Shibui: Natural and Hand-Crafted Skin Care Products for Everyone
By Chris Reith, Prarthna Mittal, Lalita Saekang, all MBA ’23
Shibui Bath, a home-based and hand-crafted premium artisanal skincare brand, asked Big Red Microenterprise (BRM) for guidance to support its business goals. BRM is a student project class at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management that is supported by the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise. The class matches teams of students with underserved small business owners and entrepreneurs in the Ithaca community to address the challenges they face as they promote local economic development.
Our client, Erin Snow, founded Shibui in 2020 at the onset of the pandemic. Shibui is a Japanese word that translates to “beauty revealed through ritual and time.” It is not surprising, then, that Shibui was born out of Erin’s love and appreciation for a balanced, ritual-based skincare routine that is natural and simple. This appreciation is rooted in her immense knowledge of the industry, having spent almost two decades working at various big-name natural and organic skincare brands across the country.
Looking for growth consistent with values
When we worked with Shibui, it was in a soft-launch phase with most new sales around the holiday season or as a replenishment for existing clients. We saw that the products themselves are unparalleled, and customers who tried Shibui noticed the difference it made. The goal now was to increase customer engagement for Shibui: How can we scale Shibui from a hobby into a business?
Shibui’s products require a fostered sales atmosphere to engage and educate customers about the benefits and applications of natural ingredients. This includes expanding the distribution channels and promoting the brand more effectively. Shibui’s challenge is to grow by combining the marketing aspects of a local startup with small-scale inventory manufacturing and operations while still presenting the brand as premium or artisan.
From the moment we met Erin, we could tell her business is rooted in values: Shibui seeks growth consistent with its principles and the vision it seeks to achieve. Storytelling was a big part of Shibui’s brand, and we had a wonderful time hearing about it. Erin’s passion really shined through, and we were completely taken in by her vision for Shibui. We were excited and grateful to be involved in its growth.
Understanding goals is key to developing a growth strategy
First, we worked on understanding the company and its objectives, focusing on the pricing and cost structure, operations model, marketing, and sales approach.
Second, we undertook detailed market research to understand the best balance for growing a unique beauty brand like Shibui. This meant diving deeper into the premium and artisanal skincare and beauty businesses—delineating the factors that drive premium brands and identifying best practices for driving growth.
Third, we set out to identify other beauty and skincare brands that are built on the same values as Shibui. We looked into the products they offered, how they were priced, how they integrated storytelling into their model, and where they were selling them. This helped us visualize the potential Shibui could achieve in ways that did not compromise its real vision.
Recommendations and reflections
We consolidated our research from the steps above to develop a growth strategy for Shibui that is consistent with the values Erin believes in.
Our recommendations included:
- Run price tests in diverse markets and locations to gather data on how consumers respond to price variations.
- Leverage social media channels to reach more customers and share the company’s story. Instagram could be a good starting point for building audiences and encouraging engagement with QR codes at in-person markets. It could also be integrated with other platforms or used to collaborate with like-minded brands.
- Seek out and establish partnerships with salons and hairdressers with similar values. This could be a great source of stable revenue, as well as marketing to a customer base that believes in and appreciates Shibui’s values.
- Explore local retail partners, such as GreenStar, that engage with the same target customer base but sell a wider variety of products.
We hope that the time we spent assisting Erin in defining and pursuing a growth plan for Shibui will lead to increased awareness and revenue in the long run. Overall, it was an incredibly satisfying experience to be involved with the brand. We learned from and supported a fantastic local business owner who is passionate, driven, motivated, and a true leader. We have no doubt Shibui is going to succeed.
About the Authors:
Prarthna Mittal is a class of 2023 student in the Two-Year MBA program at Johnson, where she is focused on consulting. Prior to her MBA she worked for PWC in India. Mittal has a bachelor of management studies degree from Shaheed Sukhdev College of Business Studies in India, where she was also involved in Enactus, which uses the positive power of business to empower the underprivileged.
Chris Reith is a class of 2023 student in the Two-Year MBA program at Johnson. He has six years of experience in marketing and communications with amateur sports organizations. Before Johnson, Reith worked at Swimming Canada and Wrestling Canada, and after his MBA he will pursue a career in brand management. Reith holds a bachelor of management and a bachelor of science from Dalhousie University in Canada.
Lalita Saekang is a class of 2023 student in the Two-Year MBA program at Johnson, where she is a Big Red Microenterprise coach. She worked as a senior economist at the Bank of Thailand for four years before coming to Johnson. She was responsible for analyzing economic data, including formulating international financial policies and strategies, and working on financial connectivity projects by collaborating with central banks and commercial banks in Southeast Asia. She plans to focus on banking and fintech post-MBA.