Guilt-Free Growth: How One Women-Led Beverage Brand Tripled Online Revenue Despite a Bottle Shortage and Their Plans to Sweeten the Holiday Season

If you’ve been working remotely this year, you’ve likely been missing some aspects of your daily routine. For some, it’s the fresh taste of a cup of pumpkin-spiced coffee to help you get your day started. For others, it’s the perfectly crafted cocktail after work with friends. 

On the upside, you’re saving money and calories. On the downside, you miss those delicious flavors and beautifully-crafted beverages. 

Enter SkinnyMixes, a women-led brand that makes more than 100 different sugar-free, guilt-free beverage mixes to help you be your own barista or bartender at home. 

I recently connected with Brittany Gymrek, vice president of marketing, and Alex Tenney, director of ecommerce for SkinnyMixes. 

We talked about the fierce competition for plastic bottles amid COVID-19 and how that’s impacted their ability to meet spiking demand. 

They shared how they were able to grow their revenue by 3X as shoppers headed online in the wake of store closures earlier this year.

And we chatted about how they’re preparing for the upcoming holidays and an anticipated spike in advertising costs, plus how critical they think their owned marketing channels are for their business as they gear up for a competitive online holiday shopping season. Read on to learn more about their insights. 

 

Katie Tierney: How did Skinny Mixes get its start?

Brittany Gymrek: Eleven years ago, our founder, Jordan Engelhardt, wanted to enjoy the fun and flavor of her favorite beverages without the sugar and calories. At the time, there was nothing on the market for a zero sugar margarita mix so she created it in her kitchen. She turned a void in the marketplace into a business starting from the ground up. 

Now, we have a team of women and we’re all working together to innovate in the beverage industry by creating guilt-free ways to enjoy everything—from barista coffee to craft cocktails. We’re growing the number of retail locations we’re in and we’re building our direct-to-consumer ecommerce business.

 

Katie Tierney: You mentioned your presence in retail locations, which closed earlier this year due to COVID-19. Tell me a bit about how store closures impacted your online business and what other ways your business felt the impact of the pandemic?

Brittany Gymrek: COVID-19 forced all of our brick-and-mortar retailers to shut their doors. In March 2020, we quickly doubled down on ecommerce and increased our skinnymixes.com revenue by 3X. We were able to cover that lost revenue from brick-and-mortar since sales spiked online. It was refreshing to see that despite store closures, people still sought out the brand and found it online when they couldn’t get it anywhere else. 

When brick-and-mortar reopened, sales were stronger than ever both online and in stores. There was a bunch of pent up demand and pumpkin season has been great for business as we’re heading into the fall. The brand is really on fire, both in stores and online.

Alex Tenney: The supply chain for plastic bottles has been disrupted by COVID. Demand for plastic bottles, in general, has gone up by 8X during COVID—much of which is going towards producing bottles for hand sanitizers. All the companies like us are competing for our bottles to be manufactured, and there’s just simply not enough production capacity to keep up. 

The shortage in the raw bottles has hindered our ability to produce products quickly enough to keep up with all this increased demand. We’re having stock out issues, we’re having to delay shipments to the stores, and we’re having to find multiple backup suppliers to be able to solve the supply chain issue. 

It’s been a hurdle because we’re seeing sales higher than ever before, but production-wise, we just cannot get our hands on enough raw plastic bottles to keep up with demand.

"We quickly doubled down on ecommerce and increased our skinnymixes.com revenue by 3X. We were able to cover that lost revenue from brick-and-mortar since sales spiked online."

Brittany Gymrek, vice president of marketing, Skinny Mixes

 

Katie Tierney: Has that been a consistent challenge throughout COVID-19 or have things started to improve? 

Alex Tenney: We think it will get better. It’s just fiercely competitive and everyone’s competing for the same line time. It’s looking like it will still be a challenge for a couple more months, but it’s hard since we’re going into the holiday season. We want to produce so many products to keep up with demand, but we have as many bottles as we can get on hand. It’s been a challenge, but we’re managing it the best we can.

 

Katie Tierney: How have you been engaging all of your new customers and how are you thinking about that new audience as you’re gearing up for your holiday marketing campaigns?

Alex Tenney: Everyone was at home during COVID, obviously, and that aligned with our mantra of being your own bartender or barista. Our existing customers, whether they were from brick-and-mortar or online, immediately came to our website and to Amazon to get their coffee syrups and their cocktails because they had no choice but to make them at home. 

We saw a huge influx in user-generated content, which resonates really well with our customers. It’s real and it’s relatable. Everybody was so proud and said things like, “Wow, I made my favorite Starbucks drink at my house and it’s sugar-free.” 

Now, going into the holidays, we’re taking all of that user-generated content and we’re using it across all of our campaigns. We’re still using the messaging about being your own barista or bartender at home with your family where it’s safe, though now we’re getting into holiday cocktails. 

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"We saw a huge influx in user-generated content, which resonates really well with our customers. It's real and it's relatable...Now, going into the holidays, we're taking all of that user-generated content and we're using it across all of our campaigns."

Alex Tenney, director of ecommerce, Skinny Mixes

 

Katie Tierney: How important is the holiday season for your business? 

Brittany Gymrek: Pumpkin spice is huge for us, but Q4 overall is a really big sales driver, both in terms of the number of people who are online and the number of people who are in the holiday shopping season mentality. 

The holiday season drives business for us in three different ways. First, people are buying for holiday gift-giving reasons. 

Second, we see a lot of people treating themselves. They buy products for their own use because they know they’re heading into the holiday season. They want those fun flavors of pumpkin spice, cinnamon dolce, peppermint bark, and all those flavors that they know and love. Many buy one gift for a friend and then something for themselves—we really encourage that self-gifting mentality. 

Finally, people buy because they’re going to be hosting holiday gatherings. They want festive cocktails for entertaining. Many set up a winter cocoa and coffee bar with all the Christmas cookie and peppermint bark flavors at home. 

 

Katie Tierney: What do you think will be different about the holiday season this year for your business? 

Brittany Gymrek: We think it will come sooner than usual for us. We’ve seen it already with pumpkin spice season. People wanted pumpkin in July this year. I think they’re going to want Christmas to come even sooner, too. 

We’re planning ahead for the [holiday shopping] season to launch earlier and for the demand to be extended for a longer amount of time—I don’t think we’ll see people waiting for Thanksgiving to end and then going right into the holiday season. It’ll happen earlier this year.

We also think that the traditional Black Friday traditions are going to be limited this year. People aren’t going to be out in the stores the way they used to, so we see an even bigger opportunity to capitalize on the online growth with our Black Friday and Cyber Monday events.

"We're planning ahead for the [holiday shopping] season to launch earlier and for the demand to be extended for a longer amount of time. We also think that the traditional Black Friday traditions are going to be limited this year. People aren't going to be out in the stores the way they used to, so we see an even bigger opportunity to capitalize on the online growth."

Brittany Gymrek, vice president of marketing, Skinny Mixes

 

Katie Tierney: Alex, going back to the supply issues you mentioned. How are you thinking about when you’ll start your holiday marketing and how you’ll get shoppers to buy earlier this year in light of those challenges?

Alex Tenney: We’ll start introducing our holiday flavors during the first week of November. Our holiday messaging will start coming across in our marketing. We’ll tie it into pumpkin and Thanksgiving, but we’ll also introduce the seasonal peppermint flavors earlier than usual. 

We anticipate setting earlier shipping cutoff days this year. Our customers are number one, so we want to make sure we’re giving them the experience we promise. To make sure we’re delivering on time for all their gift-giving needs, it’s important to bump that ordering schedule back and give ourselves a nice buffer to make sure they get their packages on time. But it’s also a challenge to be able to capitalize on that time.

"We anticipate setting earlier shipping cutoff days this year. Our customers are number one, so we want to make sure we're giving them the experience we promise."

Alex Tenney, director of ecommerce, Skinny Mixes

 

Katie Tierney: Alex, on a recent episode of Live From Your Laptop, you mentioned that when the pandemic started, you increased your ad spend when rates were low and you saw your traffic grow significantly. With ecommerce experts project that advertising costs will spike again heading into the holidays, how do you prepare for that scenario? 

Alex Tenney: We really took advantage of the lower CPMs on social ads during the start of COVID to drive those new customers to our site. 

It was a unique time when there weren’t as many advertisers, so we decided to bump up our ad spend to make up the revenue that we were missing from brick-and-mortar. In the past six months, we tested more than 4,000 things with different audiences and creative ads. 

For example, for Mother’s Day, we tested variations of user-generated content with messaging like “Girl Mom”, “Dog Mom,” “Cat Mom,” and more, as well as the generic “Mother’s Day Sale” graphic, and the “Boy Mom” graphic performed the best overall.

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Testing is the greatest thing for us, especially since we have a very interesting customer base. The only type of content that tends to resonate with them is user-generated content. We’ve learned that we could produce the most beautiful, highly-produced photoshoots or videos, and our customers just want just a picture with syrup or a coffee with the recipe. We’re constantly testing and they’re always showing us that they just want plain and simple content.

Going into the holidays, we know that ads are going to be more expensive than ever, so we’re doing the prep work now. Actually, we have been for the past couple of months. We’ve been building our audience so we can focus on retargeting during the holidays, which is more affordable than trying to seek out brand new customers when there are so many brands vying for their attention online. 

We’re also leaning into our owned audiences like our email subscribers, our organic social media followers, and our customers who’ve opted into text messaging and Facebook messaging. We’re using those owned channels versus paid channels to share the message and get them to come back to shop for the holidays.

"Going into the holidays, we know that ads are going to be more expensive than ever, so we're doing the prep work now. We're also leaning into our email subscribers, our organic social media followers, and our customers who've opted into text messaging and Facebook messaging. We’re using those owned channels to share the message and get them to come back to shop for the holidays."

Alex Tenney, director of ecommerce, Skinny Mixes

Learn more about how Skinny Mixes tripled online revenue during COVID-19 and learn how to make your favorite Starbucks drinks at home.

Watch Live From Your Laptop

 

Katie Tierney: As you examined your marketing strategies and your customer data at the beginning of COVID when you had to lean more heavily into your ecommerce business, was there anything surprising or eye-opening that you learned about your customers?

Brittany Gymrek: It was really exciting seeing the loyalty that our customers have. In the beginning, we were panicking because brick-and-mortar stores were closing. But our customers were also panicking. It was reassuring that our products were something they felt that they couldn’t live without, even in a pandemic. 

We also recently did a customer survey, which was eye-opening for us because we got a lot of new information that we needed. A big thing for us is value. For $5.99, you can get 25 coffees out of a bottle of syrup. We thought that value was our biggest selling point. But from our customer data and what we’ve seen across all the customer orders, we realized that our variety of flavors is actually our biggest selling point.

Learning these things from the massive amounts of customers, including the brick-and-mortar customers who came online as well as our existing online customers, has been great. It’s really cool to own that data for brick-and-mortar customers who have now come online. We didn’t have that before COVID. We’re trying to learn more about them every day. With Klaviyo’s amazing integrations, we did the customer survey through Typeform so all of those properties live in Klaviyo now.

"It's really cool to own that data for brick-and-mortar customers who have now come online. We didn't have that before COVID. We're trying to learn more about them every day. With Klaviyo's amazing integrations, we did the customer survey through Typeform so all of those properties live in Klaviyo now."

Brittany Gymrek, vice president of marketing, Skinny Mixes

 

Katie Tierney: You have a lot of products, so I’d love to hear about your segmentation strategy.

Alex Tenney: We have over a hundred products, so segmentation is super important to us. There are some people who only buy pumpkin spice, for example. Then we also have cocktail mixes and sometimes our cocktail mix customers are very different from our coffee syrup customers. 

We try to segment while also cross-selling in the right ways because sometimes our cocktail customers don’t even know that we offer coffee syrups and vice versa. We test and make sure we’re nurturing and feeding our customers with what they want. 

We also nicely let them know about all of the things we offer. We have a hundred products, as I mentioned, so it can be overwhelming and we don’t want to give people pumpkin spice like crazy if that’s not what they’re interested in.

A big win for us was when I created our BFFs segment, which is like our VIPs. They’re our most engaged customers. They’re clicking on our emails and opening every single email we send to them. 

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We like to test a lot of things with them, so we offered a free cup with a purchase and it was one of our best-opened emails, best clicked, and it drove the highest revenue. 

It’s a lot of fun testing with that audience because they’re so engaged. They love the brand. They read everything. From that BFFs segment, we have tiers below that. 

We have our Friends, who aren’t so engaged, but they purchase here and there and they click some emails. Then we go down to our Acquaintances, who have purchased from us maybe one time. They click a few emails here and there. Then we have our fans who have never purchased, but they’re opening some emails. They’re still engaged. 

We then break our product portfolio out through cocktail mixes, coffee syrups, etc. Creating these different segments has been really interesting. It’s endless what you can do with the segmentation, but right now we’re really honing in on those tiers.

"We have over a hundred products, so segmentation is super important to us. "

Alex Tenney, director of ecommerce, Skinny Mixes

 

Katie Tierney: Are there any specific flows or campaigns that you expect to be particularly useful to your business as you head into holiday marketing?

Alex Tenney: Our back in stock flow is definitely the most useful because of the production issues that we’ve had. Abandoned cart and browse abandonment flows are also incredibly important, and even more so during sale time.

I think a lot of people forget to update those emails during sales. You’ll get an abandoned cart email from a brand with a product listed at its normal price. If you’re having a sale, you obviously want people to know about it, so those two flows— the abandoned cart and the browse abandonment series—are super important. Make sure they always align with whatever campaign you’re running.

 

Katie Tierney: What’s one marketing tip you could share with other marketers who are developing their brand’s holiday marketing strategies right now?

Alex Tenney: You just can’t be afraid to test things. We test a lot of stuff with our BFFs because we know they’re our VIPs. They’ll tell us if something’s not working. 

Talking to your customers is important, too. We have a Facebook group that’s been really insightful for us. Whether it’s about new products or sales, people in the group tell us everything. They’re not afraid to say exactly how they feel. 

The best tip is to listen to your customers because that’s who buys your products every day.

Brittany Gymrek: I agree with all of those points. We listen first, then react. 

Our customers are helping to shape our product development based on what they’ve told us they want either in our survey or through our Facebook group. We’re letting them know what we’re working on, we’re taking their ideas about what they want to see next, and we’re making it feel like a true collaboration between the brand and the consumers. 

Curious about what kind of content will resonate with your customers during the holidays? See what consumers say they want to see.

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