Nicola Kilner: It’s been really interesting because the last few months have had so many impacts on a business and personal level. From a business perspective, I feel fortunate because my heart goes out to all the many businesses that have suffered and continue to suffer but thankfully, at Deciem, we’ve seen an uplift of sales.
I think that’s partly because of an increased focus on skincare. People are going out less, so there’s less need for makeup and more time for self-care. I think people want to strip things back and place a value on simplicity and authenticity, which are values that stand very strong for us. We’ve always done well online. Even with the closure of bricks-and-mortar, the uplift we’ve seen through online has more than covered the downturn. From that perspective, it’s been really good.
We’d like to think we’re a business that focuses on humans. There were really hard decisions we had to make in terms of protecting everyone’s livelihoods. We’re also aware that in our production facility, social distancing is hard to implement – you don’t have the space to keep everyone two metres apart. We always try to give everyone choices. In our production supply chain, everyone who didn’t have the ability to work from home could choose between coming in and receiving a 50 per cent premium on their wages, or they could stay at home, do no work and receive 80 per cent of their normal pay. We’ve tried to promote choice because everyone has such different situations.
From a personal perspective, I’ve found that I’ve had the best work/life balance in a decade. When you take the time out of commuting, you just log in in the morning and have breaks in between meetings. I feel like I’ve had the healthiest balance I’ve had in a long time.
IR: Tell me about how you launched Deciem At Home and what was involved.
NK: When the pandemic started, I was really conscious of the fact that we had over 300 retail store staff. It is a third of our workforce and with our supply chain people, it wasn’t so simple to just start working from home. We wanted to give them the choice of doing no work at home where they could receive 80 per cent of their salary, but then we wanted to do something where they could use their knowledge.
Some team members have been trained for years and have an incredible level of knowledge and we know consumers want to access that, but those in-person interactions can’t happen. So, we launched some software called At Home, which allowed us to give our retail consultants the option of being home consultants, so when customers go to the site, they can start a chat, whether on text or on phone or via video, and get that personal consultation from our team members in their home.
Initially, it was almost a failure because we miscalculated demand. In the first week, 4 per cent of our conversations happened live because we didn’t have enough people online, but now, we’re closer to having 50 per cent of chats live, so we’ve managed to work on it a little better. The reaction has been amazing and our team members are loving it. They’re passionate about Deciem and they wanted a way to keep working, talking about it and feeling confident that their livelihoods were protected.
So many of our team members don’t normally live in their home cities and they have family in cities and countries far away, but through At Home, they can now visit their parents in Brazil because they don’t have to take [that time off] as vacation – they can just log on and work from there.
There will be a lot of personal benefits that we haven’t yet explored. One of our store members in Vancouver, who has a disability and has been with us for a few years, was finding it hard to be on her feet all day, but now she has a WFH option which normally wouldn’t be accommodated in retail. There have been a lot of positives that have come from it.
IR: How did the Black Lives Matter protests this year affect Deciem?
NK: On a personal level, it’s changed my mindset. Part of the problem is thinking that it’s enough to not be racist, but it isn’t. There’s a community that is really suffering and as someone of white privilege, it’s almost our responsibility to help to make sure we’re pulling that community up and making sure they’re getting the same opportunities.
There are a lot of organisations doing the #pullupforchange campaign [where beauty brands are disclosing the number of Black employees in the business]. For any company based in the US with more than 100 people, you have to collect those diversity profiles. We don’t have 100 people yet working in the US as Canada’s our main office, so we haven’t had a requirement to collect the data.
You just have to look at our socials and our people page on our site to see how diverse our team is, but now we’ve realised we have a responsibility to collect that data and change our mindset. Now, we’re making sure we collect the data so we can always see where people are being underrepresented and we’re actively trying to pull up those communities. That’s one of the biggest changes that has to happen.
We have 1000 employees and it’s not easy to collect everyone’s profiles, especially people who don’t want to share that information, so we’re working through how we can get the best view of our data now and moving forward. It’s something our team has been really passionate about.
IR: I think it’s incredible that you gave your teams the space to educate themselves about what was happening at the time.
NK: [After the protests], we gave everyone a day off so they could educate themselves on what’s happening, so they could understand the systemic racism that still exists today. We’ve also given people paid time off if they want to join protests. We’ve been sharing lots of literature on our internal platform to make sure people have access to resources.
We’ve also created an inclusion board. Last week I held listening forums. We did four to accommodate the different time zones, where anyone could drop in and share an experience they’ve had at Deciem or outside of it, whether it’s negative or positive, and share ideas on what we could do to change. Through our inclusion board, which will have representation at every level of the business in every corner of the world, we’re going to make sure diversity values are embedded in the organisation.
On social media, we’ve been very quiet over the last few months. During the peak of the pandemic, people were losing their fathers, mothers, children, sisters, their livelihoods, so to just push something product-related felt very insensitive. I’m sure there were customers who were suffering and didn’t want to see us posting something that felt insensitive. Then when it came to Black Lives Matter, so many people were just posting a black social media tile, but that doesn’t mean you’re actually doing anything.
That’s the good impact of #pullup, it’s making people take ownership. You can’t just have a token Instagram post and think that’s your contribution to it. During the week of the protests, we opened our Insta to anyone who wanted to share their views on diversity, and we had customers and our own teams sending through posts and videos. We were able to use our platform with over one million followers to give that education and let it go further.
IR: Deciem owns 10 other beauty brands, but it’s best known for The Ordinary, which has a passionate customer base.
NK: The Ordinary was never designed to be a commercially focused brand, it was designed to make a marketing point. For me, it’s our crown jewel of skincare, it’s next level, it’s what’s pushing boundaries. We get frustrated when we see our products next to another product that’s from an expensive brand shouting about vitamin C. A $100 price tag for a vitamin C serum shouldn’t exist.
So, we launched The Ordinary to make a point that these ingredients have been around for many years and they are very effective, but they’re very inexpensive to buy, and that should be reflected in the price. It’s one of the hardest things people have to get over [when they buy from us]. For so long, people have thought price point defines effectiveness and quality, and actually, it doesn’t and it never should.
If you had a headache and went to a pharmacy, you would buy aspirin and pay maybe $5 for a pack. It’s safe and trusted, but in pharmacy, there are never these grey areas where you are presented with a range of things from $3 to $300 and struggle to tell the difference in between. We’ve always been transparent: ‘This is the vitamin, this is the ingredient, this is the number of milligrams.’
IR: How would you describe The Ordinary customer base?
NK: People often ask about our target audience, but we never want to define it. For us, The Ordinary is about a mindset. It’s for someone who wants accessible, good working skincare, they want to trust the science, they want something which is based on ingredients and facts. It’s not based on fiction and magic potions and gold bottles.
But having said that, when we see our Google data analytics, while The Ordinary does touch every age group, we do significantly well within the 24-35 age group. We never want to alienate anyone. Most brands will target the female consumer, but we don’t want to do that, we want to be accessible to all genders. It’s something we try to focus on – doing the right thing for our brand and knowing it will resonate with our audience, whoever and wherever they are. It’s an inclusive approach that we have always tried to put first.