Ecommerce Shipping BlogPodcastGet Ship Done Episode 4:  Brick-and-Mortar & Ecommerce Success Flowing With ‘milk + honey’

Get Ship Done Episode 4:  Brick-and-Mortar & Ecommerce Success Flowing With ‘milk + honey’

Posted on July 5, 2022 by

The husband and wife dream team that founded milk + honey—Alissa and Shon Bayer— as a single-location spa in 2006 and have since grown their business beyond physical walls to include a full direct-to-consumer and wholesale product line that has become a cult classic among celebrities, clean beauty influencers, and in many retailers across the country. The growth from a brick-and-mortar business into an entirely new ecommerce success story takes determination, creativity, and the ability to remain adaptive. Learn how milk + honey grew from a spa in downtown Austin into a multi-location spa as well as an ecommerce sensation.

Read the full transcript for Get Ship Done Episode 4: Milk & Honey

J.B. Hager (Host):

This episode is brought to you by ChannelAdvisor.

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J.B. Hager:

Welcome back to another episode of Get Ship Done, a podcast where we highlight entrepreneurs on their unique journeys into e-commerce and the lessons and successes they’ve found along the way. Joining us today are the founders of milk + honey, a husband and wife dream team, Alissa and Shon Bayer. Alissa and Shon started milk + honey as a single location spa in 2006 and have since then grown their business beyond physical walls to include a full direct-to-consumer and wholesale product line that has become a cult classic among celebrities, clean beauty influencers, and in many retailers across the country. I’m excited to chat with them today.

J.B. Hager:

Welcome back to Get Ship Done. I’m very excited about today’s guests because I got to see their company grow up right in my own backyard here in Austin, Texas. And it’s been really cool to watch. Joining us are the founders of milk + honey, Alissa and Shon Bayer. Welcome.

Alissa Bayer:

Thank you.

Shon Bayer:

Alissa’s really the founder of milk + honey. I just ride in her wake.

J.B. Hager:

And then she pulled you into it. We’re going to get into that. One of the things I was excited to talk to you both about is, and we’ll get into it later, but when spouses grow a business together, it’s usually one in first and then the other one gets pulled in full time when it’s like, “Hey, this is going to work.” Again, like I said, I’m excited to talk to you both because I got to see the rise in Austin of all your locations and now spreading across the country. I mentioned to my wife. Her quick answer of why milk + honey has been so successful. My wife’s name is Erin. I said, “Erin. Hey, I’m going to be interviewing the founders of milk + honey. What do you think of that place?”

J.B. Hager:

And she goes, “Oh man, it’s expensive, but it is so worth it.” Which I think it kind of hits the nail on the head. And I go, “Well, what do you mean?” She goes, “Well, it’s like you’re at a five-star resort, but it’s walk-in in your neighborhood. It’s incredible.” So that’s quite a compliment, I think, of what milk + honey is. Is she pretty accurate in what she had to say about your business?

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah. I think we try to keep it where it doesn’t feel quite so out of reach, right? Like, making sure that it’s still affordable. But really what we’re trying to do is provide that experience where you can come in and you don’t need to go to a resort or away on vacation. You can just block off a couple of hours of your day and come in and get a really great massage and have a great experience and really just kind of reset and recharge your yourself within just a short period of time. And it doesn’t have to be a luxury that you only do once a year. It is expensive. Well, no, I shouldn’t say it’s expensive, but taking care of yourself, I feel like it’s preventative. It’s a lot more fun to come in and get a massage, which there are tons of known benefits than it is to pay another copay to go see a doctor. You know? If you look at it as just preventative care and just another part of your overall health and wellness.

J.B. Hager:

Yeah. That’s a term I hear a lot, moreso with women because it’s… Self-care is the term you hear a lot. You got to take care of yourself first. And-

Alissa Bayer:

We’re a little smarter about that.

Shon Bayer:

Yeah. But I would say that the other benefit and part of our experience is going to this beautiful spa and then going to the locker room and maybe taking a steam shower, relaxing in there, and then going to the lounge and just decompressing a while before or after your service. And…

J.B. Hager:

As opposed to being rushed in and out, right?

Shon Bayer:

Exactly. That whole… There’s the mental health piece too because during that time, you’re not on your cell phone, people aren’t texting you, work isn’t calling on you. So there are very few moments of time where that exists. So we create that space for people.

J.B. Hager:

That’s so true. It used to be airplanes were sacred ground for that same reason. Now it’s just-

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah. I get so much done on airplanes. But really, we’re not in the business of providing massages and facials. That’s certainly one mode at which we do, but we very much consider ourselves in the business of making people feel good, whether it be a massage or a facial or coming in and getting a great haircut or pedicure and just leaving feeling really great about that, and then complimented with the products that we provide that are really meant to kind of continue that spa experience at home. So you don’t always have to come in and spend $150 for an hour massage. You can really, maybe not get the massage, but at least kind of recreate that mood and respite at home as well. And so, I mean, that’s really the core of our business, is we are in the business of making people feel good.

J.B. Hager:

All right. We’re going to jump backward. I’ve got to hear how you ended up there because you two are both wired for what Austin has become, as with an engineering background and a tech background. You look around you and I think of your 2nd Street location that I mentioned I drive by daily. Facebook is leasing a whole building. Google’s leasing a whole building. It was very wired for your original careers. And so how did you make the exit from that to this? What was the motivation? Give me a little bit of that story.

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah.

Shon Bayer:

Alissa didn’t want to have a boss.

Alissa Bayer:

When we moved to Austin in 2002… And I went to business school at UT Austin. And so I was just a full-time MBA student. And then towards the end of my second semester, I was working on a business plan. I was really drawn to UT because of its entrepreneurial focus. And so I focused on entrepreneurship. I worked at a venture capital firm when I was in business school. I worked at the Austin Technology Incubator. I loved being around entrepreneurs. I’ve also been an entrepreneur throughout my life. And I was a little disillusioned in business school and you’re starting to see a lot of this change with B Corps and just a shift for companies doing good as opposed to just making money. But almost two decades ago when I was in grad school, the focus really was on the purpose of a business is to increase shareholder value.

Alissa Bayer:

And that just really rang very flat with me and was a very uninspired way to think about making a living and where you’re going to dedicate your time every day. And I decided that I wanted to make a living making people feel good. At the time, I didn’t know that was going to be spa, but I knew I didn’t want to go down the path of becoming a banker or a management consultant. I really wanted to do something different where I can wake up every day, feel really good about where I’m spending my time and what the effects of that time are.

Alissa Bayer:

And at the time, like you said, Austin’s changed a lot in the last 20 years that I’ve been here. And I just really saw a need at the time for this. And I drove by the 2nd Street, the AMLI building that’s there as it was being constructed. And I drove by it every day on my way to business school and was just like, “That’s where we’re going to do this.” And we decided to open a spa and that just happened to be the mode in which we, or I decided that I wanted to have my career.

J.B. Hager:

Wow. I’m thinking about… And again, this is a little inside for a lot of the people listening, but that was a bold movement. People weren’t downtown yet. Now you’re surrounded. But-

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah.

J.B. Hager:

At that time, we didn’t have a thriving downtown.

Alissa Bayer:

It’s certainly much more activated and there’s so much more going on. I didn’t feel at all like I was a pioneer then, but certainly there was already a lot of momentum on around 2nd Street and a lot of things happening downtown. And certainly I feel like it was the perfect place for us to launch our first location. You know? Just being in the middle of South by Southwest and the convention center isn’t too far away, and the locals. Like, it’s a place that a lot of people like to go and just shop and have coffee. So it was a great place for us to be. And I’m just delighted at how it’s developed and downtown is just thriving. And it’s so fun compared to other downtowns that just clear out after the markets close. And it was just a really fun place to be.

J.B. Hager:

Now, one of the things that’s pretty unique about your business, and again, friends of mine that own various businesses, especially service industry, are having a hard time getting people and retaining people. You guys are pretty unique that you provide benefits, 401(k), paid vacation. And that is unheard of in your industry. Tell me about the reason to make that choice. And then also tell me about how it’s worked for you and retention.

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah. So as I said, milk + honey’s mission is to make people feel good and that includes our team members as well. And because I didn’t have any outside spa experience; I’d never worked in a spa or salon, it was just a completely foreign industry; I didn’t really have any good habits from this industry. I didn’t have any bad habits. So I was able to kind of apply everything that I had learned in my prior business experience, as well as what I learned in business school. And this is how I thought people should be compensated. A lot of people in this industry are paid in cash under the table or they’re independent contractors when they really shouldn’t be.

Alissa Bayer:

And we just decided if we’re going to do this, we need to have professional rate benefits so our team can know that they are not going to go broke if they get sick. You know? Right? Like having the… And everyone should be able to take time off and recharge without having to worry about paying rent. And you’re seeing a lot more of that now in the industry, which is really one of the reasons that I am motivated to continue growing into new markets because I think you do see that in Austin now that more places are offering paid vacation and other benefits. So it’s kind of just really raising the bar for, I think, the industry in Austin. Yeah. But it was just the right thing to do. But our turnover is a fraction of what it is in other-

Shon Bayer:

Spas and salons. Yeah.

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah. Other spas and salons in the industry. I feel like it really allows us to attract and retain really great talent.

J.B. Hager:

Very cool. And let’s talk about some of the expansion. We’ll get into products and things you’ve developed and shipping and all that stuff. But the expansion has gone well beyond Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth. And you’re open in California now, correct? How many locations do you have?

Alissa Bayer:

As of today, we have eight locations. So our location in Culver City is officially open and that’s the eighth location. And yeah, 2020 was incredibly hard on high-touch businesses like ours. And it was very, very stressful, like very difficult to manage. Fortunately, the PPP money and the assistance and partnering with our landlords to figure this out allowed us to not only survive COVID, but now we’re really thriving and have all of these other opportunities, and just really excited to continue growing. So 2021 was really all about seeking out these new locations and where else can we grow. And so now we’re looking at Chicago. We have a spa under construction-

Shon Bayer:

We’re not looking at Chicago. We’re going into Chicago.

J.B. Hager:

It’s happening.

Alissa Bayer:

So, yeah. Chicago’s under construction; will be open in a few months. We do have another location in Austin that will open later this year. We’re about to sign a lease in Miami, in South Beach, and then a location in Dallas as well. And then we have a lot more in the pipeline. You know? We have so many great opportunities, and landlords are really eager, I think, to work with businesses that survived COVID. And we drive foot traffic to all of the areas that we are, and that’s something that’s really important to these retail projects. So we’re just finding some really great opportunities that I don’t think we would’ve had if we hadn’t endured COVID. So a nice silver lining.

J.B. Hager:

I never thought about the… Like, we were just talking about retention and with employees. I never thought about landlords wanting retention. You know? They don’t want the turnover and then it’s closed for six months to a year. And it’s very similar. And you guys have cred, right? That’s interesting. I’m going to jump back a little bit because I want to hear how Shon got either pulled in or did you climb in? How did that go down?

Shon Bayer:

I was always helping Alissa during this process. So I was doing some of the marketing-

Alissa Bayer:

Technology.

Shon Bayer:

… some of the IT stuff, some of the web stuff from before we opened. In fact, the first location that we opened, all of the… even the speaker wire and the network cables, I had a step ladder and put them in the walls before the contractor sealed them up.

Shon Bayer:

But the company that I was working for was growing like gangbusters. So in that 2006 to 2008 period, 2009 period, I was very focused on that job. And I was doing some stuff for milk + honey on the side. By 2010, milk + honey was just growing to the point where it started to make sense for us to join forces. I mean, we were talking about milk + honey every night at dinner.

J.B. Hager:

I bet.

Shon Bayer:

We were talking about it when we woke up in the morning. So it made a lot of sense. And I think our skills are-

Alissa Bayer:

Complementary.

Shon Bayer:

They’re pretty complementary. And I think also the thing that gave us confidence to do this was that I think that we do have a very similar vision for the company. I think we have the same beliefs about how the company should work. We share values. So we never argue over things like what is the strategic direction that we need to take? So-

Alissa Bayer:

We have a lot of healthy debate about it though.

Shon Bayer:

Sure.

Alissa Bayer:

And Shon really started working at milk + honey in 2010. I was pregnant with twins at the time, and really had been working that whole year and everything leading up to that of just untangling myself from the business in a way that it can run without me. And that was also the time where we realized Shon was working 80 hours a week for this other company, which was great. In fact, the owner of that company is on our board now, but milk + honey was just growing so much faster that it really made sense to have Shon use all of his resources for business that we owned a hundred percent of instead of a small percentage of.

Alissa Bayer:

And that was also the first point in the business that we were able to forego his salary because Shon had really been letting me mooch off of him. Right? We got married in April of 2002. August of 2002, we moved to Texas. I didn’t work for several years. I didn’t work full time for a couple of years after that. But that was really the first time that we could afford as a small business to not have his income because I was taking the bare minimum salary that I could and continued to for a long time, which a lot of small business owners do.

J.B. Hager:

You know what else is unique that I like about milk + honey? Is you have the service side like you talk about all the treatments and things like that. But the products. You guys have not only have developed a lot of your own products, but you’ve also curated a lot of products. So was that a plan from the get-go or was that something as you were growing milk + honey, you were like, “We need to be making our own stuff instead of just selling stuff”?

Alissa Bayer:

The products came later. It was never really part of the initial master plan. I always envisioned multiple locations, but we started really small with the spa. We didn’t launch the products until like 2013, end of 2013, early 2014. So it was eight years or so after we launched the business. And part of that was, one, we do sell a lot of products that we, as you say, we curate. Like, we bring in products that we vet for having clean nontoxic ingredients that we also know are very effective, but the emphasis really being…. Making sure that we don’t sell any products that we know have harmful ingredients in them.

Alissa Bayer:

And 10 plus years ago, it was a lot harder to find those products that were packaged beautifully, were really effective, had high quality ingredients, and that you could also rely on just getting these products regularly. You know? We would find great vendors and then they would be out of stock, which just means lost revenue for us and disappointed customers when they don’t get their products. And also after doing milk + honey for so many years, this is now the 17th year of business, I can’t quit milk + honey without like a big process. Right? Everyone else that works here can put their resignation in and two weeks from then be free.

Alissa Bayer:

And it’s not that I ever wanted to leave, but I just wanted to flex some different muscles and learn some different things. And so the products really allowed me to explore and extend how we can make people feel good in a way that’s not just the services that we offer and not even within those four walls of our location. So it really allowed me a breath of fresh air and some new fun things to do, but also really complemented the business overall.

J.B. Hager:

How much of your product sales is stuff out the door versus online?

Shon Bayer:

So yeah. Our business, we have Goodman to Ulta. And so we’re probably in over a thousand other doors across the country, some configuration of our products, but only about 15% of our sales are sold to our own locations. So the rest is through our wholesale partners and direct-to-consumers online.

J.B. Hager:

Of all those channels you just mentioned, Shon, which one works best for you?

Shon Bayer:

Direct-to-consumer is about half of our business.

J.B. Hager:

Okay. Okay.

Shon Bayer:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s about half of our business, 35% wholesale, and 15% to our own stores.

J.B. Hager:

And then do you have any tips or tricks for people that find you online, the direct-to-consumer? Because obviously, your brand… Again, here in Austin, your brand is huge. Everybody knows it. They’ve driven by it or they’ve been there. But outside of that. You know? Somebody in New Hampshire that’s never heard of you, how are they finding you? And what’s the connection there? What can you share with us?

Shon Bayer:

It’s everything. We do marketing through the Google and Facebook platforms, which they have their ups and downs, but they’re definitely where we put a lot of chips on the table into. We work with a PR agency that helps us with activations and product placements, things like that. Sometimes I personally feel like the best things that have come about have happened organically. So I guess it was six months ago, there was a video on Cosmopolitan that Zoë Kravitz was showing her morning routine and used one of our products. And then we immediately sold out. So that was good. But that wasn’t PR that we cultivated. That was just an organic opportunity. We also advertise on podcasts. And actually one of the podcasts that we advertise on has been phenomenal in terms of ROI.

J.B. Hager:

Yeah. So do you use an agency to do your buying for the podcast? Or do you go, “I’m a fan of this show. I think it’s our audience,” and reach out to them directly? I think that’s interesting.

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah. It’s mostly been just very organic things that have happened or we’ll hear someone mention us and reach out and see if they want… if there’s a good opportunity, because we always want to be sure where we’re advertising, and if we do partner with any influencers that there’s just a genuine, authentic affinity for the product and it’s never like a cold call, if you will.

Shon Bayer:

But I would also say that our strategy of investing in wholesale, I think a lot of brands that are direct-to-consumer or part of their value proposition is that they’re selling directly to consumers for the whole MSRP of the product. Whereas when you sell wholesale, you’re selling it at a 50% discount to what you’re getting direct-to-consumer. For some direct-to-consumer brands, the economics completely do not work if they are trying to wholesale things. But for us, we price things that the dynamics of the economics would work, that we can make a profit wholesaling things. To be honest, being in all of these stores probably is feeding 25% to 50% of our direct-to-consumer business. So people will see us on the shelf in an Ulta or buy a product there. And then when it runs out, they replenish and we have maybe a better selection than Ulta does. Or they’re just curious about the things that we have to offer.

J.B. Hager:

That’s interesting, Shon, because people don’t want to get in their cars anymore if they don’t have to. Right? Yeah. And if they found you in a brick-and-mortar, that totally makes sense. And then do you do any subscription models with your online?

Shon Bayer:

Mm-hmm.

J.B. Hager:

Yeah.

Shon Bayer:

Yeah. So most of the products that we sell online, we offer a subscription offer. In fact, one of the reasons that we originally went on to Amazon was because they made it so easy for a retailer like us to set up Subscribe and Save. And we wanted to push… We actually deliberately pushed people onto the Amazon platform just because they could offer that. It took us a couple of years to finally have the bandwidth and the time to set it up on our own website. By units sold, our biggest products are actually natural deodorants. And you want to subscribe to deodorant because you don’t want two months later to run out of this product. So it’s a very logical fit.

J.B. Hager:

We’ll be right back with more from Alissa and Shon on the biggest lessons they’ve learned in the last year, their experience selling on QVC, and the benefits and pressures of accepting investor funds as they continue to scale their business.

J.B. Hager:

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J.B. Hager:

Everyone knows that you can sit there and go, “Wait a minute,” and look at your finances of a subscription of something that you haven’t even thought about in two years. Well, one, they want to use your product. But getting people into the subscription, did you see a jump in revenue as that grew?

Shon Bayer:

Yeah. I look at it as just once you have someone subscribing, your relationship with them changes. You’re not taking that time and effort to reacquire them as a customer if they were a one-off customer. So you can just focus on that customer care.

J.B. Hager:

You talked about how it took a couple years to build your own subscription process. Let’s talk a little bit about processes and what you’ve learned. You know? It sounds like you’re both very tech savvy. How has that been growing that, putting in processes from inventory to shipping? I mean, what have you learned where you had some breakthroughs?

Shon Bayer:

Well, we have probably made every mistake in the book. We have reinvented the wheel about 20 times right now, from my perspective. I think that the biggest lesson that I have learned over the last year has been… The most important thing is just having the right people to support you. So when we started this business, it was very much run off of the side of people’s desks. And it was really that way for the first four years that we were selling products. It was part-time people. It was taking the attention of our marketing staff to do this little bit on the product business.

Shon Bayer:

So over the last couple of years, we’ve really started to build more of a professional infrastructure. And I think that any entrepreneur would be doing the same thing. You know? Day one, they’re doing everything themselves and then slowly maybe they hire a part-time assistant. But as soon as you can hire someone who has done this before, who is really good, it makes all of the difference in the world.

J.B. Hager:

Can you share with us one of those hires? What did they do that they brought to the table where you’re just like, maybe you weren’t discussing milk + honey as much at the dinner table because of that?

Shon Bayer:

Sure. Our current head of product at milk + honey, she’s been with us for almost a year and a half now. And she had a background in apparel, sales, and merchandising. So over the last year, she has put in rigorous planning processes so we’re not out of stock. And then she’s helped us secure… So last fall, Alissa was on QVC talking about our products and did a one-hour show in, I guess, it was late September where she talked about our products, talked to their hosts. And without Rachel’s experience… She had previously worked for Spanx and managed that QVC account, which was really big for them. Without her driving that process, we never would’ve gotten our foot in the door. We never would have gotten to that step where we were considered. We never would’ve gotten to the point where we were accepted. So she drove that process and she’s doing that with a number of other wholesale clients as well.

J.B. Hager:

Oh, I got to hear about the QVC experience.

Alissa Bayer:

What do you want to know?

J.B. Hager:

What was it like? Are you comfortable on camera? Were you nervous? Were you… I mean, you know the product, which helps. Right? If you know what you’re selling, that makes it easy, I’m assuming. But what was that process like? And how successful was it for you?

Alissa Bayer:

It was definitely a daunting process, like just the amount of paperwork and just all of the background and registration and so many hoops to go through to get on QVC, and all this training to on claims you cannot say. I think I was more nervous about saying something that I wasn’t allowed to say because there’s all of these FDA claims and things that you just need to be really careful about.

Alissa Bayer:

I don’t enjoy being on camera. I am very much behind the scenes, like very comfortable in spreadsheets and with my team, but not so much on camera. So it was not my favorite thing to do. But it was successful. Launching a brand with an hour show on QVC is just a really wonderful opportunity. And that led to more opportunities. Rachel, who Shon mentioned, was on QVC, I guess it was earlier last month. And we sold, I think, 5,000 deodorants in six minutes. And so it’s a really powerful-

Shon Bayer:

With 750 more items on a waitlist, a backorder list.

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah.

J.B. Hager:

Oh wow.

Alissa Bayer:

So a really powerful channel that… To be perfectly honest, I had to research and start watching QVC. I just wasn’t really that familiar with the format other than I feel like when I’m in hotels and flipping through the channels on cable, that’s the only time I’ve ever seen QVC or HSN, which are kind of the same company now. So yeah, it was certainly a learning experience and really fun, but it’s always good to get pushed out of your comfort zone and do things like that.

J.B. Hager:

Right?

Shon Bayer:

They are a machine. They know what they are doing. They are so dialed in to what they’re doing and what their process is. It’s a pretty amazing company even if I’m not really their target audience.

J.B. Hager:

Mm-hmm.

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah. I was just impressed by the amount of attention they put and detail and the research that they do. It just felt really good being part of that and knowing how much they vet every product that they sell.

J.B. Hager:

You bring up something interesting, Alissa. What else has pushed, and both of you can answer this, pushed you out of your comfort zone that you’ve done, especially as your company’s expanding and some public facing stuff you’ve done? What else were you like, “Oh, I don’t know if I can do this,” and then you do it and you feel good?

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah. Well, for me, we bootstrapped this business for the first 13 years. And it was really important to me as a woman as well. I really wanted to kind of maintain control of my business for as long as possible. And I was really reluctant to bring anyone else on,] even if it could be really helpful, beneficial to the growth of the business. And so for me, I think the thing that was really outside of my comfort zone was bringing people on who would have a say in my business. As Shon mentioned, one of the reasons I’m an entrepreneur, I think, primarily is that I would make a horrible employee. No one should ever hire me. And I kind of look at our investors. You know? They’re now my boss. Even though I still own the vast majority of the company, I have other people to answer to.

Alissa Bayer:

For the first 13 years, if we missed our numbers or we had something disappointing, I was disappointing myself. And really, I felt the only people that I needed to answer to was really the IRS and my bank, like just making sure I paid my loan payments on time. So that for me was the biggest challenge which was getting over that hurdle. For many years, Shon was trying to convince me to take funding and I resisted it for a long time, but eventually felt comfortable enough to do that. And I have no regrets. We’re continuing to grow and add more people and investors to our team. And it’s been a really great experience and I’m really excited about how this has shifted and really sped up the growth process, but in a way that I’m still comfortable with.

J.B. Hager:

That was the, I don’t mean to get too personal here, but you kind of answered a little bit, was speed up the growth. Why else did you decide to take investor money? And what were the benefits of that? The expansion to other states?

Alissa Bayer:

Every time we open a new location… Spas are very expensive to build out. Each new location is several million to $4 or $5 million build-out for our locations. And I, after 13 years, was also a little tired of white-knuckling, everything and being fully on the hook and doing… All of our growth was from internal cash flow and SBA loans. And SBA loans are, I love that they exist, but they are the most difficult source of funding. I think you can go after. So it was really just about making things a little bit easier and so I didn’t have all of this tremendous paperwork that the SBA requires. We could move a little faster. And most importantly, we brought people onto our team that, number one, that I would feel okay making them rich. Right?

Alissa Bayer:

It was really important to me to be sure if we are going to bring people on our team that I feel that they’re like good people, they’re… It felt right having them on the team. But also they’re really helpful. You know? That’s really great. And I don’t know how we would’ve managed the pandemic and having our business shut down for so many months without having our board and these really experienced partners as our investors to just help guide us through and help us navigate these things.

J.B. Hager:

Yeah. We haven’t talked too much about the pandemic, but how would that have gone down if you hadn’t grown all your products and direct-to-consumer? That could have been disastrous. You know?

Alissa Bayer:

Absolutely. The product side of our business grew tremendously during 2020. It didn’t compensate for the huge loss of revenue on the spa side, but it was this really bright silver lining in the pandemic. We were lucky enough to offer… Like, we had a hand purifier. So we were able to kind of… Since we had the formula, we were able just to ramp up production of that. And we sold, as you imagine, a ton of hand purifiers and hand sanitizers in 2020, which spilled over to the other products on our website as well.

Alissa Bayer:

So we had so many new customers who had never been to our site before or purchased any of our products. And so we really had like a nice lift that continued on into 2021 and 2022. So it is nice, and that was one of the goals of having the product side of the business that complements the service side because they are two entirely disparate businesses. You know? Everything about them, these two businesses is different. And so it was really great to have this, and just kind of like hedging and being able to fall back on this other side when the spa side was not able to generate any revenue for a while.

J.B. Hager:

It is wild how many silver lining-type stories I’ve heard because of COVID.

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah. Well, I mean, you have to always look for those, right? And as an entrepreneur and someone who’s willing to take risks and have a lot of deferred gratification, you’re always looking for the silver lining, even with big mistakes, even expensive mistakes. As long as you’re learning from it and not going to make that mistake again, it’s not really that… It’s not quite as painful.

Shon Bayer:

Now, if I had my druthers, I would’ve still skipped this whole COVID period.

J.B. Hager:

Thank you, Shon. I know it’s been tough, but it’s feels like it’s coming back to life.

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah. But I’m just grateful for that opportunity. I mean, it was so stressful. You know? There was one day when we furloughed 475 people in one day. And I was just sick to my stomach the entire time, but the only way to save the business was to do that. And so our HR team worked around the clock to help all of our team navigate the unemployment benefits, both the state and federal.

Shon Bayer:

And when she says around the clock, the only time that the Texas unemployment site was working was 2:30 in the morning.

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah. So yes. I mean, obviously, the pandemic has been horrible in so many ways, but I am, in hindsight, very grateful to have gone through that because I feel like we’ve weathered a pandemic, which I have to say is probably when we looked at catastrophic things that could have an impact on our business, that was the number one thing. Like, the number one risk that we always kind of knew we would have is if there was something like that and then it happened, and we weathered it. And not only did we weather it, we kind of came out the other side reinvigorated and excited and full of opportunity that I do believe would not exist if we didn’t endure the pandemic.

J.B. Hager:

Okay. Elaborate a little bit more on when you’ve seen somebody famous using your product and you’re just like… You have to be running to each other going, “Oh my God. Did you see this?” What is that like? What does it feel like? Who was it? Or what was one of those bigger moments?

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah. I mean, certainly Zoë Kravitz is a more recent example that we were just thrilled to know that she loved our product and enough to just share that unprompted. JVN from Queer Eye has used our deodorant for a long time. And that also led to an opportunity where they filmed with us right at the beginning, before we knew the pandemic was really going to alter our lives forever. And it’s really fun to know that these other people are using our products. And we’ve had some really amazing celebrities come into our spas as well. And it’s just fun.

J.B. Hager:

You said something earlier, Alissa, that I want to hear more about. And I think maybe that’s where the investor dollars became a factor. You said, “I want to grow in other areas.” Right? You’ve been doing this for a long time and you want the growth. What have you been able to do? Where have you been able to… Is it vacation? Is it another interest? Is it a hobby? What have you been able to do?

Alissa Bayer:

So on a personal level, you’re asking? Well-

J.B. Hager:

Yeah, yeah. I think it’s interesting because it probably keeps you fulfilled so that you don’t implode with your career.

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah. So outside of milk + honey, Shon and I have three young children, like three elementary school age children who I joke that they make my day job seem really easy. So my short answer to your question is that I really don’t feel like I have any time for myself. Waking up every day and loving what you do makes it not feel like work so much. I’ve probably worked a lot harder since we took the investment for the reasons that I mentioned earlier. So now I’ve got someone else’s money that I’m accountable for and someone else that I need to answer to, so I’ve probably been working a lot more in the last few years than I did prior, but still just having a lot of fun with it.

J.B. Hager:

Do you think you guys will ever get to a point where you bring in let’s call it a general manager for the entire company? I know that’s a hard thing to let go of. This is your baby, right? Do you think you’ll ever get to that point so that Shon and Alissa can spend more time at the beach or wherever you want to be?

Alissa Bayer:

We have an amazing team that allows us to do that. And we will still check-in, even though our team won’t necessarily need us to. It’s more for our… I don’t like to come back to a thousand emails in my inbox. I’d rather just delete them 150 emails a day and stay on top of it. But no, absolutely. I think I have always wanted to be involved in this business. It’s my passion and my creative outlet. And I don’t think it’ll be too long before that time is right like to have someone kind of come in as CEO and oversee all of our team and really handle the day-to-day but working alongside with us on that vision. You know? And I feel like my job is just to keep us on our true north. You know? Just making sure that any investors that we have now or in the future all need to be aligned with that as well because there are certain tenants about the business that just I won’t compromise on or ever see change.

J.B. Hager:

I like asking this question because I think the audience that’s listening to this feels some company if they know that you might have struggled at some point. Was there a moment where you’re like, “I don’t know if this is going to work”? And if so, how did you get through?

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah. I am an optimist at heart and I’m also not a huge risk-taker. I think a lot of people think entrepreneurs are risk-takers. What I think is a lot of entrepreneurs are okay with deferred gratification and waiting and having some level of uncertainty. But many days, like in the early days when I was working the front desk, I was folding laundry, I was running payroll on top of the washing machine, the one washing machine that we had in our back-of-house of our first tiny little location. And there were a lot of times that I had doubts and white-knuckling payroll, right? Where I was mailing checks out, making sure they were postmarked on time. But checks that I would say would have wired electronically were now going in the mail to be sure that I could just have those extra few days. So there was a lot of white-knuckling.

Alissa Bayer:

For me. One of the motivations of growth is that the bigger we become, though it may sound counterintuitive, the more stable I feel our business is. You know? If one location is doing great or we have an issue, it can help kind of support the others. And as we start launching new locations, they’re a drain on our resources, but having more locations has really made us feel a little more stable and not quite as… You know? Just like biting our nails, wondering what’s going to happen.

Alissa Bayer:

So, yes, like many, many days, many sleepless nights, many days where I did everything from cleaning the toilets in the spa, like I said, to rolling the towels and booking appointments. And obviously, I don’t do those things anymore, but every entrepreneur does what you have to do in the beginning.

J.B. Hager:

I think it would be fun to have you both answer this because a lot of direct-to-consumer especially, a lot of people who are on year one, and they’re working with their spouse, their partner. What advice would you give them to make sure that’s a success growing a business with your spouse, partner, whatever?

Shon Bayer:

I think one of the challenges with working with your spouse and where we effectively have acted as co-CEOs for the last decade, the org sits under me, but obviously Alissa is an outsized influence in the company. I think that a lot of it comes down to employee management. I think that people get a little bit intimidated by there being kind of a two-headed beast. So just really clarifying the lines of communication and just which one of us is the ultimate decision-maker on X, Y, or Z. So-

J.B. Hager:

She’s pointing at herself.

Alissa Bayer:

That’s me.

Shon Bayer:

So I think that that’s one thing. I think what has served us really well is we both share the same vision for what the company is. So for instance, if I really wanted milk + honey to be a lifestyle business where we could spend half of our time at a beach house or something like that, and Alissa really wanted to get to the point where we went from having 500 employees to a thousand employees, if we saw divergence there, I don’t think it would work. So we share that same vision of growth for the business and that’s super important.

Alissa Bayer:

We also just have a lot of respect for one another. Shon is one of the smartest people that I know and has been a huge part of our secret sauce. You know? Just the backend, the technology, the marketing, just the strategy, the analysis that he brings to the table. And I think why it’s been successful is that we do have mutual respect for one another. We do disagree. And sometimes people that are maybe a little newer on our team get a little uncomfortable when Shon and I disagree because they’re like, “What’s going on? Like mom and dad…” But it’s just like a healthy debate as you would have between anyone who, say, like a CEO and a COO. Like, if everyone’s doing their job correctly, there is good, healthy debate and challenging assumptions and having discussions about things.

Alissa Bayer:

Shon will sometimes come home and I’m cooking and hanging out with the kids and he’ll start talking to me about a work issue. And I sometimes politely remind him to please get on my calendar, I don’t want to discuss it right now. And so having healthy boundaries. You know? But sometimes it doesn’t mean that at home after our kids are asleep, we have a lot of conversations and things we have to talk about on the business that we wouldn’t necessarily… You know? If we were not married, I wouldn’t be having these conversations with someone else, with the CEO of the business. It would… So there is just that nice thing that happens just kind of between the lines that you wouldn’t get.

J.B. Hager:

Now, I want you to put your… And I’m going to let you go. I know you guys have a lot to do. I appreciate your time. Put your mentor hat on for a second. And again, talking to someone who’s in their first, second, third year, what sort of broad sweeping motivational thing would you say to them?

Alissa Bayer:

Oh. Do what you love. When you wake up in the morning and you love what you’re doing and it doesn’t feel like work, financial success is just an easy side effect of all of that. You know? If you’re waking up every morning and you’re trying to get richer, every single day is going to feel like a lot of work. And to me, I just can’t imagine how uninspired I would be if I wasn’t excited about what I was doing and that I loved what I was doing and felt really good about bringing this brand and our products and our services to more people.

Alissa Bayer:

And so I really think spend some time thinking about what it is that makes you happy. And if there’s a way, if you see a misalignment with what you’re doing currently, think about what it is that really brings you joy, that really aligns with your values, and find a way to make that into a living. And if you’re entrepreneurial, you’ll figure it out and be able to kind of create your own life and job.

Shon Bayer:

The best advice that’s ever been given to me, and it probably sounds like a business cliche, is just surround yourself with people who are better than yourself. I think I’m a reasonably intelligent, talented person, and you can’t just rely on your own abilities. You need to surround yourself with people who are going to challenge you to do better, who are going to bring skills and knowledge and experience. So the earlier you can start hiring people who are better than you, that is where you really put fuel into the system.

J.B. Hager:

This is for you in particular, Alissa. And what has been through this, I think you said 17-year journey, what has been your proudest moment?

Alissa Bayer:

I don’t think I can pinpoint it to one particular moment. But the thing about milk + honey that I am most proud of is just the amazing team that we have in place and the lifelong friendships, the people who’ve kind of worked at milk + honey over the years, and they’re just such a great group of humans. And there have been marriages and babies and all sorts of really wonderful things that have come about from these people all working and interacting with milk + honey. And that to me is the thing that brings me the most joy and also got me through all of the early years where there was not only no profit, we were in the hole, and the only thing that I had to keep me going was knowing that I was creating a place where people loved going to work and the friendships that they have and still have.

Alissa Bayer:

And I’ll get tagged on social media when there are reunions of people who worked together 10, 15 years ago at milk + honey, and they’re still friends and they’re still together. And to me, just knowing that I played a small role in these lifelong friendships. And hopefully, when they’re 80 years old, they’ll look back fondly on their time spent at milk + honey and the friends that they have.

J.B. Hager:

And I want to direct people to a URL. And I know you have several. Which one would you prefer?

Alissa Bayer:

milkandhoney.com. Well, either will get you to everywhere. So milkandhoney.com

J.B. Hager:

Yeah. When you just Google it, you’re going to see milk + honey spa, milk + honey salon. That’s very smart by the way to have all these. But milk + honey will get you where you need to go.

Alissa Bayer:

Yeah.

J.B. Hager:

Such a pleasure talking to you both. And we appreciate you sharing everything you’ve learned and all your successes. Congratulations.

Alissa Bayer:

Thank you. Thank you for having us. It’s been a pleasure.

Shon Bayer:

It’s been a pleasure.


J.B. Hager:

In a world where consumer habits are constantly shifting, how do you connect your brand with new customers in a way that’s easy to manage and allows you to grow? That’s where ChannelAdvisor comes in. Since 2001, ChannelAdvisor’s multichannel commerce platform has helped thousands of brands and retailers calm the chaos of commerce and build an online presence that reaches millions of online consumers where they shop, when they shop, and how they shop. Visit channeladvisor.com/ecommerce-strategy to learn more.

J.B. Hager:

I’m J.B. Hager, and this has been Get Ship Done. Next month, I’ll sit down with brothers, Chris and Dan Ratterman who run Shady Rays, a popular online retailer that’s known as the sunglasses company that replaces all lost and broken sunglasses. Yeah, you heard me right. Even lost sunglasses. We’ll chat with them more about how they use this program to help drive customer loyalty and the various marketing and retail strategies they’ve tested and iterated on along the way to get upward of 10,000 shipments a day.

J.B. Hager:

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Get Ship Done. If you haven’t subscribed, feel free to hit that Follow button wherever you get your podcasts.

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