Beatrice Dixon had a good feeling about 2020 when the year began. The business she started, The Honey Pot Company, was charting a course of success that most young entrepreneurs only dream about.
Dixon, 38, began work on her fledgling feminine care products startup in 2012. The brand was later sold at a handful of Whole Foods stores, but it was a 2016 email from Target that propelled The Honey Pot Company into even wider distribution.
That next year Dixon says, The Honey Pot Company, which sells items like plant-derived chemical-free washes, wipes, pads and tampons, landed in 1,100 Target stores nationwide. Today, major retailers including Walmart, Walgreens and CVS carry the Atlanta-based company's brand.
For Dixon and her team, it was full steam ahead to build on the momentum, including triple-digit annual sales growth of 382% last year from the prior year. (The company declined to disclose actual sales.)
But she didn't get the smooth sailing she had expected. Instead, 2020 turned into a roller coaster ride.
A double whammy
In early February, Dixon unexpectedly faced heavy backlash on social media for a Target ad that she thought would become a viral moment for the company.
Target had released a commercial for The Honey Pot Company in February spotlighting the Black-owned business. In it, Dixon briefly narrated her entrepreneurial journey, how Target took a chance on her and what she hoped her story would inspire. "The reason why it's so important for Honey Pot to do well is so the next Black girl that comes up with a great idea -- she can have a better opportunity," Dixon said at the end.
The ad resulted in the business being bombarded with negative reviews, hate speech and calls for boycott. Target stood by the ad and with Dixon.
"We're in a weird political time," said Dixon. "I didn't take [the backlash] personally. For me, it's important that young girls, women and women of color see that achieving something like this is possible."
And just as the company was looking to put the controversy behind it, the pandemic hit.
"Our supply chain got choked," said Linda Ripoll, the company's co-founder. The business sources its products both domestically and from suppliers in Europe and Taiwan.
"March through July was a very hard time for us. We didn't have enough of the products we needed and orders that typically would take 30 days to fulfill from our suppliers were taking over 100 days," said Ripoll.
Many of the manufacturers supplying The Honey Pot Company had pivoted during the early months of the pandemic to make masks and other essential sanitizing products and safety products.
"There are only so many machines in a factory and you can't go and get a new manufacturer easily," said Dixon. "We were out of stock for weeks online, and we lost money."
It was a precarious situation for the startup. "We made it through OK and our inventory has normalized through the fall," said Ripoll. "We're back at 100%."
The turbulence of the last few months isn't lost on Dixon. She sees it as lesson learned in running a business.
"Next year we will be much more efficient with our planning," she said.
Plans for growth
Dixon spent two years developing a formula for her first feminine care wash. After raising $21,000 in seed money, she took 600 bottles of the wash to a trade show in Atlanta and sold all of them.
The Honey Pot Company has grown to now offer dozens of products, including tampons and even a limited-edition, gold-plated uterus necklace.
Doctors say using products like feminine washes is not necessary and can cause irritation for some. If irritation occurs, gynecologists recommend using water alone or a gentle soap.
The company recommends consumers consult with a healthcare professional before starting any regimen containing essential oils. Ripoll added that Dixon respects the doctors' viewpoints but believes they do not always research products made specifically for the vulva.
Since she incorporated The Honey Pot Company in 2014, Dixon has raised several million dollars in outside investment, including from the New Voices Fund.
Dixon quit her job in 2018 as an area sales representative at a plant-based snack company to fully focus on her profitable startup.
Now the company's offerings are only growing. "We have new product launches coming. We're entering new areas like adult incontinence products," she said.
But she also says she'd be open to selling the company.
"Look, exit creates wealth," she said. "In Black communities, traditionally if you talk about exiting your business, it's seen as you sold out."
Instead, she said, it "enables you to start another company. What you had -- your effort, your gut, your drive -- you take all that with you. It's part of doing business."