Meet Keri Bougie

Meet Keri Bougie

Article originally published by CanvasRebel: Click Here to see original article

We were lucky to catch up with Keri Bougie recently and have shared our conversation below.

Alright, Keri thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. Alright, so you had your idea and then what happened? Can you walk us through the story of how you went from just an idea to executing on the idea

SoChok Skinlove all began at the very beginning of 2021.

Upon researching anti-aging skincare for myself, I began reading several Korean beauty books and was immediately drawn to their philosophy of healthy, cared-for skin. Simultaneously, I was looking for some clean skincare for my four younger children (all elementary aged). In reading about K-beauty I was amazed that in the Asian culture, the need to properly take care of one’s skin is not only highly regarded, but it is also taught at a very young age. In thinking about this further, I thought that this actually made a lot of sense . . . Maybe if we took better care of our skin from an earlier age, then maybe we wouldn’t be madly searching for anti-aging skincare when we hit our 30’s and 40’s. If we taught our children to take better care of their skin from an earlier age, then environmental (pollution, dirt, etc.) and sun damage could largely be prevented. Additionally, we teach our children to use shampoo and conditioner for their hair, body wash to wash their bodies, to brush their teeth twice a day . . . Why weren’t we teaching our children to wash their faces using face wash and to protect their skin more by moisturizing it and applying SPF products?

The above thoughts and conclusion that kids needed their own clean skincare lead me to research available products on the market. Through researching clean skincare for the kids, I found that most all of my products were way too harsh on their skin – they didn’t need harsh exfoliants, retinols, or anti-aging ingredients; even those that were clean and basic had ingredients that the kids really didn’t need (adult ingredients). They just needed basic, quality products that they could and would want to use. I looked for products that were effective, yet not so gentle as to be “baby” products. There simply was a large gap in the market . . . A large number of products geared towards babies and then a large number of products targeted toward tweens and teens that were suffering from acne/breakouts. Where were the products for kids after they got out of the toddler stage, but before they developed skin issues? The few products that I did find, my kids didn’t really like. Largely, they didn’t like the smell or feel, they lacked much luxury, and these products were also not smartly packaged (a tube or a squeeze bottle of product for a child can result in half the tube/bottle easily and quickly being squeezed out, in one use).

Thus, I decided that this was a market niche that had a lot of potential and one that I wanted to pursue. I began to research how to develop a skincare line. I reached out to anyone that knew of someone already in the industry to learn their process. I learned that finding a contract manufacturer was key – one that fit in line with what I was looking for . . . Clean skincare and based in California (I wanted to be close to manufacturers as much as possible, for any issues).

At the same time, I began to research the cost and financial side of this business. Having previously put together a fair number of business plans, I was well equipped to know what was needed. I began to put together in my head what I wanted this company to be – it had to be clean skincare, especially formulated for kids/tweens/teens, be effective (for kids that sweat, get dirty, wear SPF and/or lotion regularly, and need quality products), be eco-conscious (packaging and products), be gender neutral, be cruelty free, and be presented in a “fun,” exciting way for kids/tweens/teens and altogether anyone that would be receiving a package from the company.

While researching K-beauty, I came upon the term “Chok Chok” which means dewy, natural, fresh, glowing skin. I decided that this is what I wanted to name my new company – it was perfect! I began to work with a marketing company to have them develop potential logos, and selected colors (purposely gender neutral) around this term. Meanwhile, I also began to do a word-mark/trademark search. It was after I had developed much of my marketing that I was told that that term was not likely a term that I would be able to protect and may even be infringing upon the use of this term by someone else. A little discouraged, I tried to determine another name, quickly. Through much pondering and creative name exploration, I decided upon the name “SoChok” as it brought in the Korean “Chok Chok” terminology, but also had two other meanings. I live in San Diego, and the term “SoCal” is very popular. I decided that since this company was a Southern California founded company, that “SoChok” would be perfect. This also had the dual meaning of “so” as in “so very much.” This new term, I was able to protect. I also decided to add “Skinlove” because part of the mission of the company was to cultivate healthy “skincare” habits from an earlier age . . . But I wanted kids to not just “care” for their skin, but to “love” their skin. Thus the company became SoChok Skinlove.

I was able to finally find a manufacturing company that I really liked, that had long been in the business, and one that fit with the end-products that I was looking to have produced. Signing a contract with my manufacturer, I began to move into the product development phase: researching ingredients and benchmarks, then working with the manufacturer on developing what I had in mind. We would then receive test samples, my family would try everything out, then I would decide what changes were needed . . . Until a final product was created and approved.

I was also able to find a packaging company, through a friend of a friend, who had newly entered the beauty industry. She referred me to her packaging company, which was a company that could procure eco-conscious packaging; this was exactly what I was looking for. I began to look at different bottles and had already determined that the ability to pump-out a set amount of product was high priority, as this would be child friendly because it would give them a set amount of product and would allow them to learn to dispense product on their own. Looking at the various eco-friendly options, I decided upon the packaging and then began working with my marketing company to work on creating the brand look and feel of the packaging. This was a frustrating process, as there were many changes, things that were overlooked, phrasing and designs that had to be changed multiple times over. Additionally, with the effects of COVID, getting many of the materials and samples took much longer than pre-pandemic, as ports and companies were very behind, and there was a pent-up demand on the other side. My goal was to launch at the end of 2021 . . . That did not happen.

While the focus of the SoChok Skinlove brand first started off as skincare, I decided that I also wanted some “accessory” items to help to make it a little “fun” for children, as well as to offer a more robust line of products. I also happen to listen to a lot of biography books on tape for fun, especially those that are entrepreneurial focused. In listening and thinking about several brands that are trending, as well as brands that I aspire to be similar to, I decided that I really wanted SoChok Skinlove to be more of a life-style brand . . . Not just skincare, but self-care.

Going through many personal challenges myself (I lost my mom when I was 19 years old, and my husband unexpectedly at the age of 33 (when he was 35) and had to transform my life (with my three young children’ at the time), I wholeheartedly learned the importance of self-care. I also felt this self-care need for my children in going through the pandemic these past couple of years. I felt my children’s stress, concern, frustration throughout the pandemic (from wearing masks, to trying to learn online, to worrying about COVID itself), as well as my husband’s (I remarried in 2019 – together we have 5 children), and my own. Through all of my experiences, I have become a true believer in the need for self-care – to lead more balanced, healthier lives. Thus I wanted the SoChok Skinlove company to also help to cultivate this in children as well.

Thus, when developing the SoChok Skinlove company, I really began to seek out other products (not directly related to skincare) that I felt would have a touch of luxury and one that kids would enjoy experiencing. From an ultra soft and light-weight t-shirt, to a super soft and extra absorbent face towel, to an absorbent towel hair wrap and matching body towel wrap, etc. I began to fill in the gaps with some products that would accompany the skincare products while also allowing kids/tweens/teens to indulge in a bit of luxury self-care.

I discovered Alibaba and was able to seek out manufacturers and suppliers that would be able to produce the self-care items I wanted designed and manufactured. Through many samples and iterations (including a frustrating instance where I received a bulk order of the wrong logo), I fine-tuned the product line. I learned to navigate the terms of importing and working with the challenges that come from that – different languages, miscommunications, and long lead times. Meanwhile, I was also finalizing the bottles, marketing materials, and packaging that I had been working on along the way. It was finally all coming together . . . But, about a year later than what I was hoping. Originally I was hoping to have the company launch in August of 2021. This soon got moved to November of 2021. Then I was just hoping by end of 2021. It did not happen. The bottling company had to shut down because of COVID, which delayed the receipt, product fulfillment, etc. Not only that, because of COVID, costs were much higher than before, most especially shipping. This was taking far longer and costing much more than I had originally thought. I also tried to procure funding for this endeavor many times along the way, only to be told by 20+ lenders “no.” This experience was not for the faint of heart, but one that was definitely rich in patience and full of learning.

I finally got word that the bottles would be completed and would be arriving in the US in May of 2022. this however got delayed again, and they did not arrive June of 2022. I was hoping to be able to launch before a family trip that was at the beginning of June. Unfortunately, my family came down with COVID and we weren’t even sure if we were going to make our family trip. We made the trip by the skin of our teeth, but the products were not able to be filled before our departure. I do believe it was a blessing in disguise, as it allowed me to relax and enjoy our family trip, without having to worry about product being delivered and launching a company while on a family vacation. Upon my return, I was able to arrange final delivery to San Diego of SoChok Skinlove’s first two skincare products – a Face Cleanser and a PM Calming Facial Moisturizer. Yippee! We finally launched online at the very beginning of July 2022.

Now . . . We are focused on growing brand awareness . . . Fingers crossed :).

Keri, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?

My career background is in Business and Corporate Finance. Though I moved around quite a bit as a child (my father was in the military), I consider myself to be more so from the Chicagoland area, as this is where I spent the majority of my high-school/college years. Originally, I came to America at the age of 18 months, from Seoul Korea, and was very lucky to have been adopted into an incredible family.

Although in the beginning of my career, I was definitely more corporate-mind oriented, I became more entrepreneurial after unexpectedly losing my husband at the age of 33, with three small children (ages 3 years, 1 1/2 years, and 6 months) to care for. My late husband was most certainly entrepreneurial and had founded two restaurants, one of which he had just opened 4 months prior to his passing. I was fortunate enough that his business partners at the time had faith in me to allow me to take his shares of the company and run the business/daily operations of the company after his passing. I was also very lucky that there were amazing people in place that had the expertise and experience to run the day-to-day operations. Thus I settled into running the business aspect of the restaurant, which was more my forte.

Due to the stress and hardship related to the passing of my late husband, I decided about a year after he passed, to relocate myself and the three kids to California, for a fresh start. Again, my late husband’s business partners were extremely supportive of me, and though they were reluctant at first, they allowed me to relocate while continuing to run the business from afar. I managed to move myself and the three kids to San Diego, having never lived or been there before, and to create a new home for us.

I was able to eventually buy-out my late husband’s business partners and become 100% owner of the company. I also worked with my incredible restaurant team to successfully launch retail products, that are now sold in a chain of high-end local grocery stores in MN. And in 2019, we opened a 2nd restaurant location in MN. Unfortunately, this opening occurred in late December of 2019 – right before the pandemic hit in March of 2020.

My team and I were able to continue to run both locations, and adapt to the ever-changing shut-downs, rules, requirements, etc. of COVID, though it has not been easy – to say the least. Challenges with staffing has continued to be an issue, along with rising operational costs. All in all, it continues to be a roller-coaster of a ride within the restaurant industry, though we remain extremely grateful and very hopeful for the future.

SoChok Skinlove was formed officially in April 2021, with its’ mission being to cultivate healthy skincare and self-care habits at an earlier age. This is something that is very near and dear to my heart, given my love for my children and my desire to instill healthy habits with them as early as possible. I was very blessed to have met my current husband in 2018 and we married in 2019. Together, we have five children, four of which are in elementary school, and one in high school. My husband is extremely patient and supportive of me and my entrepreneurial endeavors, which have slowly developed as I’ve gotten older. We both are supportive of one another and our children and are extremely grateful for the ability to earn money, while also raising a family.

I think what sets me apart is the ability to remain positive (overall – I have my downs too) and to continue to look forward to the future. I think that I am able to be somewhat resilient, but this has certainly been through much support from counselors, friends, and family. I also think that overall I am hopeful . . . Hopeful for the future and what may be possible. My personality type also is one that enjoys learning – this is definitely another trait to which I have been very reliant upon and one that has helped me in life.

Have you ever had to pivot?

One of the largest pivots recently occurred with the restaurant and COVID dramatically changing our lives. Pre-pandemic, we were majority a dine-in restaurant, this became an impossibility when we were forced to shut down by the government. We still had a staff that had to be paid and we still had rent and other financial responsibilities. We needed to determine the best moves, as quickly as possible, to make money, while being shut down and/or to minimize any and all costs.

We immediately met on the phone and decided that we were going to initiate and advertise curbside pick-up. We began to heavily advertise on social media our offering of contact-free/curbside pick-up. We also assessed what costs we could largely cut – daily cleanings of the seating areas (we had no guests inside the restaurant, so it didn’t get dirty like it did with guests eating and moving about) – we moved this to a couple times a week and/or offset this with staff already in place. We immediately ordered masks, gloves, sanitizer, so that we could ensure our guests and employees felt comfortable.

We contacted our landlords to see what we might be able to work out with regards to paying rent. We also assessed our menu to determine if there were certain items that we could temporarily “cut” as a way to decrease inventory and minimize waste. We cut our alcohol orders, as we couldn’t serve or sell alcohol outside of dine-in.

All of the above was done in a matter of a week. We had to move quickly, to stay ahead of the curve ball; this was truly a pivot that we had never experienced or thought of before.

Let’s talk M&A – we’d love to hear your about your experience with buying businesses

Although I had already received 50% ownership in my late husband’s company after his passing, I decided about 3 years later to purchase the remaining shares of the company. This would allow me to have full control of the company, from a decision standpoint, and would allow me the opportunity to potentially grow the company by qualifying for additional funding. I had never gone through the process of buying a company, but had gone through many exercises in my MBA of putting together a business plan. I also had 3 years of experience managing (from the business side of things) the established restaurant, and knowing the expected financials and forecast of the business.

I used all of this to put together a financial plan and business plan. I began to work with the existing business partners and gathered all of the historical accounting information from the restaurant. The existing business partners had the same information, and we both shared it with our respective financial confidantes, to assess the worth of their shares. We negotiated a price, which was not easy, along with the terms of the buy-out. I was very fortunate that the business partners wanted the best for me, and were fair in the final buy-out terms. I had to secure a contract attorney (I had never had one nor needed one before) and go back and forth through contract iterations and accounting assessments. I also had to negotiate with the landlord, to transfer the responsibility of the existing lease to my name. The terms were finally finalized and approved by a lender that I was able to get loan approval.

The loan approval process was in it of itself a completely separate process. Lots of submittals of financial documentation (bank statements, personal financial statements, listing of collateral, life insurance, signing over of documents, etc.) and conversations explaining various transactions that they wanted further insight into. And still, the wait of whether or not the buy-out would actually go through . . . It’s not a done deal until the papers are finally signed and the money is dispersed.

Needless to say, we completed the buy-out in 2017 and I officially became 100% owner of the restaurant. 100% control, but also 100% responsibility of a new, daunting loan.

Contact Info:

  • Website: Www.SoChok
  • Instagram: SoChok Skinlove
  • Facebook: SoChok Skinlove
  • Twitter: @sochokskinlove

Image Credits
Jessica Napier Garrett Richardson

Article originally published by CanvasRebel: Click Here to see original article


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