds, and that being our previous experiences, we really leaned into a wholesale model. Me nor David really come from super… Even though I worked at SEL, I was on the design team, I wasn’t part of the digital team. I was more familiar with the wholesale model and at least executing on it. So we really leaned into that in the first couple years.

Matthew:

And then we saw exponential growth, and then one year, we have a little bit less growth than we had hoped for. Still triple digits, we’ve never had a year without triple digit growth. But that year was a little bit less than we’re expecting. So we went into the pandemic year. We went into 2020, deciding to really invest in digital. We hired our first digital marketing team, which sets out of house. We invested in internal marketing resources and assistance in house. And we went into 2020, knowing that that’s where we’re going to invest our money. And it wasn’t a huge investment. But to us, it felt like a huge investment at the time. So we rolled January that started February of that year, we had a slow burn, which is our Kacey Musgraves colab. We’ve had a successful products like with Kush and other candles, but this was our first crazy big immediate sellout product that we’d ever had. And then it sold out in an hour or something like that. And then we did a pre sale a week later. And we ended up like pre selling 20,000 units or something crazy that week.

Stephanie:

That’s awesome, though.

Matthew:

Yeah. So-

Stephanie:

Were you guys like, “Yes.” How much were you celebrating when you’re seeing these numbers?

Matthew:

I was so excited. But I was also careful what you wish for. We’ve never had to produce like, 20,000 units of one skew and as quickly as possible ever before in our lives, it totally took us by surprise. I think we ordered like 2,500 units for the first one. And we were like, “This will last us like three months.” Totally didn’t see it coming. And then three weeks after that, we were in lock down, and so at which basically, if you look at our D2C numbers from like March 12, through March 19 of last year, which is when all the lockdown orders went into place. It was literally like [inaudible]. Literally people were like, “Oh, I’m stuck at home for an undisclosed amount of time, I’m going to need a candle for those.”

Stephanie:

“I want things to smell good around me.”

Matthew:

Yeah, exactly. So and at the same time, that pink paper that I was talking about, that comes from Northern Italy, shut down, our glassware comes from China, shut down, our candle factory two weeks after lockdown got shut down. So totally nuts but our D2C channel did grow 1,000% in 2020 which is-

Stephanie:

What were you guys doing now? You have all these sales coming in? Sounds like your entire supply chains gone [crosstalk].

Matthew:

Yeah, we were getting glassware domestically. We were printing that color pink on white boxes which we’ve never done for the first time because that… Even though every single other brand in the entire world prints color on white. I hate seeing the white edge on the box or something like that.

Stephanie:

You love your attention to detail. You’re just my style.

Matthew:

Yeah, I know our production team hates me. But so we cut a few corners, well not cut corners. We re-imagined our supply chain in a way that could support the business during that time period. And then our team was insane and so scrappy, literally renting U haul vans, dropping off oils, glass and boxes, on people’s garages, buying them wax melters, buying them fold out tables, so people really have work from home candle factories. And we were doing that also ourselves at our home and at our office. And we were finding third party logistic companies that were still shipping essential goods to co-pack and ship out all of our candle orders and things like that.

Matthew:

So we basically threw out all of our systems and just got super scrappy with pencil and paper, and we’re just making it work every single day. And then of course, things slowly started to reopen. So we went from throwing out the playbook to coming out the other side a very different company and at a very different size, with a much larger customer pool. And having grown D2C muscle mass that didn’t even exist anymore. So once we came out of it and came up for breath, we basically have to rebuild our organization from scratch, because we never established best practices for a brand new business model, or even reassigned roles and responsibilities, it was totally chaotic and fun. And I’m so proud of our team.

Matthew:

So I think we’re still rebuilding into the organization that we need to be coming out of the pandemic because it grew so quickly. And then of course, that shift we’re announcing, we became so popular in D2C during the pandemic, coming out of the pandemic, and with the resurgence of interest in home fragrance, when we’re now Nordstrom has put us into ALL 100 doors, we have across the pond and at [inaudible] in the UK, we’re in 35 doors there. There’s just been many, much more large scale wholesale opportunities. So we’re seeing a really big growth in wholesale this year. Way above 100% growth and then MD2C to see we’re looking at like 90% growth for this year. So still crazy.

Stephanie:

[inaudible] that’s great.

Matthew:

Thanks. But not quite the 1,000% growth of last year.

Stephanie:

That’s still epic. Or maybe when thinking about the shift that you had to make really quickly. You hear of some companies who are maybe going back to the way they were doing before where everything was overseas, and they’re moving back to that model. Then you hear of other companies who were like, “I see a new way of doing it now and I’m going to stick with half of these things.” What did you guys do? Are there certain things you quickly pivoted to over the past year or two, that you’re like, “Actually, this is the new way of doing it and there’s no reason to go back to the old way.”

Matthew:

Yeah. Well, I think that the pandemic is still here with us. I’m sure Boy smells is not unique in the fact that our raw materials set off port waiting to dock and get unloaded for three to six weeks where they use-

Stephanie:

[inaudible] in every interview.

Matthew:

I’m sure you’re sick of hearing it. It’s like a broken record. But-

Stephanie:

No. Some people actually taught me how to solve it though, which is interesting. I have heard a couple of guests leaning into their retail partners. So basically, can we be a part of your shipment Walmart, so then you can get us here, because they maybe have the entire cargo ship. So I’ve heard some interesting strategies.

Matthew:

Amazing.

Stephanie:

It’s been cool to be like, “Hey, maybe other brands should lean into this, if they can, if they have that order, quantity, or the partnership there.”

Matthew:

I’m going to have to listen to the backlog of interviews. We’re basically planning inventory just a lot further out. So adding six, eight weeks on to all of our lead times for all materials is necessary but it also means that we have to scrape back six to eight weeks on all of our product development and research and development. So we’ve shifted launch dates a lot this year. We’re launching our holiday collection on November 1st which is super exciting. But we had a plan to launch it in early October. So that whole collection moved out a month. We just launched a new Fantome collection which is super exciting. But we had to air in the first batch of inventory for that, which is so expensive. Airing glassware is not fun.

Stephanie:

I can only imagine, and half of it is broken. [inaudible] turbulence.

Matthew:

It’s not that. It’s more like, “It cost 20 cents a unit to do it by boat, or it costs $2 a unit to do it by air.” We’re seeing huge margin erosion by having to air anything. But also we want to air in the minimum amount possibles because we want to protect our margin as much as possible. So, we aired in what we thought would be enough, but the collection was a way bigger hit than we thought. So it sold out in a week. And then we sat with no inventory for two weeks. And we thought that initial inventory would last us a whole month. It only lasted a week. Then we didn’t have another production run coming for another two weeks. I’m sure our customers have… Or I guess, we are conscious of the fact that we do not want to cause any kind of irritation with our customers. any kind of lack of confidence that will be in stock of certain items, or they won’t receive things on time if they buy it from us at a certain time.

Matthew:

We’re trying to just get in front of things and be proactive with our communication. Try to be transparent and honest with our customers as to why these delays are happening. We’re still living in that pandemic situation but I will have to say, if we hadn’t gone through this last year, the shipping delays last year, I don’t think anybody knew that UPS, FedEx, DHL, USPS would be crumbling under the weight of just monumental shipping that was happening last year, because nobody was traveling. Everybody was ordering things online. We navigated so many customer service issues with delayed shipments for holiday last year. That was super tough, but we get to take all of those learnings with us and totally have so much of a better customer journey this year than they did last year. I think any tough time you get smarter and you grow your tool set, and then you just take that with you to the next adventure.

Stephanie:

Yes, I agree. The one thing I wanted to talk about too was around your products because I love it where you were talking about your products are evergreen, and you don’t want to have to be releasing a new one every single month and getting bogged down in that. To me, if I had a product company, it would be that style. How can I make a product evergreen and be here 10 years from now, not always having to think about new things. My gift here, I want to be able to have to keep giving for a long time. But how do you think about introducing new things, new partnerships, and then also keeping your baseline of products also relevant? Are you adjusting the marketing around it? How do you keep both of them top of mind for customers?

Matthew:

Yeah. Our product pyramid, is what I would call it, is not unique to Boys Smells, but it might be unique to candles, which we didn’t really see when we entered the market. We have top of the pyramid is like a super pinnacle colab, sells out quickly, in and out, lots of buzz, halo effect. Then we have the middle of our pyramid, seasonal product, seasonal collections, they might stay for three to six months. And then we have our core business which is the bottom of the pyramid. It’s the foundation of our business and it should be the biggest part of our business. And we really follow that cadence. So things like slow burn, or our collaboration with Donnie, that’s really driving buzz press excitement. Then we have our holiday collection, our Fantome collection, we do a collection for pride, we do a collection in the spring, that’s really driving that seasonal seasonal sales.

Matthew:

And then we have our black and pink candles, which are always in stock. It’s always replenishable. It’s tried and true. Those are the things that people fall in love with and burn in their homes at all times. We realized that we can’t grow at the rate that we want to without seasonal collections because it is what drives interest. What drives press, it drives earned media. But our core business is really the tried and true scents. We’ve had to make hard decisions about our core collection. There are things that were in limited collections that we know are better scents, that we know are more commercial that then graduate into core. And then we have to… With surgical precision, take away low performing skews in our core collection.

Matthew:

While the core collection is tried and true, it does evolve as our customer evolves, as tastes evolve, et cetera. And really the goal is, if something’s amazing in seasonal, the end goal is for it to graduate into our core collection. And if anything is a low performing skew for a year or so, then we will have to drop it out of the collection, which does some course rotations because there’s always a cohort of fans of some scent that isn’t as popular for others. But those are the tough decisions that we have to make and they are best things for the business and that’s our responsibility as this is on us.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I love that. So the other thing I want to touch on is your marketing strategy around maybe connecting with new customers versus current ones, because I know one of your strategies was around the term, ‘genderful’, was a mark of inclusion. I haven’t heard that term before. So to me I’m like that’s such a… You guys have such a good brand story to tell and so much education around just your brand and you. That could be told to new customers bringing them in that way. How do you view that when it comes to marketing the company. How do you use that?

Matthew:

Yeah. So genderful is a term that is positive. Unisex, non binary, genderless. Those are all double negative… They’re negatives. And so genderful really is a positive. It’s a celebration of boundless identities that laugh over the lines and the confines of guardrails that society expects us to adhere to, to placate the history of gender or whatever. It’s really about living your fullest and most authentic and true self. So that could be Kacey Musgraves, being a liberal woman writing and producing her own music in this super conservative boys club of country music. Country music radio won’t even play her music because she doesn’t kowtow to the powers that be or whatever.

Matthew:

I think we all saw the Grammys aren’t nominating her for country music album of the year because it doesn’t fall within these specific parameters. Same for Lil Nas X. It could also mean during our pride collections we get to work with Symone or Gottmik from RuPaul’s Drag Race, but we actually got to photograph Gottmik as Kade, which is their true identity. Having transgendered we thought it was really important to represent them as they’re out of drag persona. Also, our last pride question we got to photograph Tommy Dorfman, Brandon Flynn, Leyna Bloom. So it can either mean celebrating expanding the expectations of your gender. It can mean celebrating a spectrum of gender that really exists in the world, or it can mean cultivating internally a sense of identity where you’re not amputating any set part of your personality or access any part of your personality just because you feel the pressures from society to be one way or another way.

Matthew:

And as a queer man individual, he, him they’ve been pronounced either one work. I often found myself backing into a sense of identity that was not only true to myself but also good for everyone else. So it was like a version of me and I think it’s really important. And I think everybody resonates with that, right? That’s not just a queer person thing. That’s for everyone. Everyone’s always navigating, like, who am I versus who does everybody else want me to be? And genderfulness is really just about tearing down these fake walls that exists so that you can fit into other people’s comfortable ideas of who you should be. And I love that we’re living in a day and age where Harry Styles is a straight man, on the cover of Vogue wearing a dress or that Pose is nominated for Emmys and is one of the number one shows on TV. I think it’s exciting that queer kids don’t even come out anymore. It’s not even required. And so for me, genderfulness is really… Genderless basically avoids the topic altogether. It neuters identity a little bit.

Matthew:

So if you think of genderless, it’s like a linen paint or smock or shift dress. Genderfulness is like patterns and colors. It’s like Christian Lacroix times Dries Van Noten. It is like a world where it’s really about using all of the paints and all the colors in the paint box to paint the most full picture of who you are. And we just happen to make candles now with that. We mixed traditionally masculine and feminine scent notes together to encourage a more spectral view of identity and also to hopefully cultivate that within yourself when you wear or burn one of our fragrances at your home. But we see potential for that, it’s like go into the bathroom, go into apothecary, go into self care, go into beauty, and Boy Smells, we just happen to make candles right now. But we really see a much bigger brand for our future because the bathroom is such a gendered space, right?

Matthew:

I grew up being like, “These are the things on my dad’s vanity. These are the things on my mom’s vanity.” I remember my mom had this one powder from… [inaudible] violets or something and it was from France and it just seemed so fancy. And I love jet. But I knew it’s kind of dangerous because I wasn’t supposed to like those things. I love the idea of pulling back a lot of those gender identifier moments to the bathroom because no one’s as feminine as Dove body wash. No one’s as masculine as Old Spice and nobody probably wants to be. When you brush your teeth, no one’s like, “Man, I really identify with this mint toothpaste.” But if you’re genderful maybe your toothpaste is rose and pink peppercorn flavored you’re like, “Wow. This was an affirming moment for me.” When usually it would have just been like a throwaway moment.

Matthew:

And I think that’s what excites me. And that’s what excites our company to keep going and keep growing, is to bring permission to people to be their fullest selves. And if we can do that through the little rituals in our day, that is very powerful and very exciting. And I don’t want to get too carried away with it because at the end of the day we’re selling stuff. But for me personally, I wish a brand like Boy Smells existed when I was younger because I think I would have felt important.

Stephanie:

I was just going say, I think you should be more into that. I feel like you should be the spokesperson to this movement. Yes, you also [inaudible]. But to me, I haven’t heard someone speaking so eloquently in a way that actually is very inclusive to everyone. Like you said, a lot of terms can feel very divisive. It doesn’t feel like it’s in a way that’s bringing everyone together. And I love the way that you speak about that and way that anyone can get excited. No one can be against the idea of, “Be your full self. Doesn’t matter who you are. Embrace it.” You can love whatever you want. So [inaudible] lean more to that because I haven’t heard people talking the way like you do.

Matthew:

Well, thank you. I find it super exciting. And I think that gender inclusion is something that a lot of brands, especially in the self care and beauty space struggle with how to talk about. And I think genderfulness is a really beautiful word to encapsulate a world where everybody’s invited to the party and seen for the person that they want to be seen as and celebrated for that.

Stephanie:

And showing that everyone’s kind of struggling too. Doesn’t matter who you are. People have had those feelings. Doesn’t matter where you been, how you grew up. I’m sure people have felt these feelings at one point in their life. I think oftentimes, it’s like, “These people feel this way.” And you’ve never felt this before. And it’s like, here it is coming together. Everyone has struggled in some way. Everyone probably wants to feel more authentic and be themselves. Why don’t [inaudible] together?

Matthew:

Yeah, exactly. I think it’s a universal experience at some point in your life, that you have not been seen for the way that you see yourself. And I think that’s a very painful feeling to go through. And it can be damaging to how you present yourself for the rest of your life. And I think the more that people can have a sense of permission, the more that they can feel seen even if that’s through the products that they surround themselves with. I think that that is cool.

Stephanie:

Yes, I do too. Well Matthew, thank you so much for coming on the show. I really enjoyed sitting here and hanging out today. Where can people find out more about Boy Smells and get a candle?

Matthew:

Yes, of course. You can go to www.boysmells.com which is going to have the latest and greatest to shop. You can find us at boy__smells on Instagram. You can find us in every Nordstrom, in North America. And we are also opening our first ever pop up store in Culver City in Los Angeles at the platform shopping complex. Which we’re super excited about and that will open on November the fourth.

Stephanie:

Amazing. Thanks so much Matthew.

Episode 162