Long before she became founder and CEO of Kinfield, a Public Benefit corporation focused on skincare for the outdoors, Nichole Powell nurtured a passion for exploring the natural world through backpacking, mountain bike racing, and travel. With a direct-to-consumer launch in summer 2019, Kinfield – which now sells its bug repellant, sunscreens, and balms through more than 350 retail partners, too – targets both avid hikers and backyard rosé drinkers. Its vegan products arrive in BPA-free packaging, and by returning the brand’s empty products through Kinfield’s recycling program, customers can receive 40% off their next purchase. As her busiest time of year begins to wind down, Powell shares her tips about leveraging summer as a platform for driving business, and more.
In winter, we also dig into finalizing and perfecting the products for the following season, and we make sure our internal processes and software are set up for success.
—Nichole Powell, founder and CEO, Kinfield
Your brand screams summer, with its yellow-and-white palette and your photography’s bright, clean aesthetic. How do you stay top-of-mind for consumers in off-seasons and pace the business year-round?
When the sun is shining and people are outside, that’s our prime time! But through conversations with other founders, I now understand that every business is seasonal to some degree. Take protein supplements: Q1 is their busy season, with its focus on new year resolutions and pre-summer bodies heading into Q2.
Fall and winter offer a slower pace in terms of volume, but we still sell a lot of products to outdoor athletes, people going on vacation, and those who live in warm-weather environments and need sunscreen year-round. That keeps the business going, but because the pace isn't so frenetic, it allows us time to reflect on what we've learned and make adjustments as needed. In winter, we also dig into finalizing and perfecting the products for the following season, and we make sure our internal processes and software are set up for success. Last winter, we moved warehouses. It’s the time when we clean house, and then we get ready for the party.
The spring for us is a time of rebirth, when we launch new products or existing products with refreshed formulas or packaging based on customer feedback. Our retail partners are also most active then, placing orders in March and April as they stock up for the summer season ahead.
Summer, for us, is sprinting. It’s my favorite time of year because every single day customers are tagging Kinfield in photos, and it’s the easiest time for us in terms of product and press placement. We also get a lot of partnership requests for summer events. It's so fun and exciting, but it doesn't leave a lot of time for deep thinking, because you're just in action mode. As a team, we've been getting better and better about planning and preparation, so we aren't flying quite so much by the seat of our pants.
Can you talk more about the strategic off-season project of moving your warehouse?
Our inventory levels are lowest in winter, because much of our product is being produced and made. So this past winter was then the perfect time to switch from a warehouse on the East Coast to one on the West Coast. In order to do something like that without interrupting service, you have to do it in stages. It's wildly complicated to have e-commerce orders sent to multiple warehouses, depending on where a product is stacked. It's all about trying to optimize for timing and trying to minimize the amount of product that you're moving around.
Our VP of operations began doing research about the move late last summer and spent a few months looking at different warehouses, checking references, interviewing possible partners, and getting quotes. We love that the new warehouse is closer to our manufacturing partners and team on the West Coast. We could not have switched a moment too soon because our performance actually tripled the estimates that we had given them in terms of order volume. They were able to hire and keep up and grow with us at the pace we needed. We couldn't be happier with the change.
How do you account for those tripled sales?
I’ve observed over the years that our products sell extraordinarily well through word of mouth. With that in mind, I wanted to see how we could apply that social sharing to our marketing, with things like affiliate programs, which utilize influencers and ambassadors to share Kinfield with their communities, and loyalty programs for customers already excited about and sharing the products. This spring, I hired a new director of brand marketing, knowing that she had previously built out affiliate and ambassador programs for companies like Joybird, Theragun, and supplements brand Ladder. Her expertise has had a huge impact.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs building out a business with a seasonal or year-round cadence?
Begin by doing one thing really well. We launched with bug repellant, our hero product, because I knew that we could offer something truly natural and different from existing products. Now we have an extremely successful sunscreen line and other products, but we couldn't have come out of the gate with all of that. Customers would have been confused. Now we understand our customers so much more, knowing that many of them discover us through the repellent. We’re able to build things like email flows and customer journeys with that in mind and help people to discover everything else we offer. Ultimately, that offsets the impact of seasonality. Our super hydrating products, like the S.O.S. Rescue Mask, are selling phenomenally well in winter, which helps to balance summer bug repellent sales. But we had to start with the repellent and show success there first before we could go broader, and that applies to all industries.
In addition to learning on the job, how do you keep growing as an entrepreneur?
I'm a sponge. I did not grow up in this world, so I had to learn it. I was raised in the suburbs of Minnesota, and my parents have very traditional careers. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by very smart friends, and I talk with other founders all the time about what they're worried or thinking about. I try to have as little ego as possible and always feel comfortable saying, “Oh, I don't know what that means. Can you explain?” Asking simple questions can be such a powerful tool for listening and learning. I'm a voracious reader, and I love listening to podcasts. I read more novels than business books, because I find that it's helpful to have a creative break for my brain. Otherwise I'll just think about Kinfield all the time.
Entrepreneurship has been the hardest journey that I have ever undertaken professionally, and maybe also personally. But it’s also been the most rewarding. There's such joy in the journey. It’s about learning to celebrate milestones while not losing yourself too much in the future.
Photo: Courtesy of Kinfield, photo of Nichole Powell by Marissa Alves / Illustration by John Brown Media