EPISODE 083 : 10/13/2022
Alejandra Crites is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Casa de la Luna, a retail marketplace that focuses on feminine hygiene, intimacy, and care down there. She’s on a mission to combine her customer-focused mindset with business development in the retail industry, with a particular focus on beauty, fragrance and feminine wellness.
Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Guest: Alejandra Crites
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Topics discussed in this episode
- Detailed small business insights from Olympia, Washington
- Small business resiliency and adaptation during COVID
- Doubling community outreach during the pandemic
- Opportunities for small business loyalty programs
Watch Spark Loyalty’s Small Business Success Channel
Ned Hayes [00:00:01] Welcome to Spark Plug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology brought to you by Snowshoe, your smarter loyalty leader.
Alejandra Crites [00:00:13] Sparkplug is excited to welcome Alejandra Crites to the podcast today. Alejandra is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Casa de la Luna, a retail marketplace that focuses on feminine hygiene, intimacy and care down there. Alejandra started as a language lover with a BA in linguistics and spent part of her career as a translator and interpreter. Today, she’s on a mission to combine her customer focused mindset with business development in the retail industry with a particular focus on beauty, fragrance and feminine wellness. Welcome, Alejandra. Thank you so much, Ashley. Pleasure to be here. Yeah, we are so excited to have you here, Alejandra. And it sounds like you’ve had quite the career spanning over different industries, from education to translation and interpretation, and then over to beauty. Can you walk us through some of your career highlights? Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. It has definitely been a bit of a world when I started, and I think it kind of continues into my current profession with languages. So I grew up speaking Spanish and I definitely am a language lover. I decided to study French in German as well. Whenever I got into college and it was a thread that carried over into what I’m doing at the moment as well. I always knew that people and communications was something that was interesting to me and whenever I got out of school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with linguistics. Teaching was very, very difficult and all of my respects to teachers out there because it’s a patients that I just did not possess. And so then later I found myself I was coming back to retail and always being on the floor in different places. Sometimes it was very retail, sometimes it was prom and bridal retail and even a jewelry retail for a short time. And so yeah, it was kind of felt like a home to me and something that I grew up in. And as I moved to New York, I did a couple of different changes. I met Savannah in the nonprofit sort of sphere, and I even did a linguistic exam for the FBI, which was, of course, kind of on par for the the linguistics aspects of my career. But then as time went on, I realized that retail was really what was comfortable. To me, that was what I knew the most and what I wanted to stay within. So whenever Savannah and I started on our journey, it just felt like home made sense to me. So that’s sort of how I wound up here. Yeah, that’s amazing. So many accomplishments, too. I personally would love to chat about your career in the beauty industry. I have. I’ve been a makeup artist for about ten years now, and so I am very well versed in the beauty industry as well. So what draws you to this industry? I think that overall what really drew me to beauty was probably growing up within a Latino home. I always saw my mother applying makeup and it was very personal in my home, kind of the way that you presented yourself, the way that you present yourself to the world, really. And so that was something that I always wanted to continue, I think, in my own way. And then whenever I started working within beauty retail, I realized that my knowledge could help a lot of other people as well. And the more that I got into it and more understood the business side of it, the corporate side of things, API’s, how they worked, omnichannel, all of those things, and the way that they kind of were like puzzles in a way. Kind of the same interest that I had within linguistics. And how does this piece fit with this piece over here and how do they work together? And so, yeah, I think that overall it was really just my own personal passion for beauty that that drew me there. And then kind of I think the adjacent side to that is, of course, the feminine wellness industry, intimacy, all of these industries that are starting to expand. So it just made sense to me. Yeah, definitely. That’s fantastic. Well, I wonder, Alejandra, if you could give us a snapshot, look at the beauty industry, the landscape of the beauty industry today in terms of really how the last few years have affected this industry in retail. I remember at the very beginning of COVID learning that lipstick sales absolutely plummeted because everybody was in masks. Where is the beauty retail industry today and maybe even you just mentioned the feminine hygiene industry. So any kind of. Snapshot look that you could give us at these retail industries today? Yeah, absolutely. I think that the first thing, especially after COVID kind of put a halt onto everything, the first thing that I think brands and retailers really stopped to take a look at was the way that their customers are really at the center of retail. And as much as we like to think that that’s common knowledge, I think that it started to become lost on us in a way, in a sense. And so that interaction between the associate and the customer really became kind of the focal point whenever it came time to talk about safety. But also, of course, like your sales, you know, like you’re saying, beauty and lipsticks are such like one of the forefront, the things that we talk about or even mascara sales, for example. And so whenever the associates are no longer able to touch their customers and apply these things and to show them how to use this product versus our products, I think we learned that we really had to pivot and had to make a change. So similarly with that, I think the digital sales and digital technology really became more of a focal point. And so at the moment we’re seeing that there is also a big rise within that as well with the buy online pick up and store kind of approach. These omni channels like overall, just how can we hit the customer in these different places and in these different ways? And then of course with with beauty in particular, it’s also the kind of regular to not apply makeup and to not show these products as much anymore the way that we used to do. I know currently there’s a lot of retailers that have completely taken out the testers, for example, for a lot of these things and replaced them with almost like fake product or for mascara. And particularly rather than having the master and the mascara tube out on display. Now it’s just the visual merchandizing team just puts out the wand itself. So it’s a little bit different and I think the customers are still getting used to that because I know firsthand that I’ve had people that will ask, okay, how do I try this on if I if I can’t see it in the store. And really, it’s it’s just something that we’re we’re getting we’re all getting through. Absolutely. And we’ll see how it keeps changing. Also, we love to talk about Casa de la Luna. And so we actually interviewed your co-founder, Savannah D’Orazio a few weeks ago and so happy to be interviewing you as well. Can you tell us how you came up with this idea for your business? Yeah, absolutely. Well, in all credit, it was really Savannah who came up with the idea. She kind of brought me along whenever I explained to her my retail experience as well and kind of the way that I think my mind is always customer focused. And so the more that we talked about what the space would look like, what it would feel like, how it would function, it sort of took on, of course, a life of its own. And so my role is really, I guess, to to bring it to life and to make sure that every woman, vagina owner in general can come into the store and feel welcomed and feel celebrated. So that was kind of where I came in. I love that. And really just making everybody feel not ashamed or anything, but really celebrating. I love that. Can you tell us more about the business model and how you worked to create a safe space for, say, for women of color, specifically within the women’s health industry? So, yes, being as that, my co-founder and I are both Latino women. We were well aware of sort of these cultural taboos and the rituals, traditions that our mothers and the women in our families had grown up around and the things that we had dealt with. So we paid close attention, I think, to some of these particular customer pain points as we were talking to our friends, families or potential customers and really wanted to make sure that the inventory reflected some of these specific issues. So for example, we know that infertility is something that’s not really discussed so much within the communities of women of color, although it’s very prevalent. Another thing, for example, would be bacterial infections, you know, so it was kind of a question of how do we make sure that our inventory is able to address these specific concerns while, of course, addressing the general lifecycle that our customers are going through. But also love to ask you about your physical retail store and the kind of experience that you work to create for your customers. What are you hoping your customers experience when they walk in your store? I think that for us the most important thing is to demystify the entire vulva area, to educate people and to really feel celebrated in no matter what point of their feminine wellness journey that they are in. We really want to meet our customers where they’re at. So whether you’re coming in for a menstrual. Product or whether you’re coming in curious about the pregnancy products that we would carry or simply, you know, you’re going through menopause and want to see what else is out there. It’s really about education, I think, for us, and really trying to make sure that everybody feels appreciated and supported and that we can educate their customers as well, because there’s just so many different products out there that are coming out at the moment that has come out into the market. And so really just making the customer aware of all of these options now is really important as well. Yeah, definitely. And I’m sure it can be overwhelming if you walk into a store and there’s so many products. So really having that education there I’m sure is so, so helpful for someone who’s just starting or someone who doesn’t really know what to do or really what to expect when they walk into the store. When we were speaking with Savannah, so you told us about your guys’s plan to include digital touch points in the store. Why is it important to bring technology as a part of the customer experience? Well, the first thing that I would say that technology really allows us to do is to reach the customers who maybe aren’t quite ready to speak to an associate one on one or to have that kind of personal discussion. So a lot of like these chat boxes or the skin reading technologies or whatever it may be, they really kind of take out the in-person aspect of what we know to be customer service. So in the case of maybe someone who was raised in a family that doesn’t feel comfortable talking about bacterial vaginosis infections, yet they can still be tested and they can still receive the assistance that they need through our customer support, but without having to have the sort of one on one in-person discussion about it. Another thing that I think that we’re seeing, especially with the younger consumers, is that they are wanting, I think, a bit more of a diverse experience whenever they go into these stores because original, as we knew it, of course, in the past, is not what it’s looking like anymore and it’s not really just the customer entering into the stores and getting those things and leaving. It’s a lot more about the experience and experiential kind of what what am I going to find? When am I going to the store? And so I think that the game ification and that’s one of the things in particular that Savannah and I are focused on, is how do we entertain these younger customer persona as well, and not just people who are coming in and coming out type of a thing. And then what we found, of course, is really just the evolution of retail. I think that in today’s day and age, if you are going to survive in retail, then you have to be aware that things are changing. And what might have worked in the past isn’t necessarily what’s going to work in the future. So how do we stay ahead of these trends? How do we stay ahead of social media like, you know, all of these things? So I feel like that’s a perfect explanation, honestly, and you kind of kind of touched on this. But so you sell products in the store, obviously, and then also online. So how do you tie these experiences together for your customers? Yeah, so I think that that’s whenever e-commerce and brick and mortar really is meant to work infusion together. So the customer might not necessarily want or have time to come into the store themselves and to speak with an associate, but maybe they already know what they’re looking for. I think that that’s the beauty of like Amazon, for example, we’re not really going on Amazon just to explore and to find out the different things that we can find for, rather, you know, what you’re looking for. And so you immediately place your order and it arrives at your house, you know, for for example, especially within our industry, if you are experiencing severe cramps due to your menstrual cycle, the last thing that you probably want to do is to get up off of the couch and go to the store and do all of these physical movements. So to has the ability to place an order that’s delivered to your house is game changing. And so we’ve seen kind of these different experiences where the physical aspect maybe isn’t so necessary. So that’s one of our e-commerce and delivery and the operations behind all of that can really be amplified, I think, to still produce that perfect customer experience. And what about customer loyalty? And this is kind of related to customer experience in general, but do you have a customer loyalty program at Casa de la Luna or how does loyalty play into your business? I think that one of the things that is really inspiring to me is the moment is to watch some of these brands, especially the direct to consumer brands, as they are sort of tackling loyalty in their own sense. I know, for example, the Honeypot is doing a fantastic job of making sure that their customers are very educated on the ingredients within the products that they’re using. Or for example, even some of the intimacy products that I can think of at the moment. And these brands are really making sure that they have something for everyone. So for me, the loyalty is really. Typically about making sure that everyone is served and that everyone feels comfortable and everyone is being educated. So our inventory is a reflection of that. It’s a reflection of whether it is menarche and menstruation or whether it’s family planning pregnancy, whether it’s postpartum pregnancy, or if it’s menopause that there’s really something for everyone. And I think that that’s how we are captivating an audience to make sure that there’s there’s just so much out there and that everyone can come into that and be and be served. I love that. So how do you I guess you kind of answered it already, but how do you build and engage loyalty within your customer base? And it sounds like really having the inventory to serve everybody that comes into your store and making sure that they feel supported and celebrated and welcomed and everything like that. Are there any other tactics per se that you use? I would say that the the other thing that’s kind of parallel to that is really understanding your customer because, of course, women are so diverse. All of our lifecycles are different. We have such a variety of things that it really takes a lot of discussion, a lot of data collection, a lot of focus groups, a lot of just a lot of conversations to really understand what everyone is going through and whether that is something that maybe we’ve all shared, such as menstruation or just comfort during these times, monthly times, or whether it’s something like a gender affirming surgery that not everybody is going through, but that still needs to be addressed and it still needs some sort of a retail home. Yeah, just making sure that we’re really understanding our customers and like how we can best support them is really, really the key. So it takes time. And I by no means do I think that it’s going to be perfect every time that we swing the bat. But it’s just something that we’re going to have to perfect and something that we’re really, really focused on. Well, as we start to wrap up here, Alejandra. Here’s a question that we’ve asked many podcast guests before, which is if you can look into your crystal ball at kind of five or ten years into the future, what do you see for the future of retail in the US and maybe even specifically that retail experience for consumers? What should we all expect? I believe that it definitely is going to be more personalized and personalized in different ways as well. And what I really hope is that all brands and retailers have a better understanding of their clientele and their customers. For example, if you’re going into Dick’s Sporting Goods and you are looking for a particular thing, that you are able to be met with a lot of different options and education, I think as well. Just as if you were walking into, for example, Macy’s and you were looking to improve your skincare routine, that you’re really met with the different levels and help, I guess, in different ways. But overall, I would just say, yes, that personalization is really going to be the key to making sure that every customer is satisfied in whatever way that looks like for them. Yeah. And it sounds like just a little on the is already doing that by really personalizing and having the digital touchpoints in-store or if they feel comfortable asking an associate for help. And so this last question is my personal favorite question. So what do you want your legacy to be and what do you want to be remembered for? I hope that I’m on my way, but I would really like to help as many women as I possibly can, truly, because I know that my experience as the woman has been entirely different than some of my transgender friends and even my mother. And so I recognize that being a woman, whatever that looks like or whatever that means to our customers, that it’s very varied and I hope that we can serve as many people as possible. I know that Savannah’s slogan is to reach as many people as McDonald’s. And I think that that’s that sounds very true for the both of us. I love that I saw that slogan on her LinkedIn account, and I remember we asked her about that because that really caught our eye. So I hope you do reach as many people as McDonald’s. I think that would be fabulous. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate it. Well, thank you so much, Alejandra, for joining us now. It was my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. For what you guys are doing here is great and it was a pleasure to be on.
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