A Top 25 Business & Marketing Podcast
Pivoting a Brand During the COVID-19 Pandemic w/ CEO Brenda Mierzejewski of Mizzi Cosmetics

April 14, 2020

Pivoting a Brand During the COVID-19 Pandemic w/ CEO Brenda Mierzejewski of Mizzi Cosmetics
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Great marketing typically involves great innovation and on this episode, Ryan talks with the CEO of Mizzi Cosmetics Brenda Mierzejewski about the story of her brand and most recently pivoting into hand sanitizer immediately as the pandemic hit. Brenda shares a ton of value behind how she built Mizzi from her kitchen into one of the most respected natural Lip Care businesses in the US.
Links from this Episode:
https://mizzicosmetics.com/
Please share, review, and subscribe!
Radical Podcast is always looking forward to meeting both aspiring, and grounded professionals across the country! Slide Ryan or Radical a DM on Instagram and let's make it happen!
@radical_results on Instagram
@ryanalford on Instagram
https://www.radical.company/
Sponsorships: off for this e


Great marketing typically involves great innovation and on this episode, Ryan talks with the CEO of Mizzi Cosmetics Brenda Mierzejewski about the story of her brand and most recently pivoting into hand sanitizer immediately as the pandemic hit. Brenda shares a ton of value behind how she built Mizzi from her kitchen into one of the most respected natural Lip Care businesses in the US.

Links from this Episode:

https://mizzicosmetics.com/

Please share, review, and subscribe!

Radical Podcast is always looking forward to meeting both aspiring, and grounded professionals across the country! Slide Ryan or Radical a DM on Instagram and let's make it happen!

@radical_results on Instagram

@ryanalford on Instagram

https://www.radical.company/

Sponsorships: off for this e

Transcript

Ryan Alford [00:00:40] Hey guys, it's Ryan Alford. Welcome to today's episode of the Radical Company podcast. Today we have with us Brenda Mierzejewski, the CEO of Mizzi Cosmetics. I'm really excited to have you on, Brenda. We've been indirectly following each other and helping each other, doing different things. And I've been an admirer from afar. Really excited to have you on and appreciate you finding the time. t I'd love to just start with you introducing yourself. Obviously, you run successful cosmetics natural beauty cosmetics. I stay away from the word organic. I've done enough on that to know that. Yes, natural versus organic…

Brenda Mierzejewski [00:02:11] So actually, it's so I will tell you, it's clean beauty. So it's very clean, clean mixes in with natural, safe, sustainable, clean products. So it's a combination of natural, organic, sustainable and safe. So that's what we are - clean beauty. 

Ryan Alford [00:02:31] In another category, let me make a note of this clean beauty. We've worked with a couple of companies in the natural space. Organic is interesting, you've got to be pretty tied up on all the ingredients we've got. Had to learn our take our battle knocks a few times with that on. Absolutely organic and not. But I'd love to start with your background. What led to Mizzi and then let's get into Mizzi; where you're at. Let's talk about it. 

Brenda Mierzejewski [00:03:17] So we've been in business for six years now. I started Mizzi soon after my little boy had open-heart surgery. So prior to that I worked in some big names in the pharma industry for over 16 years. I was the Materials Manager and I did a lot of the importing and exporting of some of the drugs that you see in the market now. And then I found myself at home with my kids, which was wonderful. And my little boy ended up having a heart condition that we found out about when he was four months old. So when that happened and we realized he had to have open-heart surgery, our world completely changed. And while we were in the hospital, it was so strange seeing your little one there with all these. Everything on his face, these tubes everywhere, open mouth breathing, and you see your kid in this ICU cardiac ICU, his mouth was getting very dry and they were putting what you would call petroleum jelly. And there are other brand names that on his lips. And I at that time was still a breastfeeding mother. And I asked the nurse because they're putting so much on his face, “is he going to ingest that?” “Is it OK?” “Is it OK that he's going to actually ingest this petroleum?” And they didn't really have an answer for me. They ended up wiping it off. And when we got home, everything changed from the way that I was feeding him, my daughter, what I was putting on their skin, because I don't know where this heart defect came from. And I was worried. Did it come from me? Did I do something? Was it anything I was using on my skin? Was it anything I was ingesting or really going back to what I needed to do to make it safe going forward? So I had a background in essential oils and from my mother. My mother is the reason why we named the company Mizzi. That's her maiden name. She has a big background with essential oils, taught me and my sisters. And I used that to try to do some safer things within my house, whether it was cleaning, whether it was my kids have a fever or an ailment, I use these essential oils. And because he kept on having chapped lips thereafter because of the drugs that he was on to keep up with this heart surgery, I wanted to put something on his lips to not keep him from getting chapped. Everything over the counter had petroleum in it. And after doing some research, I found out that petroleum is “not Ok”to ingest. It is something that can't metabolize in any human being's body. So after all the uses of the chopsticks and everything – that everybody's been using that is over the counter for years and years and years, a typical human being will ingest about ten pounds of petroleum in their lifetime. And after finding this out from several studies and finding that this can lead to different types of lung issues, lung cancer, breast cancer, esophageal cancer, my mind was blown and working in the pharmaceutical industry. I called some of the people that I used to work with to find out, is there something else that I can use besides petroleum? So they sent me all this stuff and my husband came home from work one day and was like, “what is happening in our kitchen?” 

Ryan Alford [00:07:21] Was it like a science fair?

Brenda Mierzejewski [00:07:23] Like I had many deliveries of all this stuff, I have all these different essential oils from all over the world. I had all these different bases that I can use, all these different emollients, and I just got to crack it. So I just started making all this stuff. And what I ended up with was what we now call LipLuxe. And I started to use it on my kids. It was working. It was working for all sorts of stuff besides the lips. And I found myself with literally hundreds of these little packs that I would buy from like Michael's. And I gave them out to everybody. And then what happened was crazy weeks after people were coming back. “Brenda, can I buy some of this?” “Can you make more?” “It's working.” “My husband needs it”. “My wife needs it.” “My kids need it.” “My grandparents need it.” “I want this in the salon.” “I want this here.” And I'm like, “I have no idea what's happening right now,” “But, OK, cool, I'm going to make some more stuff.” “This is fun; let me make it”. And at that time, my kids were about to start kindergarten and I was ready to go back to work. And my husband's said, “I think you got something here”. “Why don't you try to sell this and see what you can do?” So six years ago, I named it LipLuxe. It was called Mizzi Cosmetics. And I started to sell to local salons in my area. I created my own website and started selling. I got out there with all these coupons, all these moms everywhere, and it took off from there. We had a family friend that lived near where we lived and moved to Beverly Hills. And he's like, “let me take it out to some surf shops out here”. So he did. But his sister was a publicist and she's like, “hey, I want to get it”. “Would you want to do that? And I was like, “I can't do that”. “How am I going to do this for the Oscars?” But my family is like, “you got to do this. If you're going to make this into something.” So we did it. And needless to say, I got bigger dishes and I was not in this stuff down in my kitchen. And it really just really took off from there. And that's when I realized I have a business here and we made something out of it. And here we are six weeks later with a thirty-five hundred square foot facility where we do all of our production. We're in over four hundred and fifty retailers, most of them being medical and asthetician facilities. And it's just been booming ever since. That's how we met you guys. 

Ryan Alford [00:10:28] It's like the great American business story. I mean, this is the entrepreneur-like story right here, which starts in the kitchen with a science experiment and butter. But a reason, a heartfelt reason. And then you grow it into a successful business. And it's like one of one the American dream. 

Brenda Mierzejewski [00:10:56] Yes, like when I'm able to tell that story over again, I'm like, “oh, my God, we did that”. And the first year it's like, “oh, I've been doing it for a year”. I've been doing it for four years. And now it's like six years later here we are still pumping this out and we've learned a lot. It's been quite the journey with the people that we've met and what we've done with Mizzi. 

Ryan Alford [00:12:14] So talk about like from a marketing perspective, obviously, having worked with clients, this is a crowded space, cosmetics and beauty. It's a really competitive space in all of that. What are some of the things, some of the pillars that you look back on? Obviously doing the Oscars things was a good launching pad, but are there other things that you feel like maybe some of the influencers and things like that or other things that have been part of your secret to success or just the reality of success? 

Brenda Mierzejewski [00:12:51] Sure, Before I knew too much about digital marketing, I was doing my own thing, created my own Facebook page, created my own Instagram page, Twitter page, updated it, put sales on there like I didn't know what I was doing myself. Like, I don't have that marketing digital background. So learning about the Oscars and how these celebrities got their hands on it, I started to reach out to others. I guess you would call them influencers at the time. And I went on some different websites to get their contacts, people that I really liked, people that I follow, different celebrities that I followed. And I found their contacts and I wrote to them, I mean, my heart on my sleeve. I wasn't really asking for anything. I think that's the big thing. Everybody's always asking for something. But I wrote to them saying, this is my story. I'm a fan of yours and I want to share my product with you. I'm not asking you to post or do anything. I just want to share my product with you and share my story with you. And I ended up getting people to respond to that because I wasn't trying. I was just being myself. I don't know what I was doing, I was just writing a letter to this person pouring my heart out. This is who I am. This is what I made. You're somebody I love watching your movies or I love watching your makeup tutorials. And I'd love to share my products with you. And because I wasn't asking for anything but to share it and they got to know me, they saw my Facebook page, they read my story, these people ended up posting about me or wanting to write about me or these editors and beauty editors and one of them being Kylie Jenner. I reached out to her publicist, which I had no idea at the time was a cousin of theirs who I am great friends with today that I talk to every month. And we have a wonderful relationship. And I wrote her a letter saying I see this girl at the time, which was in 2015, who was getting flooded by the media because her lips look different. And here's this girl who is very popular. Her sisters are very popular. These celebrities have their own reality show. And here's this girl coming into her 18, 19 years old, and everybody was ridiculing her for her lips. And I felt that she's like my sister, like a little sister. I felt bad. And I said, I just want to share my product with her. And she loved my email. She told me that she gets emails every day from people asking. And she then asked me to send everything to all of the girls. So all of the genders and all the Kardashians. And seven weeks later, unbeknownst to me, I was going to pick up my kids at the bus stop. I was stuffed in my face with a chicken parm from a local pizzeria and my cell phone started going off that Kylie Jenner just posted a video about us. And sure enough, it was this big fat video, what's in her travel bag? And all of a sudden I'm in People magazine. I'm in Allure magazine. Cosmopolitan everywhere. Beauty editors are calling me, interviewing me. Local places are trying to get me on. And then all of a sudden I'm on TV. Every every six weeks I'm going on my local news. So I wasn't expecting any of that and we were able to keep up with the orders, but that really got us out there. And I was just trying to be true to who I was. I wasn't trying to do anything but be Brenda at that time. And it worked. And it still works for me to this day because I'm not trying to ask for these things. I'm just putting myself out there and I want to share my stuff. And if they want to share it, they will. And they are. And they and they keep doing it. So taking anything from that digital, I didn't have any digital people working for me at that point. I know that Mario, our digital manager, and we've grown very organically and I like to keep it that way. The followers that we have, our organic followers through influencers and consumers and Kylie and whomever, like they're following us because they heard about us, not because of anything else that we did. So it's been organically growing I should say. 

Ryan Alford [00:17:57] But I think we counsel clients all the time. And, I've used this phrase for a while B2H with this business acumen, people want real and that rings so true. People try to manufacture things and they think that they have to put on air or act a certain way or do certain things. But if you do it, if you're a good person and you're just trying to run a business, you've got a good product. You have a great product that you've put out there. And it takes care of itself once you get in people's hands. But at the same time, the realness of your story, what you've been through and being transparent about getting that out there, people sometimes get so locked into self-awareness and like not being real and like it all comes back to more, being scared of not being accepted, I think in some ways. But I think that is a home run story for exactly that realness that really resonates with people, right? 

Brenda Mierzejewski [00:19:04] Absolutely. And I see a lot of products out there that are great. But I always look at the about page or who started this. And some of them are really good and it's just. Ideas are great because people need products, but when I see somebody behind it and I see their story, it just resonates more with me as a consumer, whether I'm buying stuff for myself or my kids or my husband or my friends when I see that story. It just means something. 

Ryan Alford [00:19:43] You've been pivoting here a little bit, everything going on. So I do want to get into, like the world's changed. I don't know if it's ever going to be what it was in some ways. We both talked pre-episode about your and my kids and what have you been through? There's no reference point for what's going on. But I do think the brands back to both the story, the realness and the reality of this. Your ability to pivot or to have the idea to pivot is how we're counseling clients now. So different than the easiest example is a restaurant going and doing delivery, takeout and in some ways things they probably should have been doing already. But this is definitely a pivot for you guys. So let's talk about what you've been doing to help serve a need with what's going on. 

Brenda Mierzejewski [00:20:38] Well, I think what I've learned over the past six years is sometimes I've been afraid to do certain things because I'm like, “oh, no, we can't do that”. But why? And, we have a fantastic Marketing Manager that works with us and really helps us think outside of the box. And years before I started this, I was making hand sanitizer for my kit. Like, I make everything at home. So we have a whole another line that nobody else has seen because we're just not ready to release it to the world where we're hyper-focused on lip care. So when this whole Covid-19 situationmn started and we heard that it came to the US, it was on a Wednesday night, my daughter was done with her piano lessons and her name is Liliana. And I was like, let's go to the lab, let's go make some hand sanitizers, let's pass them out to daddy school, to your school, to the teachers. And let's have some for ourselves like a little one in your bookbag. So we got into the lab and we made some stuff. And even though it's clean beauty, when it comes down to bacteria and germs you need, you can only use four different things. And an essential oil is not going to kill that. So you need either isopropyl alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, bleach or some other type of toxin that nobody wants to use on themselves. But it's like the first surface spray. So we use a lot of isopropyl alcohol here to sanitize our facility. So I mix that with essential oils and aloe and whatnot to make it as close to our brand as we possibly can and to make it work through the CDC and what the CDC says to use, especially for this coronavirus, very hard to kill without using specific ingredients. So I took a picture of it. I took a picture of Atlanta with a tray with all this hand sanitizer. And after talking to my team, they're like Brenda, “it started to get very serious around”. I think it was the second week of March where schools were closing and everybody needed either masks or gloves or hand sanitizers and knowing that we have a facility here, we just opened up our new production facility in November. We have the capability and we have the vendors to provide to us. Very quickly before anything happened, I reached out to those vendors and I said, can you provide such and such per week? If we were to order this in bulk? And I think we did that at the right time before everybody started to buy hand sanitizer. And I just spoke with my team. I said we got to do this. I don't know what we got to do. We got to buy dispensers. We have to buy gallons of lavender. We need to get the aloe in here. And these are all things that we were already procuring, not in this type of bulk, but we were already procuring it. So we were already a customer for these people. And once they heard what we were doing for the state of Connecticut, providing donating to our town to first responders, nurses, doctors, providing to the hospitals and then going outside of Connecticut, these vendors wanted to help us and. Just literally like the half that you got on, just lost it and we just started doing it, and even though we have other orders coming in, we have another team that's able to handle the lip orders. And then right now w are working in a pod here in the office, 30 feet apart from each other, then the production team will come in and make the hand sanitizers. And it wasn't even a question. It was just imperative for us to do it. And we just jumped on it at the right time. We were able to get the stuff in because if you go and try to be a manufacturer of the stuff now, you couldn't get your hands on anything right now. And, even the type of products like the sprays, like you can't get that right now, it's almost impossible. So we just had to do what we had to do. And we're working, we are actually working day and night and on the weekends to get stuff out to the people that need it the most. And to the consumers, it's hard to have that conversation with some people that are calling that need it but aren't going anywhere. We're like, do you have access to running water and soap? Because if you do, I need to send this hand sanitizer to the nurse that needs it as opposed to you right now. But we'll get it to you. So we're trying to prioritize everything and we're catching up. And it's we're serving everybody right now, which is great. 

Ryan Alford [00:26:00] That's great. Is it throughout the state? 

Brenda Mierzejewski [00:26:03] It’s throughout Wharton. It's in the US now. So we're helping everybody. We got called in the Navy and other forces. So we're trying to see if we're going to be working with them to help provide them. Even the New York hospitals, Columbia and Presbyterian, they're calling us local hospitals. A lot of the smaller urgent care places, the labs and then now a lot of the people that are dealing with customers. So like you just said, like these restaurants that are doing delivery, these people need hand sanitizers because not that they're essential, but they're open and they are helping automotive places,that you wouldn't think of need it because they're dealing with consumers. 

Ryan Alford [00:27:02] I notice it looks like, at least from a consumer standpoint, you're sold out on the website. I was going through the site. I mean, is it like as soon as you turn it on, it fills it out?

Brenda Mierzejewski [00:27:14] It does. But what we're trying to do is really be able to manage the flow. So there are two different flows. There's the e-commerce flow and then there's the flow to the first responders. So there are two different teams right now. So right now I'm managing a lot of the distribution for e-commerce. And then we have another team doing the first responders. But we manage it because we are delivering to all of Connecticut. We have delivery service through Mizzi that's delivering through all of Connecticut, and then the rest has to go UPS. And that's been a little bit hard for some of our consumers or just new consumers because what people don't understand, I think people take things for granted before this is that when the demand is there and you have Amazon and all these other places, you can get things with free shipping. But now this is a flammable good. It's a dangerous good. I can't ship it normally. It's expensive to ship. So we're actually eating some of the cost and offering a flat rate because somebody from Arizona that's ordering three, it's going to be 17 dollars. So we're just charging a flat rate of eight bucks. So it's hard all the way around. But we say this to help save the world one hand at a time by doing this hand sanitiser, we're going to do it. However we can, to make it feasible for everybody to get their hands on it. But we release in batches. So we have it and we can handle the flow that's coming in. 

Ryan Alford [00:29:07] Well, if you need some help telling this story in the future, I see a really nice brand video of coming together with all the social disease, because this is a great story of Karma. I believe in Karma, and you take care of others and they take care of you and right as a living that day by day. But are there any tips or things that you would say what you've done with Mizzi and the growth as an entrepreneur there? Any learning lessons or tips for someone that's trying or thinking about this that might be hitting roadblocks? Or are there any just guiding principles for you as far as what's gotten you, where you are? 

Brenda Mierzejewski [00:30:21] I think your hat says it all. So your hat says don't quit. And that's a very big thing for me. I'm a very passionate person. And if you're very passionate about something that you really believe in it, it is going to work. You need to do your due diligence. So just because you have a great idea, but you want to do that little bit of research, find out who is going to buy it or get it out there to people, do those samples, get those things out there and see what the result would be. And if you get a good result back then, then go for it. I'm a big risk-taker. I think a lot of entrepreneurs are risk-takers. But you've got to do it with some mindfulness in the background. You need to know what you're doing. You need to be safe. I work in cosmetics. I'm a cosmetic chemist. I have to be very careful with what I'm putting out there and making sure that it's safe for everybody. But once I have that, I could put that out there. I'm going to go and do it. I don't wait anymore. And it's almost like you need to come out of your own skin and get out of your own way and just get out there and do it. Because if you have that great idea and you've been thinking about it for a while and that it's going to help impact people and impact yourself, I think you have to be able to be that risk-taker, but you have to have a really good team around you as well. And it's hard to find the right people. But once you do, you got to hang on to those people because those people are going to help you grow your business and you need to be able to feed off of other people and talk to other people about your ideas and what other people may think. Because I've had really great ideas over the last six years that I thought were great and talking to my staff or my consumers and doing surveys. And they're like, “oh, no, we would never buy that”. And I'm like, OK, I need to go back to the drawing board. But it's all trial and error. And I really think people need to go for it because you only got one life to live and. Time is, life is short, and if you don't try to do something that you're dreaming about or that you're passionate about, you're going to always wonder and you will regret that. So that's my advice. 

Ryan Alford [00:32:51] I love the risk-taker part. If you show me a successful launch, a successful self-made entrepreneur, and they aren't a risk-taker, I want to see their inheritance. Because I don't know many self-made entrepreneurs  – whether or not they're billionaires or millionaires or not is not really the point. It is more like you've made it on some level. You can pay your own bills and you can have staff and do it and run a business. There's an inherent risk. I'm a risk-taker and I'm going to have a family and I don't like, jump off buildings or anything like that or risk the farm on every decision. But, I just think that's an inherent characteristic of self-made entrepreneurs that and if you're not and that's sometimes self-awareness. If you're not that person, I'm not saying that you can't be it, but you're going to have to have someone with you involved. It's going to have to help push you towards you. Absolutely. Just the ones I know that are truly self-made. That's been a true guiding principle. But Brenda, I really appreciate it. I want to do this again. I think just given the time period I wanted to delve more into where you're pivoting and things like that, I'd love to get and dove more into some of your products and some of the farmers' side and a little bit more of the business. So let's do this again soon.

Brenda Mierzejewski [00:34:39] Thank you so much for having me on. Always a pleasure.