PLH Loren West | Systems

Loren West is a process and systems expert who has a ton of experience in growing brands by optimizing processes in big companies to make their business run more smoothly and efficiently. She gained her core professional strengths in business processing and marketing by working in the packaging, beauty, and health industry for years. Loren has worked for big brands like O.P.I., Keiser, and has also branched out into consulting for other companies from diverse industries to optimize their structural system flows and business processes. A lot of you product launchers are owners of up and coming brands who will surely get great monthly insights and advice from Loren through our membership podcast, so that you can map your vision and produce quantifiable results that will make your company soar to greater heights.

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I’m here with one of our experts that I’m excited to introduce you to because this is an expertise area I do not have. I always love to learn something new. Loren West is a consumer products good expert. We’re talking specifically in areas that require a lot of process, a lot of development, and a lot of effort in terms of making sure you’re in compliance. You’ve done all your documentation and you’ve gone through that whole process flow. You can learn so many things about doing that for all types of product development, not just consumer products and not beauty products in which you have a particular area in. Beauty products are challenging because they have a lot of testing requirements. Some of them have FDA approval and there’s definitely that.

You have a lot of what I’m going to call entrepreneur experience, which is also important. As you’re growing and a lot of our product launchers are growing big brands. As you’re growing big brands, you need to understand process and strategies for building process, tactics, for building tools, for building it because that process flow creates a much better team environment, creates high performance, helps you launch your products faster, be more accurate, and be able to build a big brand. Thanks so much for joining us, Loren.

You’re welcome. Thank you for having me, Tracy. I appreciate it.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started.

I fell into this line of work almost. Long story short, I started working years ago at a packaging company. At that time I supported companies more from a vendor perspective and how to service people in a variety of different industries that had consumer products. Most of my clientele at that time primarily revolved around beauty and pharmaceuticals. When that opportunity came to a time of transition, I thought, “What would I like to dive into?” I’ve worked a lot of both beauty and with pharmaceuticals and they’re two completely different types of industries, different cultures, different sales, and all of that. At that time I decided, “Let me jump onto the whole beauty band wagon,” and fortunately at that time I was able to get connected and start basically providing services to OPI products. They’re a well-known brand within the beauty industry.

If you’re not a girl, maybe you don’t know that OPI is probably the nail polish company.

I fortunately was able to land an opportunity there to be able to service them and see things go from the inside out. That’s where I feel I have the bulk of my tenure experience of getting my feet wet and diving into that whole product launch experience. That extends to other kinds of beauty products as well. I subsequently have supported other beauty brands both on staff and independently, depending upon how companies would like to be serviced. I fell in more on the vendor side and then started to work with different brands and see how different companies function and how best can their processes improve and being able to see from the inside out.

Recently, in the last few years I did a consulting opportunity at Kaiser for and within healthcare and that’s completely different than the beauty business and consumer products. That was a challenge to switch gears and how do you work at process more from people and flow, departmental and culture structure, that type of process rather than beauty and product and a product-based format. It’s still comparable and it can go over.

I always say that to people. They’re always wondering how I fell into launching podcast, launching things, and launching services. What I found is that the discipline of having the development process and documentations and having a system for looking at things, it lends well to any kind of launch or any kind of building of a department or a team.

PLH Loren West | Systems

Systems: When a whole team understands all the nuts and bolts of what’s needed and what’s holding people up, there’s quicker ways to find solutions to solve those.

I would say almost every opportunity I’ve had has built upon itself and prepared me for the next opportunities that have come my way. I didn’t know that at the time, but coincidentally it always naturally does. From the big thing I would say overall, having companies where they’re able to establish times of taking their teams together, do brainstorming and utilizing their own internal resources. Most companies, they don’t necessarily always leverage that. That’s always good to do, is to leverage the people that you do have. Allow them to present to you what challenges are they having within their certain departments from a process flow standpoint and what they need quicker, better, and faster. When a whole team understands all the nuts and bolts of what’s needed and what’s holding people up, there’s quicker ways to find solutions to solve those and being able to put in quarterly type of meetings like that as well as putting in process flow and structure flow.

A lot of times everyone wants to get something out the door and that’s great and wonderful and there are definitely times for that. There’s definitely a good point to take a step back and relook at what are we doing, how are we doing this, and how we can do it better. Whether that’s looking at, “Do we bring on additional tools? Do we need to put in additional process in place from a product type of standpoint?”Having that connection from companies that already have a product development department in place with a marketing and sales teams, really have that communication stream, sometimes companies don’t have that as much in place. Having that feedback from consumers, customers, and retailers go back internally to a company is helpful because the field team sees everything. They’re outside, they’re talking to people that buy the product that love your product, but also from an accompanied standpoint, how can we work better?

Obviously utilizing your field team in a more efficient and productive way is one avenue to consider, as well as looking at internally how you can do things better from the top down. If you have an executive management team that has very visionary style and that has really big ideas and having these brainstorm meetings to dump out all those ideas and seeing where can you start to plan from here, being able to have regular type of meetings to be able to pull in what’s needed to carry out someone’s vision is really ideal and being able to map out the A to Z of what’s needed. From a mapping process standpoint, they’re really tying in key departments. Most companies tend to have a procurement or purchasing team as well as an operations team.

Our people here probably have a person who maybe has so many hats. That’s where you can learn from Loren because you’re going to be hearing about some things. Everyone here feels time sensitive. In the retail world, it feels high pressure and fast especially if you manage to get on the shelf and so you’re just starting that. What people discount too quickly is that taking the time to set the systems in place, to put the process, the tools, and the team in place and separate all of that into individual people instead of keeping so many hats, it is ideal.

I’ve seen both formats where you have these companies that are large, they’re established, and they have a lot of different departments. I’ve seen smaller teams run much more efficiently with a very small crew. The challenge with that is having those systems and putting something in place because people are wearing so many hats. There’s not enough time for a lot of changes that happen and those naturally do tend to happen. Taking a little bit upfront mitigation planning of what can you do in these instances and how can you combine a couple different people’s function into one role but make it quicker and easier, it also it speaks to how quickly do you want to scale as a company. Even if you’re invited to a retailer, let’s say your company’s not prepared or ready to take that on, I’ve definitely heard of some cases where, “They’re jumping on that bandwagon because they want that opportunity.”It’s a great opportunity that came along, but can their company really deliver and provide the product at the end of the day? Then they’re getting hit on the back end.

It’s being smart too as a business owner visionary of understanding what are the capabilities in my company? Where it’s at today? How can it expand and grow too? Work towards opening a retail space where expanding the distribution or also considering different methods. Instead of a traditional, different brick and mortar opportunities, also looking at so much ecommerce. There are many different avenues that are opening up that way in different avenues to consider different options too to bring in sales different ways. It’s always good to keep that in mind.

That’s the position here. I’ve had a lot of recent discussions with companies that are around, I would say $10million to $20 million and usually they’ve started that mostly online. They’re usually going from that direction to the shelf, having sales reps and having that direction. They have plans and want to get to$100 million and it’s like, “What does that look along the way? Are all the moving parts going to get that?” That where you can help them see the vision, turn those departments and teams and start to grow that out and have tools and communication.

When you set that structure, it’s something that you and I’ve talked about previously. Something I’m working on, I’ll be building for the membership group here, putting together a little bit of a process flow of some key things you want to establish at different levels of your business. Say for in zero to twenty or see or focus more ecommerce or your focus more retail. It’s coming together like a little guidebook for people to use as a reference point. That will be helpful for people because even from beauty standpoint, one of the things is I think is so challenging and I think that it’s not necessarily only in my expertise and I’m not the expert at it is when you are producing products for consumers, are you owning your own formulas? Are you owning what you’re producing out there in the world?

The challenge with that with many different clients and different things is that say you got some great product, you have great sales on it, but say the lab or the sourcing manufacturer that you’re working with, they technically own the formula. You’re stuck. I think it’s really the who of the person, whether you’re independent, you’re an inventor, you’re starting out, or you’re exploring stuff is to consider formula ownership and product ownership up front. There is more cost involved. However, if you particularly hit a great product that’s fabulous and takes off, you won’t have to worry about the legal ramifications of how are you going to work on. What if you want to go to a new vendor? What if you want to use multiple different vendors to produce your product? What if all these different scenarios that come into play then limits you if you don’t own your product or maybe you can only go through one source.

That’s analogous to some of the things that goes on in the product world. A lot of times you might start your product for hard good products. I was talking to a company who does toys. Same thing is that they started out with using the tooling of the factory, which is similar to using the formulations of the company that you’re working with to produce your products, in beauty or in foods as well. Now they’re in that transition point and it is hefty investment of creating each one of those tools themselves, adding a unique thing to them so that those tools aren’t the same product or just a new tool that belongs to them. It gives them the flexibility of being able to move factories, a second source if you need to because your capacity is growing. The consideration on when that should happen is so important and it’s not just a financial decision, it’s also a growth decision.

It gives you different options later on what you want to do. From a development standpoint, there are different things to consider when you’re looking at doing new products for your company, whether you’re new or you’re a little bit more established. Is it profitable for you? Does it make sense? I see many types of discussions where there are some great ideas, but on the back end, is it going to bring in the profit you potentially desire? Is that worth putting all that investment of your internal or external consultants depending upon who you have on your team? Is it worth doing? Something I’ll be putting together a rough general thing. It won’t work for all types of clients, but a basic product checklist almost in a sense of what you might want to consider looking at to basically decide if something’s viable or not. Essentially do a checklist.

[Tweet “Having that documentation in place is key.”]

One of the things that you have a unique insight into is the cost of complexity. When you have a complex product and stuff, it’s hard to assess that at the beginning. If you have this checklist and there’re unknowns there and you talked to Loren, she might tell you, “Those could be very costly for you because of the complexity and the process that you would have to use to find somebody to make that happen. Massive complexity is that thing that drags the timeout. Delays in this retail market are very costly.

It is very costly. Not only that, but you’ll have some retailers definitely charge different brands; they’ll charge them fees for not making their deliveries on time. That on the backend could be very pricey or if you’re sourcing components where you’re putting together products that have a lot of promotional items with it. You might be sourcing products from China and that takes a lot longer.

All the things together.

When you’re trying to do everything rush mode, you’re also looking at what are you really looking at and putting together because that may not work time-wise.

There are a couple things I want to touch on for everyone. Obviously we’re Product Launch Hazzards o we’d like to start with the problem. You mentioned that you’d gone into companies that have some significant issues. Let’s talk about some of the smaller ones because that’s the majority of what people on our platform have. Our smaller brands, that startup stage, getting to growing and bigger. It’s usually growth problems I would say, like growing pains. Tell me what some of those might be, that you would be expert in helping them out?

Putting documentation in place. A lot when you’re starting in growing, sometimes it’s easy even when you have a small team, you’re going to a little bit larger team and you have people on board at different stages. How do we work? How do we function? How do we function better? Having that documentation of what’s working now and what do you want to work towards, having everything documented from a process standpoint plus that helps clarify how many people do you need to grow by to do this function well from a team membership standpoint. You know from an input and output. If you only have a two person team but you’re trying to have them to three or four functions, you’re also relying on external vendors that are helping you in different capacities and understanding what their functionality is or how do you want to build that relationship with them.

Having that documentation in place is key. Besides knowing what you need, that’s something if they don’t have that type of documentation, going in and helping supporting people, figuring out what exactly do you do and what would help you do your role better. If you wanted to expand in these additional functions, what would we need to provide you in terms of resources, whether that’s tools or additional staff, whatever that might look like. Even having systems of having to know what system to use, because there are so many different types of project management systems that are out there, for example. Some of them are low cost, some of them very expensive, but being able to have a tracking tool because some companies they’ll strictly only use, say Excel, and that’s okay in some cases. Again, it’s not online, user friendly, gives mobile access, and having that information real time.

You can only do so much with Google Sheets.

You can, and I would say it’s like you drive your team nuts by doing that, by not giving them the option of having some additional tools that are out there. It’s all about researching what fits for you. There are a lot of different types of tools I’ve tried over the years. Some I prefer more than others, but having that in place as well, putting together more structure. A lot of teams are going to need it and even if it’s small, it may have a real lack of focus or clarity. Going in and providing that type of structure and clarity of what’s being worked on in the next three months or six months and doing a little bit more of strategy game plans.

A forecast in a way of, “This is what our organization looks today and here’s what it’s going to look tomorrow,” and what are the team and the tools that’s going to be placed over time.

Looking at that also from a product standpoint, say if you want to start off with ten core products but you want to expand, what do you need to build to do that and all those things too? I would say typically in an ideal world, although that’s hard to get. It’s putting I would say easily around two years from start to finish, start to launch standpoint from a beauty product standpoint. Obviously it depends on where you’re sourcing products from and stuff. All of those other kinds of things that tie into it or companies that they’re creating, say for some companies, they’re working with electronics. They need that UL approve or all these other things that come into play.

Let’s touch on that for a minute because documentation is probably the most key thing that happens in these kinds of products. Whether you’re in the toy industry, the furniture industry has it too, food. You’re talking about high liability and consumer safety issues in almost all of those categories.

A lot of companies tend to rely on the expertise of their vendors and that’s great and all. However, the thing is it’s important for brands to take a proactive approach and understand who they’re working with and what things are you dividing responsibility between, what are you leaving your vendor responsible for. The company’s still taking on the most risk and liability because you’re the face of the product, you’re the face of the brand, it’s selling underneath your name. That’s a concern that sometimes companies tend to let off, let the vendor do it. It’s good to get involved and understand what’s there.

Too often brands discount, when you’re a small business, the fact that you’re protected by the factory or protected by a retailer, which is not the case in either realm. The reality is it’s the person who’s selling it is in the way today’s portal, whether you’re on Amazon or eBay or, it’s still the same way. The onus is on you and if you’re not in compliance, it’s your fault. You can get your business completely shut down overnight and they won’t they won’t get sued, you will.

In that case, a lot of companies that are bigger, they can afford to take a little bit more risk. From a testing standpoint, it’s to take time to plan out the launch is a little longer so you can do all the testing that’s required.

PLH Loren West | Systems

Systems: Utilizing your field team in a more efficient and productive way is one avenue to consider, as well as looking at internally how you can do things better from the top down.

Document the testing. This is part of the process. We did do the test, but where’s our documentation? We expect that a lot from companies.

That and sometimes say they’re working with multiple companies to be able to complete the testing, but they don’t have the follow through to get all the follow-up to get all that paperwork back to them. It’s having everything on file. For example, I had a client where they were looking at some new labs to consider working with, but they started on a project and decided to go another direction. During that exploration process they found that the lab that they were working with had some issues with the FDA.

It’s always good to do some initial checks because you can see, is there anything pending on doing onsite checks and stuff? Having that, how do you want to work with the different vendors that you’re working with? Have that documentation piece in place and having everything on file at your location, not just a lab or an outside source that you’re working with to create what you want. That’s definitely key of having everything on hand as well as having your own audit process with different vendors that you work with. You as a brand and a company might have a certain standard that might be a little different than what this particular lab or company you’re working with. You might go through that process of establishing a more corporate perspective on what you want and then see what company is aligned with that.

One of the things that occurs to me is that so often I see a company just as they’re on that growth cusp, what happens is that they’ve got one person. They rely on that person, they’re like, “Where’s this document? Do we do this test?” Yes, this person knows off the top of their head because they think that they’re managing a group of products and they think, “This is fine. I can handle this. I know where everything is,” but to take the time to put it in folders, document it, share it with everyone. “That’s too much work for me and I’ve already got a load.”

What happens when they’re sick, they’re gone? They leave your company and now you don’t have that core information and you think, “That’s okay,” but you go to do an upgraded development a year from that and all of a sudden you have no way to know who did this, where did we go before? No information documented. That’s the danger that I see often in these small brands growing right at that level of where you’ve got someone who’s your one person with the information, you’re in dangerous water.

Even if say you’re a small team of twenty, you’re a very lean team. It’s still challenging because people take different directions. They may have new opportunities for themselves. If you don’t have things documented, then you’re going to catch 22 because now you have to start from scratch or scramble to find what you need.

What are some best practices, some things that you wish the brands you worked with from the start?

Planning, I would say it comes down to planning and understanding realistic timeframes for things. From a beauty perspective, everyone rushes to get things out the door, which is great because you want to be first to market and you want to get your idea out there. On the other hand, is it going to be successful long term? Can you repeat this process? What’s going to happen with reorders, all those kind of things. Have that accurate assessment upfront and putting together quarterly meetings where you’re planning what’s the overall corporate direction for your product development and launches. It’s easy for executives and sales teams to be like, “Let’s add this new thing in, but does it make sense for us and can we do it quickly?” All these other factors.

There always tends to be a lot of side conversations to things rather than a clear executive direction. In having that buy in process, allowing your different teams to present what do you feel is going to work for you as a company and try to sell their idea internally, having that in place, planning and also some structure, doing quarterly executive meetings that are geared towards what we are producing in the next year, and almost structuring things like a three-year plan almost because a lot of projects take more time than what people tend to realize. Putting a three to five-year structure of things so even though I’m thinking I need to improve what’s working today, what is my plan five years out? It can seem a little arbitrary like, “Why would I want to do that,” because I’m in a hamster wheel right now and I’m trying to get this done. What’s going to work long long-term and what’s going to benefit from you later? Even pausing and taking a moment and doing that structure and plan flow now will be so much helpful later on.

This is a good example of that client I was referring to before and I was talking with. One of the things that they did was that they had been in business for quite some time. What happened was that they were doing more of that mail order way back when we were doing cataloging and order style stuff. They had been one of the early adopters of putting their products on Amazon. It was about 2008 and they took the time to have an evaluation of how they did the previous year, where the growth was.

They saw a decline in catalog, but they saw an growing increase over the course of the year in Amazon. They made the strategy going into 2009 to dive deeper into Amazon. It was the smartest thing and it saved their company because the recession hit, because they were on Amazon, Amazon was one of the few things that kept growing during that recession. It shifted their entire company model but if they had not sat down and reevaluated and looked at that, they wouldn’t have been in that position to understand, “This was working and this is growing. We should do more of it.”

That’s a good point of looking at what does work well, what’s an area of growth or a channel of growth. Many different companies, even if they’re smaller or bigger, they can be approached by many different opportunities and what’s going to work well for them is a business. It’s great that companies are being presented with all those opportunities, but it’s also good to know what’s going to work best for you and what you feel you can connect to long term and picking what model might work for you or dipping your toes into something and trying a new model out versus flipping your whole business direction, which is a huge gamble. Sometimes when you’re trying to try out something new, maybe with a smaller mix of products or a small little incubation period, instead of doing a huge change, that’s always an option as well too.

If this all sounded like a foreign language to you. You’re listening to this and it sounded like, “I’m this visionary. I’m out here. I have ideas. I want stuff to get done. I don’t know how to get it done,” then you probably need to tune in to talk to Loren.

[Tweet “It’s also good to know what’s going to work best for you and what you feel you can connect to long term.”]

From a perspective of ongoing type of things, I’m imagining something a little bit more process flow. Being able to take people through a beauty product launch and what does that look like, that might be interesting to some of your members because it’s an area that some people may not understand or know about. As with anything in manufacturing, I’m sure from your own experience, things always take longer and there’s always more steps and things involved than you might initially realize or think of. It’s always been involved with manufacturing, over the last ten to fifteen years.

It’s been amazing how many things go into something that gets produced and in consumers’ hands. With the whole focus on sustainability, a lot of consumers are becoming more open to figuring out how can you work with brands where that’s a real focus of theirs. Whether it’s packaging or a manufacturing process that’s more sustainable to the environment, that’s also been a new flux where brands are starting to look at. How can we embrace that and how can we implement that in our process already from where we’re at? How can we tweak what we’re doing or use different sources and different types of materials and everything like that as well?

What I want you to do, product launchers, is to reach out to Loren. Loren is here to help you at that early stage of evaluation and make sure that you have what you need. She knows when you get to be the big brand; you’re going to need her. The groundwork in place and you consider some of the things that she has to teach you and has to show you. Putting some of these best practices early on, you’re going to grow faster because systems take over and also help you make more aware of those hazards that we keep talking about. The ones that cause you problems, they bring them to light faster.

It’s good to put systems in place from the get-go so that you don’t get so far evolved that then you feel you have to go backwards to go farther. As much as you can start out with taking account of how do you function and how can you function better, that’s obviously more ideal than as you grow and you onboard more and expand your team, you have more options. You can accomplish more by having processes in place that there’s a clear format and direction for people to go.

Stay tuned for more Office Hours and Documents and that’ll be in the Resource Library.

Yes, that’ll be coming soon.

You can always reach out to Loren through her expert profile so you can make a connection. She can have an evaluation with you, she can have a chat with you, and figure out if you’re ready for what she has to share and ready for those things that she does or if you need a little bit of this groundwork and needs more lessons.

Even to brainstorm ideas. Even having that sounding board for people, especially when you’re new and just starting and it’s always good to get a little bit of feedback.

From someone who’s been there and done that. If you have any questions or any suggestions for Loren as to what you would like her to cover, specifically in the beauty area but in process and in growing a brand from $10 million to $100 million, any of those types of things, please feed her questions. You can always do that right on the Expert Office Hours pages o you can ask it specific to her next Office Hour topic, or you can ask them in general and we’ll make sure they get to her in case you can’t tune into one of our Office Hours because the timing doesn’t work out for you. We want you to always be able to have a connection to any of our experts, Loren especially. Thanks so much, Loren. I’m glad you’re on our platform because you add a much needed perspective.

Tune in to Lucy West next Office Hours. Connect with and find out more about Lucy West in our Experts Directory.

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