You’re Cheap, And You’re Not Pretty Enough

Sounds hurtful, doesn’t it?

If someone said this to you, it would probably make you angry.  You might think about slapping that person in the face.  I found these words hurtful and confusing.  Though they weren’t said about me personally.  They were said about my brand.

Sometimes I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.  Since I started this company 23 years ago, it has always been my mission to create products that would help people.  My products also had to incorporate wholesome ingredients, and they needed to be affordable.  The very first product I ever created, our Herbal Aftershave, was designed to ease the irritation and discomfort associated with shaving.  From there I went on to make a 100% natural deodorant made from only four ingredients and a highly moisturizing lip balm.  These very first products are still made the same way today.

I’ll never forget many years ago when I was still making products in my kitchen and selling them out of my house, an old farmer came to buy some of our Hard Working Hands.  It was a moisturizing balm that was good for very dry skin.  He was a soft-spoken gentleman, wearing overalls and a well-worn flannel shirt.  As he pulled the crumpled five dollar bill from his pocket to pay me, he explained that he had been to the doctor for his condition, and nothing he had been prescribed seemed to help his cracked skin and dry hands.  But my balm worked.  It healed his skin and took away the discomfort, and it didn’t cost him a fortune.  He smiled and thanked me.  My heart melted.  I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life.

A few years later when we introduced our very first color cosmetic product – our lipstick – I met with a group of buyers at a well-known natural grocery chain to introduce them to Honeybee.  There must have been 20 people in that room as I nervously explained all the healthy ingredients in the product, and how we created colors so that there’s something for every age group and ethnicity.  I passed around samples, watching their reactions as they swatched the different colors and applied the product.  They loved it!  I felt euphoric!  Amongst all the excitement, someone shouted out, “how much does it sell for?”  Feeling my price was a bit too high, but knowing it had to be there because of all the advertising I was expected to do along with the store free fills, I sheepishly replied, “It’s $7.99.”  The fervor quickly died down, and the mood of the room changed.  “$7.99?  That will never work.”  Ugh, I was devastated.  I thought my price was too high.  But then I heard, “It’s too cheap.  No one will buy it.  You need to charge more.”  Charge more?  Huh?  “Yeah, you should be charging at least ten bucks for this stuff,” another buyer chimed in.  “People will see it’s only $7.99 and think it’s junk.”  “But look at the ingredients!” I defended.  “You can see my ingredients are better than the competition.”  “Doesn’t matter,” said the first buyer.  “People expect to see a certain price point in our store.  If you’re below that, the perception is your stuff isn’t as good.”

Several years have passed since that learning experience, yet I still face the same challenges today.  I hear that our products are TOO affordable.  Or that our packaging needs to look like it costs more; maybe add a nice box with some foil embossing.  Imagine being turned down because of these reasons.  Not because the products don’t work, not because they’re not healthy formulas, but because they don’t fit in with other similar brands who charge more for their products and package them differently.

I’ve been doing this long enough that I know ingredients, and I know how much they cost.  A friend recently purchased a natural product, and paid $36 for the tiny 0.2 oz jar.  The ingredients were coconut oil, castor oil, beeswax and jojoba.  I can tell you the contents of this jar literally cost pennies.  BUT the jar itself was a lovely frosted thick glass jar.   And it came in a box.  My guess is that the company had about a dollar in packaging.  So why charge $36 for this item?  I can’t answer that.  Maybe they were told that they needed to charge more to be taken seriously, and they listened.

The company who chose not to work with us because we are too affordable, carries this $36 item, along with about ten other brands just like it.  It’s what they’re known for – selling only high-end beauty products.  Of course, that’s not what they tell you in their store and on their web site.  No, they say they sell healthy, clean beauty products.  Only natural products that pass their tough definition of clean.  They mention nothing about price and affordability.  Though I have yet to see anything they carry that sells for less than $20.00.

I’m not crying sour grapes here.  Really.  I just wonder what the motivation is.  Is it money?  Is it bragging rights?  I see it on Instagram.  These people who post about having spent $150 on a particular face serum or $80 on a popular eye shadow palette.  It’s like they’re saying, “look at me, I could afford to spend the money for this item”.  But then they say nothing about the efficacy of the product.  Sure, you bought the item but does it really perform any better than something that costs less?  Maybe it makes them feel special.  And who am I to judge that?  To me, it just doesn’t make sense.

So here I am, left somewhere in the middle.  Our products are not cheap, mass-produced items spat out by a mega-corporation, nor are we the she-she froo-froo luxury products that will give you bragging rights.  We are in this no man’s land of products with really good ingredients and formulas that really work, that look pretty and are also affordable.  Maybe this will be a niche someday.  I certainly hope so.  For now, I guess I’ll just enjoy the solitude.


Many years ago, I took a college course about entrepreneurialism. We studied several companies such as LL Bean, Harley Davidson, Nike and examined what made them successful. One aspect that resonated with me was good customer service. If you keep your customers happy, chances are you’ll have that customer for a long time.

Eighteen years later, here I am, president of my own company. That fact alone still kind of blows me away, but I’ll save that self-examination for another time. I personally deal with customer service on a daily basis. Our office manager Lisa handles most of the calls that come in, but I handle the emails. “Why?” you might ask, “doesn’t the president have more important things to do?” Absolutely not. Sure I’ve got to pay bills and generate sales and create new products, and all those things are very important. But how will I know how people feel about my brand if I don’t talk to them? How will I know what they like and don’t like if I don’t listen to what they have to say? Is it fun to handle customer service? Um, no, not always. And sometimes it’s awesome.

Case in point: Last week, an apparently older gentleman emailed me about some lipstick his wife had purchased from our web site. She had ordered samples, chosen three shades she liked, and then ordered the full sized tubes. But she claimed that the full sized product did not match the samples she had gotten earlier that month. Referring to the three tubes of lipstick, he wrote: “My wife received all 3 and they were not anywhere close to the shades she picked out. The colors were much lighter and are unusable as far as my wife is concerned. She is accustomed to paying far less than the $ 45.00 it cost for your 3 shades of lipsticks but my daughter assured her it would be worth it. My wife is 84 and she takes pride in making herself looking as good as she can. Is there anything you can do to correct this as we live on a fixed income and this is a major purchase as far as we are concerned. Thank you for considering this…” After cracking up at the phrase “she takes pride in making herself look as good as she can”, I proceeded to explain to the gentleman that the shades had to be identical. We use the actual lipstick tubes from the same batch, and cut them into ¼” slices to use as samples. I thought maybe his wife had just looked at the samples and not actually tried them on. Well, my response set him off. He responded, “Of course she tried them that’s why she ordered them but the product although you say it is the same it is not. I can see you have no intention of helping us with this, We will write an appropriate response to others so they wont make the same mistake of ordering from a company that is only interested in selling their products and not satisfying their customers…”

This is where I get frustrated. I want to say there is no way possible the two can be different because they are coming from the SAME place. But I just say that in my head. Maybe other companies walk away at this point. Maybe they don’t want to deal with someone who seems unreasonable. It’s just one customer, right? Wrong. How they feel about my company is a reflection on ME. I wouldn’t want someone feeling negative about me (unless it was warranted). So I patiently wrote back, “I am not writing you off. I am merely trying to understand the scope of the problem. I thought perhaps your wife was going by sight only and not actually trying the product. I am really trying to understand how they could be so different when both products are coming from the same batch. Tell me what kind of color your wife is looking for. Pink? Mauve? You’re saying all the shades you purchased were too light. So she is looking for something with more color?” I really wanted to help this man. I wanted his wife to be happy with the purchase. In the end, they chose another color. AND he apologized to me, “Please accept my apology for overreacting to the way you handled the solution to our problem with the order we made with your company. I do appreciate your patience and generosity in handling this matter. I will recommend your company for it’s fairness and cooperative spirit you have shown. I am sending a copy to my daughter also, who recommended your company and has always been happy with your service.” That made my day.

Are we programed to overreact or strong arm just to get what we want? “I’m going to threaten to leave AT&T if they don’t lower my rate.” “If I threaten to cancel this credit card, I’ll bet they will give me a better interest rate.” Sadly, it seems like this may be our new reality. It shouldn’t be like that! Why can’t we treat each other respectfully and both work together to solve any issues that come up? Why don’t customers approach a problem in a calm manner before freaking out? Why don’t more companies treat their customers like they matter? Maybe that’s why LL Bean has been around for over 100 years. Because you know if the jeans you bought don’t fit, you can return them for another size without incident. Do some people take advantage of ‘nice’ companies? Sadly, they do. But maybe if more companies and customers started treating each other the way they would treat a good friend, more companies would survive, more customers would be happy and the world would be a little bit more pleasant.