Small Business Week: How Barb Stegemann Saw Exponential Growth in Challenging Times
In March 2020, Sephora closed all of their North American stores; Barb Stegemann had just lost her major retailer and was staring down massive, high-interest loans opened based on in-store sales projections. In the face of uncertainty, Barb leaned on her principles to provide a stable foundation on shaky ground, and lead her company to becoming the #1 selling “Clean at Sephora” perfume brand in both the US and Canada, and saw its expansion into 15 countries.
Barb is the CEO and founder of The 7 Virtues, a clean perfume brand that sources organic, fair trade essential oils from countries experiencing turmoil to create scents. This award-winning social enterprise began in Barb’s garage, where she was armed with only a dream and her Visa card, and has grown into a brand that disrupted the fragrance industry.
Despite her success leading up to the pandemic, the outlook in March 2020 was bleak. Barb hadn’t been able to train all US staff about her brand and products yet, she wasn’t sure how she could protect her stock, and if, as a result, sales would dry up. No one knew how long this would be, but Barb did understand that everything had to change in order to protect her business.
Barb attended a seminar at the beginning of the pandemic that set her game plan in motion. The message she took from it was that people will remember how you helped them through difficult times. This spoke to her philosophy of leadership; the principles she has leaned on to build her business from the beginning. It starts with a love. When you lead with a ROL (Return on Love), she says, the ROI will follow.
Barb immediately set-up a virtual training studio so she could connect remotely with Sephora staff. What was originally a problem, turned into an opportunity. Before the pandemic, she would train in-person at the stores, reaching up to 10 people at a time. Virtually, she trains upwards of 700 people at a time. This, she feels, contributed to the uptake of sales these past 18 months. Barb also changed her training strategy. She showed staff how they can help each other and their customers with aromatherapy, by giving them scents and breathing techniques that can recondition and relax the mind. As a result, sales of her aromatherapy oils took off in the first six months.
In addition to training, Barb was looking for more opportunities to sell her product. A supplier connected her with a UK retailer, knowing that her retail stores in North America had shut down. She met with the owner to discuss her brand and the success she has seen as a leader in the Clean at Sephora space, and he dismissed it and demeaned her. At that time, Barb explained, I was desperate for more business but refused to be treated this way. It went against her principles on a personal and professional level.
Instead of abandoning her principles in hopes of sales, Barb went back to her hotel and took a moment of self-care — “get mad, take a bath, and have a nap,” she said. This form of self-care has helped her numerous times and she credits this moment to her success today. After clearing her head, Barb remembered that she had met with Sephora France years ago. They liked her product but wanted her to have more experience before partnering with her. She had that experience now, and she contacted them. This is why her products are now sold in 15 countries today.
“If I had allowed this man to strip me of my dignity,” she said, “this wouldn’t have happened.” Sephora is expanding into the UK now as well, and she will be a part of their launch. Something that also wouldn’t have been possible if she had chosen to partner with another UK retailer.
Even during a pandemic, Barb did not compromise her commitment to her principles, and she believes this is why she sees continued success. The 7 Virtues growth over the past 18 months has exceeded every other perfume brand in Sephora US, and it has the highest conversion rate on Sephora’s website.
Through reflection, Barb brought The 7 Virtues from close to death to becoming a brand that other companies are now trying to emulate. The pandemic revealed to her how important principles are when leading a company, and strengthened her belief that when leading with ROL, the ROI will follow.
Barb Stegemann has been named one of Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women by WXN; ranked as one of Profit Guide magazine’s “Top 30 Cool and Fabulous Canadian Entrepreneurs”; and been awarded the Ernst & Young “Entrepreneur of the Year Award” in the emerging Entrepreneur category for Atlantic Canada. In 2020, Real Leaders magazine included Barb in their list of “Top 40 Women Keynote Speakers.”
Interested in learning more about Barb and what she can bring to your event? Email us at [email protected].