Joelle Lynn - Happy Girl Products

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Joelle Lynn got her first taste of entrepreneurial freedom about a decade ago. She left her job as an auditor in mortgage-backed securities to open a waxing salon in New Jersey. At the time, she was going through a divorce and saw a door open as a small business owner. Back in 2010, before bikini waxing was as widespread, there weren’t many salons offering this service. 

But having a brick-and-mortar business had its own set of challenges and constraints. “I thought that [having a small business] would give me freedom,” Joelle says, adding that she instead felt trapped. “Owning a brick-and-mortar can mean long hours and as an owner and operator, you couldn't get sick; you couldn't have surgery. Those eight years, I had to be available [to my clients] regardless.”

Joelle saw a window of opportunity about two and half years ago. She started experimenting with all-natural skin products for women. She wanted to solve a problem she had met head-on, particularly with clients with coarse or curly hair who had ingrown hair that sometimes caused bad scarring. 

“I also noticed when women would come in to be waxed and asked to freshen up, they would pull out these little packs of wet wipes that you get from like a gas station or anywhere for like a couple of dollars,” Joelle says. “And those things are filled with chemicals.” 

Many of the existing products were laden with chemicals and ingredients known to cause cancer. Products made with natural properties weren’t as common on the market.

As a longtime proponent of natural remedies, Joelle had reached a point where she would argue with doctors on their recommendations for treatments. “I wanted to solve [my clients' skin] problems, and I wanted to solve it with clean ingredients,” Joelle says.

She started experimenting and mixing ingredients together. A year or so in, she mastered formulas for treatments. 

That’s when she decided to roll out a line of all-natural skin remedies aimed at providing holistic feminine care for women, and Happy Girl Products was born. Happy Girls’ offerings are plant-based and non-GMO. The products contain no harsh chemicals. Instead, Joelle opts for minimal, essential ingredients. 

We sat down with Joelle via Zoom to learn about her entrepreneurial journey, how she overcame mental blocks, and how she adapted to an online business replete with its own set of growing pains.

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Pivoting to An Online Business

While transitioning from a brick-and-mortar business to a digital one has had its perks—for instance, the ability to sell her business and move to Florida in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic—Joelle has found a different set of problems to solve.

Know how much work is involved. Digital businesses require a lot of work. When Joelle first started, she was working with a limited budget. In turn, she was only able to put up a website and run a couple of Facebook ads. Because she started Happy Girl when she was still running her waxing salon, she was able to funnel some income from her main business to get it started.

“I had to kind of bootstrap and figure things out as I went,” she says, adding that there was a lot of trial and error. 

Find ways to boost your profit margin. “The profit margins for products are smaller than I thought it would be,” Joelle says. “Everything costs [money]. You have to really nickel and dime, down to the wrapping paper in the box. You have to be so careful. Otherwise, you can lose money.” 

One thing she’s done, for example, is researched the cost savings of buying in bulk. Other than that, she makes sure she knows how much to order so it’s in line with her inventory needs.

For the time being, Happy Girl is doing everything in-house. The company doesn’t have a distributor or manufacturer at the moment. “I can learn and understand more,” she says. However, Joelle won’t skimp on quality ingredients. As she’s very particular on what goes into her products, she wants to maintain full control over that part of her business.

Embrace unexpected opportunities. Earlier this year, Urban Outfitters reached out to her to feature some of Happy Girl's products in its fall collection. It came as a surprise, as her new company was only six months old. 

Joelle was still mixing up formulas out of her kitchen in Jersey, and one of her labels even had a typo on it. “I’m like, ‘I am so not ready for this,” she remembers. 

Urban Outfitters reached out again in August and Joelle and her team had a few weeks to send out the first shipment to be included in UO’s fall lineup. Although Happy Girl will primarily seek independent retailers and boutiques to collaborate with, Joelle was glad she went for the opportunity, as it’ll lead to more exposure for her business. In fact, Happy Girls’ talc-free dusting powder sold out within two weeks after launching on the UO site.

Hone in on your niche. Interestingly enough, the experience with UO helped Joelle realize that she really wanted to work with independent retailers. “I learned that big-box retailers are great for exposure and credibility,” she says, “but I love dealing with small business owners.” 

Joelle and her team are launching a program that allows small business retailers to carry Happy Girl products and also serve as a business resource. The majority of the company’s independent retail partners are small waxing salons or businesses, where the owner is also the operator. Joelle wants to offer them guidance to help them grow their businesses.

Find better alternatives when dealing with supply shortages. Because of COVID and the spike in e-commerce, Joelle wasn’t able to fulfill orders because the packaging she needed wasn’t available. After doing some research, Joelle decided to switch all her packaging from plastic to glass. This made for more attractive and eco-friendly bottles. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise—and a good move for Happy Girl in general. 

Dealing With Growing Pains
A positive impact that Happy Girl experienced was that sales spiked considerably during the coronavirus lockdown, and has since seen a steady increase. In April, sales skyrocketed overnight. And in some months, sales have tripled from the month prior.

Outsource what you don’t know how to do. Going from a makeshift lab in her garage to a facility where she now operates out of, Joelle continues to be hands-on in the creation of all Happy Girls Products. As her business has scaled, she’s hired some marketing help to hone in on her branding and social media strategy. Happy Girl is now a team of four, plus part-time help with product development. Joelle also hires part-time help with fulfillment and distribution during peak times. 

Instead of trying to do everything on her own, Joelle has learned to focus on what she’s capable of and then, outsource the rest. Admittedly, posting on social media isn’t her strong suit. Instead of obsessing over what she doesn’t know and getting overwhelmed, she stays in her lane and hires out if she can.

If she doesn’t have the time or resources to focus on an aspect of her business, she’s found that it’s better to leave it alone for the time being. To grow properly, Joelle’s  focusing on having the funding to hire all the appropriate people. “I just had to take that step back and just say, ‘OK, this is what I'm able to do. This is what I'm able to handle.’ And then, I just really concentrated on that.”

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Addressing Lack of Opportunities 

For Joelle, one of the major challenges throughout her life as an entrepreneur is a lack of opportunities due to her circumstances. As a Black woman entrepreneur, she explains that growing up in the “hood” in New Jersey, she lacked access to available opportunities and information on how to run a business. Joelle had her son as a teen and didn’t go to college. This is in contrast with her son, whom she raised in the suburbs. He graduated college and grew up with less of the same problems she faced in her youth. 

And yet, Joelle learned that it was her experiences that helped her as an entrepreneur. While Joelle took plenty of business courses, it wasn’t until she invested in personal development that she had major breakthroughs. “That’s when I think things started coming together,” Joelle says. “I think growing up in a certain environment can cause a lack in information and resources that others have access to that grew up in another environment.

“[I] went through a lot, but that’s made me a bit better business person. When people say, ‘Oh man, Happy Girl took off so quick, you know, in a couple of months.' I'm like no, it’s been years of going through learning how to become a good businessperson.”

As for what’s next for Happy Girl, Joelle is focused on her wholesale business, and getting her products placed with independent retailers and boutiques. She also wants to get her products to those who need it the most.

“[We’re focused on] growing and getting the product out to the masses, to be able to help them and having this clean ingredient product,” Joelle says. “We just really gotta be confident and believe in our brand, and believe in what we're doing and what works for us first of all. And ride with that.”

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