Business Hub: MONDAY’s haircare success spawns Zuru Beauty

Entrepreneur and co-founder of the MONDAY haircare range Jaimee Lupton talks to Jane Phare about the product’s runaway success, the Covid-19 effect including shipping nightmares, and what’s next for the Zuru empire.

For beauty entrepreneur Jaimee Lupton sales are not the issue. The numbers speak for themselves. Five million bottles of MONDAY haircare sold since the launch last year when, during New Zealand’s first lockdown, a six-month supply sold out in four weeks. Another five million bottles are “on the water”, destined for bathrooms around the world.

And here’s some more figures: $80 million in retail sales in the first 18 months; on track to hit $100m in sales by early next year; 10 bottles sold every minute around the world; MONDAY is stocked in 8320 retail stores and outlets in seven markets with a dozen more in the planning.

Undoubtedly a success story. So it’s not how to sell the product that’s the problem. It’s how to get it to the stores from MONDAY’s factory in China where 25,000 bottles of shampoo and conditioner are produced daily. (Lupton makes a point of saying the bottles are recyclable and made from recycled material).

Getting containers to the market is turning into a nightmare, not only for Lupton but for the Zuru Group, run by the Mowbray siblings, Nick (Lupton’s partner), Anna and Mat. Shipping costs have skyrocketed and delivery dates have become haphazard at best, cancelled at worst.

When Lupton and co-founder Nick Mowbray launched MONDAY, a container cost them $3000. Now the cost is anywhere between $15,000 and more than $20,000 to ship a container to the US. And getting a space on a ship is becoming increasingly difficult, making it hard to ensure product will arrive on shelves in time for the launches.

“We’re managing but I guess the scary thing is that there’s no end in sight,” Lupton says. “So we don’t know when this is going to lift, we have no idea how this is going to impact our business in 18 months’ time, in four years’ time. So it is a concern, but I think you just brave the waters and keep going.”

Mowbray has been “very, very vocal” on the issue, railing against the unfairness of a duopoly.

“There are three key shipping alliances that have locked out the market. They put a random tax on containers of an extra $5000,” she says. “Now they’re buying up ports so they own the ports and the shipping companies. You are really at their mercy which is crazy.”

Mowbray has been negotiating with freight companies trying to find a way through the shipping “chaos”, she says.

“Stuff’s getting stuck at ports for weeks, if you’re lucky to get on a ship at all, your slots are getting cancelled. So if you’re launching with Walmart, and you’ve promised them X number of stock, and it doesn’t arrive, that’s like a major issue.”

Zuru has even looked at acquiring its own ships, Lupton says, but red tape makes it too difficult.

“It’s not as easy as we first thought because there’s so much regulations and rules. So look, if it was as easy as getting a ship, we would have had one tomorrow, but it’s not. We don’t want to be blocking any canals anywhere.

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“It’s a real issue on something like nappies. It’s a nightmare for our Rascal + Friends brand because it’s such big volume, big cube items that we are actually losing money on every container.”

Has that made Zuru rethink where some of the goods are manufactured?

It has, Lupton says. Zuru’s Dose & Co collagen range and Health by Habit vitamins are already produced locally for the US market.

“Yes, we will have to start looking at different options there for sure.”

In the meantime Lupton and Mowbray are in lockdown in their Coatesville home, planning which brands to disrupt next under a new category in the stable, Zuru Beauty.

“Beauty is just growing like you would not believe,” Lupton says.

Zuru Beauty has at least another 12 ranges planned, all under their own brands, including deodorant, hairspray, soaps, skin care and body lotions.

“We’re just looking at those kind of stodgy categories that haven’t been disrupted in a while and how can we do something different and give the consumer what they want.”

The MONDAY range, too, will be expanded to include a low-waste refill bag, treatments, masks, hairspray and dry shampoo.

Before Covid-19 struck early last year, the Zuru Group had a well-oiled method of marketing and promoting their goods. But the coronavirus changed everything. Gone are the launch parties, and trips to the US and UK to meet suppliers and establish relationships.

“We’re not meeting these retailers face-to-face like we were two years ago. All the retailers that I’ve spoken about were actually secured on Zoom meetings so it is really hard to build that rapport, build that in-person presence with someone. But we have managed.”

That’s entailed getting up early and working late to meet the different time zones, doing deals online in an era where shaking hands on a deal is no longer possible or safe.

Even the social media platform has changed since the launch 18 months ago. Instagram is waning and Lupton and her team are instead focusing on TikTok, a platform that has become increasingly popular since Covid.

“Monday’s TikTok now has three million likes which is one of the most followed haircare brands on the platform. And we have a really good relationship with TikTok. We’re working with them on some quite exciting marketing ideas.”

The original MONDAY launch wasn’t supposed to happen when the country was closed. Kiwi-born model Georgia Fowler, who went to primary school with Lupton, was due to fly over from Australia for the glamorous launch in March 2020. Two thousand influencer kits were due to go out on the back of a carefully designed social media build-up.

Instead, the launch party was cancelled and Lupton’s mother organised the distribution of the kits from MONDAY’s deserted office. But in the end, lockdown worked to their advantage.

Consumers had nowhere else to go but the supermarkets and there on the shelves were rows of pink bottles of haircare, until they sold out. Across the ditch, the success was the same. MONDAY grabbed 26 per cent of the Australian market share in 14 days, outselling the market leader Pantene within three months.

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MONDAY launched in the US in March this year, partnering with well-known influencers including US Vice-President Kamala Harris’ niece Meena Harris, American model Bella Hadid and New York hair stylist Jenna Perry.

American media personality Kris Jenner posted about the haircare and it’s been featured in Vogue, Vanity Fair, Forbes, Women’s Wear Daily and on the US TV show Today.

“We’ve had this real momentum and success that I didn’t think we would get in the US as well as New Zealand.”

Originally Lupton and Mowbray opted for exclusivity, limiting the outlets. But their distribution strategy has since changed, spreading the product across multiple chains that Lupton rattles off as easily as the names of her friends: Walmart, Target, Coles, Ulta Beauty stores, (US pharmacy chain) CVS, Tesco (UK supermarkets), (online beauty store) Beauty Bay and (US grocery chain) Kroger.

MONDAY has launched in Canada, UAE, Mongolia and last month in the UK, with more markets to come in a push to become established as a global brand.

Lupton acknowledges the commercial advantage that Zuru gives her – systems, factories, relationships with retailers already established. Not to mention the Mowbray fortune that helps fund the slick campaigns. But she’s not sitting back to enjoy the success.

“We’re honestly always looking at the next project, the next project, the next project, even with MONDAY, it’s been a huge success. It’s amazing what the team have achieved.”

They’re already working on the launch of various Zuru Beauty products, working off the MONDAY experience. The success, and the Mowbray competitiveness and drive, is “super contagious”, she says.

“Was I this competitive before I started dating Nick four years ago? No, probably not. But being surrounded by these brilliant business minds, it does push you and drive you. And it’s also awesome, I guess just to be surrounded by it all and be a part of it all. And also knowing that your little piece of what you’re achieving is successful.”

Lupton says now and then she’s able to take a step back and take a day off. Mowbray not so much.

“He’ll come racing home from the office and say, ‘Where were you today? It’s a work day.’ So it can become all-encompassing. But I think with both of our personalities, we’re both quite passionate people.”

That first lockdown Lupton was working “crazy hours”. Fifteen-hour days were the norm, getting up at 4am to check the sales data from Foodstuffs. This time the couple are working on new brands, including a range of premium black and herbal teas, York St, due to launch in April. But a mass tea party is unlikely, given the uncertainty of Covid-19.

“I used to love doing launch events with my background being in PR and marketing so I would love to get back to that. But at the same time, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.”

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