First off, I’m going to assume I am free to talk about this because a. it is a part of my life story — a cool and interesting thing that happened, and b. I didn’t sign any non disclosure agreements… so…
Alright, first some background. During my former life as a hair and beauty blogger, corporate acquisition of black-owned companies was a red hot topic. On the one hand, many people argue that black companies struggle with growth because we historically lack access to capital (it’s true… read this post to get insight into how I have had to self-fund this business…), so if we have opportunities to expand we should take them — even if it means giving up ownership. On the other hand people argue that black ownership is important, also for historical reasons, and that many black companies experience a severe drop in product quality when they are acquired (Carol’s Daughter and Shea Moisture are often cited as examples of this) because profits take precedence over ingredients and process. There’s also the issue of the insensitive marketing campaigns that often follow an acquisition (see here) and a perceived distancing from the black consumer (see here.)
As a blogger who considered herself ‘woke’, it was easy for me to spout criticism at brands that were acquired. And I’ll be real maybe, just maybe, there was a tinge of jealousy in too. I mean Lisa Price (founder of Carol’s Daughter) and Richelieu Dennis (former owner of Shea Moisture) are millionaires many times over at this point. But I think, even if you take my shade out of the picture, I did have legitimate issues with the acquisition of black companies.
Fast forward to February 2018. It is a typical day in my storefront when I get a call from a lady. “Hi, can I speak to Leila?” “That’s me,” I replied. “My name is xxx, I’m from P & G and I would love to speak to you about BGLH Marketplace.” Honestly the whole conversation was a blur after that because I felt like I was levitating off the ground. I only remember bits and pieces, but the lady shared that a colleague of hers had either tried/heard about my products and thought BGLH Marketplace would be perfect to explore a partnership or acquisition. They loved my concept of focusing on whipped butters (read here why I only whip butter as opposed to creating a full hair/body line.) And asked me to pull together a massive order for the team at P & G to try.
Those first few days were unreal. Another P & G rep reached out on the Linkedin page I barely use to confirm the company was interested.
All I could see were dollar signs and acclaim. I imagined the stories: ‘Hard-Working Single Mom Becomes Big Baller’, the speaking engagements, the photoshoots on the cover of Black Enterprise magazine, the write ups in Fast Company, the Lisa Price and Richelieu Dennis money (although likely it would not have been that much.) But in all seriousness, the prospect of an immediate ease of my financial strain was incredibly tempting. I am growing an indie business and raising 3 young kids in Brooklyn at the same damn time. It’s… a bit much.
After I got off cloud 9, I started to face reality… First of all, thanks to my decade of beauty blogging I knew there is a big plagiarism issue in the beauty industry. Larger companies will buy and test indie products and replicate them (read about that here.) In mailing my products to P & G I could be handing over the BGLH Marketplace blueprint.
And there was the question of ethics. Was it fair to my customer base? Could I ensure that my butters would be the same quality after an acquisition? Each batch takes an annoyingly long time to finish, but it’s necessary for the quality my customers have come to enjoy. It wasn’t hard to imagine a multi-national company cutting out several steps in my process to churn out butter by the thousands, instead of the hundreds, as I was doing.
But the possibility of an acquisition was too tempting, so I mailed the products along with this note:
“I am so honored tthat you are interested in my company. This business is my life. I am a recently divorced single mother of a 5, 3 and 1 year old. This is my only way to support all of us. I know you work for a very powerful brand and I am entrusting you with these products because I am thrilled at the idea of partnering with P & G. I have spent the past 3 years learning about how to whip shea, cocoa and mango butter en masse. I currently whip about one metric ton of raw butter a year. My products are the best reviewed whipped butters online. If you are trying to enter the whipped butter market I am the person you want…”
I made sure the photo of my note was timestamped, and I sent the products on their way.
The next few weeks were nerve wracking. Did they like my stuff? Would they pursue a partnership, and what would it look like? I shared the news with my parents and a few friends, and researched other indie companies P & G had acquired.
I continued to have email convos with my P & G contact and it seemed my butters had gone over well. But through reflection I came to the conclusion that I wanted to retain ownership of my brand. And honestly it wasn’t for any noble reason. I just figured that if BGLH Marketplace blew up Shea Moisture style, I’d want to keep all the money to myself, LOL! But I did mention that I wanted to explore a distribution or marketing partnership and sent an email to that effect;
Here’s an excerpt;
“Because I believe BGLH Marketplace contains a lot of untapped value and potential, I am not interested in selling the company at all. While I would welcome investment, I do want to retain majority ownership. Also, any investment I attract can’t come at the expense of my ingredients or my process. Coming from a beauty blogging background I have seen this happen so, so many times, where black-owned brands are acquired by larger companies and/or investors and the quality of the products immediately dips. Often larger companies are looking at what they can do to cut costs and expand production. But too often this compromises the core integrity of the product.
My products are a labor of love. As I mentioned on our call, I operate more like a bakery than a traditional stir and pour beauty business, and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way! I’m not interested in any partnerships that require me to speed up my production process at the cost of compromising my end product.”
My contact replied back that P & G had no issues exploring different types of partnerships beyond acquisition (like distribution, marketing), and I was so relieved!
So what happened next, you ask? Well… nothing. LOL!
Eventually my calls and emails stopped being returned. When I checked in to determine what was going on I was told that partnership was a ‘long process’ and they were having a discussion about my brand at a certain date, several weeks away. The date came and went, and I didn’t hear anything. I figured I was no longer on P & G’s radar, and I moved on.
What I learned from the experience
One thing I am learning is that there are few shortcuts in business (this is especially true when you are a woman, and especially, especially true when you are black.) Another huge, multi-national company could come a-knocking, but more than likely I will have to continue to grow my business guerrilla style, through smart branding on social media, regular and direct communication with my customers and, most importantly, a top quality product that solves, like, half of your skincare and hair care needs (it really does tho…)
Looking back I am mad proud of myself and, as always, motivated to keep going.
So there you have it!