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Sell Your Products Yourself First with Laurie O'Hara - Honest Ecommerce Ep. 170

Laurie O’Hara is the Founder and CEO of OLITA, a San Rafael, CA based brand of eco-friendly, healthy sun care. 

In the market since 2015, Laurie has grown OLITA from its original Beach Be Gone product line, expanding to REEF SAFE mineral sunscreens, soothing SPF lip balms and nourishing After Sun body serums. 

OLITA’s mission is to create clean products that are safe on skin and safe on the planet. 

Prior to launching OLITA, Laurie had over 20 years experience in marketing and acquisitions of credit products and microloans, having worked as a Director for JPMorgan Chase and Citibank in New York City and a Bay Area CDFI. 

She holds an MBA from the American Graduate School of International Management and a BA from the University of Colorado. 

Laurie lives with her husband and four children in Marin County. 

In This Conversation We Discuss: 

  • [00:00] Intro
  • [01:16] OLITA’s product assortment
  • [02:04] Where OLITA’s idea came from
  • [04:03] How long from OLITA’s inception to selling
  • [06:46] OLITA’s go-to-market strategy
  • [08:01] Establishing B2B relationships
  • [08:57] From beach-side stores to D2C
  • [10:10] Why won’t a startup hire experts from the start?
  • [12:13] Paid is expensive, sell products yourself
  • [12:59] OLITA’s customers are their perfect demographic
  • [14:34] Loved ones won’t give you good feedback
  • [16:01] Start early and delegate early
  • [16:50] Work with performance-based partners
  • [17:58] Laurie loves going to trade shows
  • [18:40] Make sure invest pays for itself
  • [19:22] The sign of a great entrepreneur
  • [19:30] Sponsor: Electric Eye https://electriceye.io
  • [19:50] Sponsor: Mesa https://apps.shopify.com/mesa
  • [20:34] Sponsor: Gorgias https://gorgias.grsm.io/honest
  • [22:01] Sponsor: Rewind https:/rewind.com/honestecommerce
  • [22:31] Sponsor: Klaviyo http://klaviyo.com/honest
  • [23:19] Laurie’s favorite Shopify apps
  • [24:37] Shopify has a great community
  • [26:07] Competitors are great assets
  • [27:57] The meaning of OLITA
  • [28:43] OLITA’s partnership with the Coral Reef Alliance
  • [29:31] Where to find OLITA

Resources:

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 Transcript: 

Chase Clymer  

Before we get started, if you're enjoying this content, you can do us a favor by subscribing to our YouTube channel and ringing the bell.

That will let the algorithm know that you like this content and it will help us produce more.

Laurie O'Hara  

[Try] to grow methodically and not trying to grow too fast [or] too quick. Because you can burn through a lot of money.

Chase Clymer  

Welcome to Honest Ecommerce, a podcast dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. And I believe running a direct-to-consumer brand does not have to be complicated or a guessing game. 

On this podcast, we interview founders and experts who are putting in the work and creating real results. 

I also share my own insights from running our top Shopify consultancy, Electric Eye. We cut the fluff in favor of facts to help you grow your Ecommerce business.

Let's get on with the show.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to another episode of Honest Ecommerce. I'm your host, Chase Clymer. 

And today we're welcoming to the show the founder and CEO of OLITA, the natural and organic skincare brand we all need for sun safe skin and planet protection. 

Laurie O'Hara, welcome to the show.

Laurie O'Hara  

Thank you so much Chase. Great to be here.

Chase Clymer  

I'm super proud of my introduction. I got that one out without stumbling. 

Laurie O'Hara  

Well, then. 

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So Laurie, take me back.

So I guess, first and foremost, let's dive in a little bit deeper about the products just so people kind of understand the space that we're talking about a little bit more. 

So can you give us a quick crash course on what the products actually are and what that assortment looks like? 

Laurie O'Hara  

Yeah, so we're a skincare brand. And so we make natural and organic sunscreens that are reef safe. 

And we also make really wonderful hydrating, body serum or body oils that are great for everyday as well as to treat an angry sunburn. 

And then we also have lip balms with SPF-15. And our very own very unique Beach Be Gone body powder and milk.

 And that's the genesis for the company.

Chase Clymer  

What a great segue. So take me back... You've been doing this for... Since 2015. So take me back right before where the idea for this came from. 

A lot of people are listening, they want to be an entrepreneur. They just don't know, "Where do I look for ideas?"

Laurie O'Hara  

Yeah, so this is just your accidental entrepreneurs story where I would go to the beach with my kids, we live in Northern California. So we're in Marin County, we'd head to the beaches of Marin County. 

Sand that's next to ocean water is very sticky on your skin. So we just wouldn't take the surfer's secret of body powder or baby powder, and sprinkle it on your skin and it just really wicks away all of the sand, the grit, the sticky salt water. 

We say it's great to remove sand, sweat, and salt. So what we... I took that and we moved away from talc.

And we have all kinds of just natural wicking powders, we have our own proprietary blend, that just does a magical job of taking the sand off of your skin. 

And so we messed around with that for a long time. And actually, the hardest thing was not the formulation of the body powder. That was quite easy. 

What was hardest was finding the packaging. And that actually took several years to source and find and get a good supplier, which that was actually where we had our supply chain disruption during the pandemic.

[It] was actually the packaging of that particular product. But we're way beyond that. 

But that's where the product was born. And that's where OLITA was born.

Chase Clymer  

Awesome. So you stumbled into this product and this opportunity. That's something I hear quite often on this [podcast]. 

Laurie O'Hara  

Mm-hmm.

Chase Clymer  

And you mentioned it took a few years before the product actually... Before you have the packaging figured out and all that. 

So how long between  that ideation or that aha moment maybe on the beach with your family until you had a package ready to go and sell?

Laurie O'Hara  

Yeah, well, I want to say that, whoa, 2012 up until 2014 was that R&D phase of the ingredients, and trying it, and then working with different packagers, and then just actually finding the right package myself, finding a good graphic designer…

And so it was really... It was probably like a 2 - 3 year process. I was working, doing another job so this was very much my side hustle. And then I went full-time actually in 2019. 

So it was my side hustle for quite some years. And then I just knew that it needed my full love and attention so that it could take off to really it's full potential. 

So I left my day job. And this is now my day job. It's also my night job. It's my round the clock job. So...

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely.

Laurie O'Hara  

...common entrepreneurs' situation. So yeah, it just... It does take a while. And then I should say that once we launched with Beach Be Gone and it was really well received... 

Because you think you're solving a problem.... 

And that's what you have to do as an entrepreneur. You can't just be doing something that [is] whatever. You need to be solving a problem. 

And then we needed to get proof of concept in the market. And people were just saying, "Oh my god!" Everyone's comment is, "It actually works!" (laughs) And so that's such great validation to hear that people love it. And it continues to be our best selling product line. 

But in the interim, we also noticed that there was a lack of clean sunscreens. I'm a scuba diver. So I think it's just amazing and glorious to dive a beautiful coral wall and just to know that chemical sunscreens and overheating ocean temperatures are causing the demise of coral reefs. 

So we got into clean sunscreen and SPF lip balms. And then, of course, our AfterSun Body Serum which is just really great. 

And that's also something that was personal. I hate the sticky Aloe gels. So it's made with a lot of... It's all botanical. 

And it's just made with plant extracts and flower extracts that are known to be very good for skin restoration and hydration and anti inflammation, which is what happens when you get a sunburn.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. So you've got the product, you've got it packaged. What's the go-to-market strategy? How did you actually get eyes on this new product that you're trying to break?

Laurie O'Hara  

So initially, it was just doing our own website and having just the products listed there. These days, it's so easy to create your own Ecommerce site on the various platforms that are out there. And we've been to several of them. 

But now, we landed on Shopify and have to say we really loved that. But that's how it started at first. And then you know, I think what a founder needs to do is to go out and sell it themselves initially.

Chase Clymer  

Ooh. Yes! 

Laurie O'Hara  

And so because there's no better way for you to get feedback from consumers or buyers of what they like about it/what they don't like about it. And so it was just me selling up and down the coast of California and getting feedback, getting sales, getting turned down. 

But what I will say is, --particularly with the Beach Be Gone-- is that stores need to be very close to the beach for that to sell. You can't be away in London [and] not really have a sand problem.

Chase Clymer  

With that original concept... As you were driving up and down the coast, were you going to physical retailers and try to establish B2B relationships?

Laurie O'Hara  

Yeah, I was going to a lot of surf shops, boutiques... I wasn't trying to get into Safeway

I was just trying to hit small retailers like me, the manager is the owner, the buyer is the owner. And just walking in unannounced because it's always hard to get appointments and meetings. 

And I still do that to this day. I still walk into retail shops and grocery and drug, and convenience, and all the rest, and just, yeah, try to find a decision maker and sell the product. 

Now we have line sheets, we have brokers,, we have distribution. It's a different game, but I am still selling the products. Just walking in and selling it.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Now how long did it take to transition to where you were --this is gonna come out the wrong way but-- taking direct-to-consumer seriously and trying to move that traffic from buying in a beach-friendly store to buying on your website?

Laurie O'Hara  

Well, what we've also done as we've grown is we do paid digital media. We haveSEO. We were doing it ourselves for a while. 

Family members helping out so that they would get dinner at night. Just kidding. (laughs) We would just... 

Even now, we hire agencies to do that. 

Now we have a digital agency that we work with who does all of our paid media. We have you know somebody working on SEO, email marketing campaigns, text message marketing. We have a PR firm. 

So we've grown from just us doing it ourselves to handing it over to others to do it. So it's a journey, right? You do it yourself until you can't anymore. 

Or you find somebody who is going to work for you.

Chase Clymer  

So I've got a very easy and hard question. It's like... So this is what I'm gonna... I know there are people listening that are saying this to themselves. 

It's like, "Why don't you just hire the expert from ground zero and just go into paid ads because that's how it works, right?" 

So if someone had that comment or that train of thought, what would you want to say to them? 

Laurie O'Hara  

Well, that cost a lot of money. (laughs) So you...

Chase Clymer  

Yes, it does. 

Laurie O'Hara  

Yeah. Yeah. So you need to... If you're to be bootstrapped and self-funded, like we are, ---so far-- you can do that up to a point. 

I will say that, you know, it does take a certain amount to make a difference at all. And if you go below that amount, you're wasting your money, because you're not really getting any sales. And so the...

Chase Clymer  

Are you talking about a paid ad budget? 

Laurie O'Hara  

Yeah. Yeah. Really, anything under --most people will say-- $5,000 you're not going to be... As a monthly budget, you're not going to be making a significant impact on your sales. So that's... 

I would say that the answer to that is that you just really need to have a little bit of revenue behind you in order to afford that. 

Or you need to come in with your own money, whether it's self-funded or from investors or something like that.

 So paid [media]... And it's constantly more expensive because the digital media marketplace and ad arena, --the ad space-- is consistently more competitive, therefore, more expensive. 

And then we also all hear about the Facebook updates and the iOS updates and how that has made it more difficult for advertisers. 

And so it's a constantly evolving landscape that does not necessarily favor the advertiser.

Chase Clymer  

You hit the nail on the head. It's very expensive. 

Laurie O'Hara  

Mm-hmm.

Chase Clymer  

And you also said that you think that at the beginning, the founder needs to go out and sell it.

Laurie O'Hara  

Yup. 100%.

Chase Clymer  

I say those same same things to people, I'm like, "Look, to break a brand only through paid ads is going to cost potentially six figures to figure it out." 

Laurie O'Hara  

Oh yeah. 

Chase Clymer  

"Because A, you don't even know how to communicate this message to your customers. Whereas you could just..."

If you call them to talk to a dozen people about your product, you're going to hear the words that they want to hear, they're going to tell you exactly how they ideate with this problem that you're solving, potentially.

Laurie O'Hara  

Mm-hmm.

Chase Clymer  

That work is so invaluable and you got to do the things that don't scale at the beginning. 

And then you take that back to people when you can afford them to be like, "This is all I've learned over the past couple years. Take this and run with it."

Laurie O'Hara  

100% 100%. And I think that nobody is more surprised than I am that Beach Be Gone continues to be our lead selling product line within our suncare brand. And that's because I thought it would need a lot more consumer education, consumer demos... 

Just a lot more because people wouldn't get it, you know, and it just would need just all of that upfront explanation. Well, wrong. No. People get it. 

And I think with, especially with ads, whether it be organic or paid ads you get to say, "Okay, this is how it works. This is what it does." 

And people were like, they self select, and they self identify as basically people who love the beach but hate the sand. That's what I call these people. 

And they're just like, "That's me! That's me!" And so they get it. and they buy it. And it's so funny, we had... 

Last season, we had our ads turned into like these forums where people were actually talking about our ads and the products and everything. 

And whether this was "Yeah. Well, I just take... I take water. And that's how I get rid of the sand." 

"Well, good for you. Oh, that's cool. That's fine." 

And other people like, "I love this. This is like exactly what I've been looking for my whole life and blah, blah."

And so you get all kinds of reactions that you --like to your point-- you don't necessarily get by talking to people that you know who maybe love you and tell you what you want to hear or just...

Chase Clymer  

Oh, we could... Hold on. Let me just pause right there. 

Laurie O'Hara  

Mm-hmm.

Chase Clymer  

You just said a gem. Your girlfriend or husband or kid or what... They're going to say that it's the best idea ever and you should go for it, and they're not going to give you real feedback. 

But when you ask someone to give you money for [something] that you don't know, they're going to give you the realest view... 

Laurie O'Hara  

Oh yeah. 

Chase Clymer  

...on what is working or not working.

Laurie O'Hara  

Yes, exactly. And so we spent money advertising our product line agnostically. We did not focus on one particular product line at all, but the Beach Be Gone is the product line that was the clear winner. 

And so we're like, "Okay, this is our hero product." know, Again, no one's more surprised than I am. 

And so I basically said, "Okay, the market has spoken. The market has spoken. And this is what we should probably be focusing on.”

We have these other really amazing and organic and backed up by third parties, like EWG and Think Dirty, NSF Certified Organic... 

We have great claims. But at the end of the day, the market has spoken. This is what they want to see from us.

Chase Clymer 

Absolutely. But there's a reason to have those other products...

Laurie O'Hara  

True.

Chase Clymer  

...for cross-sells and lifetime value.

Laurie O'Hara  

Correct.

Chase Clymer  

There's reasons to do that. 

Laurie O'Hara  

Yeah.

Chase Clymer  

You spoke a bit here about some some good decisions that you made along along your journey, is there anything that stands out to you that was your biggest win, or vice versa? 

Something you want to help a listener avoid or maybe a big fail? 

Laurie O'Hara  

Oh yeah, I've had a lot of fails. (laughs) One fail was I have to say, maybe not getting, taking the reins sooner. 

Because I feel like this marketplace, this clean beauty movement, the sustainable CPG movement --which is awesome-- if I'd maybe, had a couple years jump on it instead of going full time in 2019, maybe going full time in 2016, I'd be further along and further ahead. 

So I think that's one fail or regret And just basically paying other people to do what I should have been doing initially, because I was trying to really keep my day job and do this on the side. 

So I think that was one. I also will say that, we've gone to increasingly more performance-based models with brokers, with advertising agencies, with everybody because it's just... Especially with smaller indie brands, it's much less risky. 

I'd rather pay somebody more, if they do a great job, than pay somebody a lot of money up front. And if they do a great job, great. If they don't, it's a lot of money wasted. So that is something else. 

Especially as a smaller brand, just going for the performance based models more is something that I've learned. 

And then also, I think, just trying to grow methodically and keeping... Not trying to grow too fast/too quick, because you can burn through a lot of money and not necessarily have the wins that you expect because it is a very competitive and saturated space. So that's another one. 

I would say that's for sure some of the wins. And what I love doing is going to trade shows. Because again, it's a very personal communication, face to face, people can tell you what they love, what they don't, what resonates with them. "I've never seen this before." 

"This is really cool." 

"I love how you guys are doing this." 

You get feedback. You're like "I don't think this is going to work for my space, for XYZ. It's another data point." 

So I think that trade shows are just a bigger venue than going store to store to store and you just meet a lot of buyers in one place... 

It's definitely when we're going to Expo West, we've gone to Outdoor Retailer, we've done Sun Care Shows, Surf Expo... So we've done... 

We've done a lot of these they're expensive, but they always pay for themselves. 

And that's another thing that I think is so important is like whatever you're going to do --and sometimes you don't know-- but whatever you're going to do, you just really need to make sure it's gonna pay for every investment that you do. 

Every cost that you're investing, make sure it's gonna pay for itself. And if it doesn't, exit as soon as possible. Don't keep sending money into something that's bleeding.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. That's really good advice. Just be able to be honest with yourself and cut your losses instead of doubling down.

Laurie O'Hara  

Mm-hmm. I know. And sometimes it's really hard to do because you've sunk money and you're just like, "Maybe one more month." Yeah... Maybe not.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. That's the sign of a good entrepreneur, when they're just like, "Welp, that was a great effort, but we're gonna we're gonna pivot now ."

Laurie O'Hara  

You got to move on. You have to. 

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Chase Clymer  

So you brought up earlier that you tried a few different platforms and you really enjoy Shopify these days.

Laurie O'Hara  

Mm-hmm.

Chase Clymer  

And I know that you've got a few favorite applications. Do you mind sharing those?

Laurie O'Hara  

Yes. Let's see...

Gosh, I love...

We just started with Carro, which is... It's an app. It's a sales channel. It's basically where we can cross-sell other brands' products on our own and they can sell our products on their site. So I love that. 

So I don't necessarily want to get into making beach bags or beach blankets, but I can sell it on my site with somebody else making it and we all share commission. 

So I like that because it's like this holistic experience for the consumer. So they can buy everything that they need for a beach day on one website. I like that. 

Let's see... 

I love Shopify, I'll just say. And there's a lot of Ecommerce platforms out there. But I just love the data that it gives you and the ease of use. 

[You] don't need to be a programmer to work that. You just go in. 

You can add things, adjust things, delete things, whatever you need to do. It's very user friendly. 

And back before the pandemic, I actually loved going into the Shopify San Francisco headquarters where you would just be able to hang out with the Shopify folks and go to their seminars and they were just super generous with their entrepreneur community and doing a lot of events there that... I got a ton of learning, met other entrepreneurs. 

So shout out to Shopify for that.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, absolutely. I think that's just that... You were saying going to conferences and then Shopify's actual office.

I love the community that's on my side of things. It's like a service provider, I guess, for lack of a better term. We go to all those conferences, and just Shopify and everybody else in this community in this space is just so nice. And it's so much fun. 

Laurie O'Hara  

Yes. 

Chase Clymer  

You're right. 

You go out there, you meet new people, you learn what the market wants, what it doesn't want, and how to hone your product to best serve the needs of those in your particular niche. 

So I would 100% agree that getting out there and going to those types of trade shows is very useful.

Laurie O'Hara  

Yeah. 100%. 100%. Yeah. I just love the in-person... You just... You meet other brands you meet buyers, brokers, you know, your distributors there, your manufacturers are there too... 

It's just a great place where everybody meets up. 

Where you're usually communicating over the phone or email, throughout the month, the balance of the hours... Trade shows are great. Yeah.

Chase Clymer  

And you said the first thing you said there's you meet your competitors. 

And the thing is your competition is probably your best resource to learn how to solve problems in your industry because they... 

More than likely, one of them's dealt with whatever you're dealing with before. And everyone in this industry is of the mindset: "Rising tide raises all ships." 

And if you're, for some reason, have a mindset that is a scarcity or a zero sum mindset, you need to rethink your attitude, really, because you're not gonna be going very far. 

My competitors are my best assets to making my business better.

Laurie O'Hara  

Mm-hmm. Yeah. But I've found that I've been doing a lot. 

For example, I'm part of this Clean Beauty Collective. And it's a bunch of brands that are getting together that...  We all care about clean ingredients, sustainable packaging... 

Even our shipping is carbon neutral. Literally, everything that we do is trying to be sustainable, from our displays and all of our packaging. It's recycled paper. 

So we're being so very intentional about being clean and sustainable. And so some of those folks are competitors. 

But we're all trying to do the right thing in business. 

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. 

Laurie O'Hara  

And I think it's... 

On one hand, increasing awareness and educating consumers. But consumers are also demanding it. They're demanding it in their food, in their beverages, household cleaning supplies... 

They're demanding it in their cosmetics and personal care products.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Now, is there anything that I forgot to ask you about today that you think would resonate with our audience?

Laurie O'Hara  

Yeah. What does OLITA mean and where did it come from? (laughs)

Chase Clymer  

Yeah. You took the words right out of my mouth.

Laurie O'Hara  

So OLITA means 'little wave' in Spanish. Ola is a wave. And so a little wave is olita. And it's also a fun combination of all of our family initials. 

So O'Hara, Laurie, Isabel, Torres, Alexander. 

So it's my name, my kids' names so... 

And we're also a blended Hispanic family. So there's a nod to... 

It's not just, "Hey, that's a cool name in some foreign language." I speak fluent Spanish. My kids are Hispanic. And so it's a nod to that. 

And clearly we're all about the water and the beach and the sun, sun protection, protecting the planet... 

And then, the other thing I'll add Chase is that we do give back to ocean conservation, on all of our sales. So we have a partnership with the Coral Reef Alliance

They're based out of Oakland, and so they're all another Bay Area organization. But they do global reef restoration. So I feel like chemical sunscreens have been a big part of the problem for the demise of coral reefs. 

And so we wanted to be part of the solution, not just with our clean ingredients, but also with some of our sales revenue and profits. So that's something... 

That's a cause that we really try to get behind and consumers love when a brand gives back.

Chase Clymer  

Absolutely. Now, if I'm a listener and I'm curious about Beach Be Gone or some of the other products that you have, where do I go? What do I do? 

Laurie O'Hara  

Yeah. So we are sold on our Ecommerce website, which is olitashop.com. So O-L-I-T-A-S-H-O-P.com. 

We're also sold on Amazon, and Tundra, and Faire, if you're a B2B.

Let's see...

We're coming up on a ton of B2C marketplaces. 

We're about to launch on QVC next month. Pretty excited about that. That was a heavy lift. 

And something people should know: Any product that you get on QVC, they do a ton of vetting. So whatever you're getting there, it's been vetted. So that's good to know. 

Let's see...

You can also find us through EWG, Think Dirty. We have a great affiliate program with them. 

Think Dirty is an app that will evaluate any products that are part of their program. And if it's zero, that means it's super clean. If it's a 10, it's probably pretty toxic. So it just... 

It gives you  the straight up "Here are the... Here's the cleanliness factor on the scale." 

Let's see...

We're also cruelty free. So we're certified by Leaping Bunny. So we got some really good third party validations to backup.

Chase Clymer  

Yeah, some great accolades there.

Laurie O'Hara  

Yeah. So yeah. I would say online, it's definitely easiest to find us on our own website or Amazon. 

And then we're trying to increase our footprint in brick-and-mortar as well. We're talking to Rite Aid. We're probably gonna do a test with them in Southern California. 

So we definitely want to increase our physical footprint. And we're doing that mostly through the West Coast of the US and Hawaii. Because that's where we are, that's where our distribution centers are. 

So that's where we're starting. But then we want to take over the world as much as possible.

Chase Clymer  

That's always the goal. Laurie, thank you so much for coming on and sharing all this amazing information with our audience.

Laurie O'Hara  

Thank you for having me, Chase. Appreciate it.

Chase Clymer  

Alright. I can't thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their knowledge and journey with us. 

We've got a lot to think about and potentially add into our own business. You can find all the links in the show notes. 

Make sure you head over to honestecommerce.co to check out all the other amazing content that we have.
Make sure you subscribe, leave a review. And obviously if you're thinking about growing your business, check out our agency at electriceye.io. Until next time.