Why we reverse scale our natural beauty box

Normally when you hear us talk about our Oui Fresh Beauty Box subscription, it’s to let you know what’s in the box that month, when new spots are available, when it sells out, etc. But today we are taking a little step back as we pull back the curtain and let you know more about one of the big business decisions we’ve come to behind this awesome product that we are so proud of. So if you like knowing about the business behind-the-scenes read on, but if that’s not your jam feel free to skip this post.

First off, just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about, what in the world is this product? For the last year, we’ve been building a subscription box that is all about natural beauty, called the Oui Fresh Beauty Box. Every month, our subscribers get a (bright yellow, adorably designed) box filled with top quality natural beauty products. We include many of our own Oui Fresh lip products as well as essential oils, and we also aim to include mostly small- to medium-sized brands that we think are producing excellent products. We’ve tested a number of other beauty (natural and conventional) boxes and we truly feel that our box is the best on the market right now. We are proud of this! And we can tell our customers are happy too as we’ve sold out every single month that we’ve offered the box. (Which we are incredibly grateful for—thank you!).

Next, I need to introduce you to a term that you might not be familiar with (I wasn’t until earlier this year). It’s called reverse scale. I first learned about it from Meaningful Work by Shawn and Lawren Askinosie—a really great book that I would recommend to any business owner. Shawn owns a chocolate factory that works directly with cocoa farmers across the world to produce award-winning chocolate that not only tastes amazing, but is changing the lives of everyone it touches—from bean to bar as Shawn aims to pay farmers a fair price and work within their communities in various ways. It’s hard to sum up in a sentence, but his business inspires me a great deal and although I have no illusions that we are doing the same thing (we are not), I do think we can learn a lot from his model. In the book, he has an entire chapter dedicated to reverse scale. You see, he cannot scale his chocolate business without potentially messing up the direct trade model they’ve created. This means there are major retailers who will never be able to carry Shawn’s chocolate because he cannot scale in the way they would need (price point and quantity). And as business owners we are SO often met with the message of ‘scale or die.’ The siren’s call of scaling big is ever present and sometimes totally appropriate, but when it means losing sight of what you set out to do, it’s not the right choice. And that’s one of the big things I learned from Shawn’s book.

What does this have to do with the Oui Fresh Beauty Box?

We’ve realized that in order to keep the box as high quality and focused on a mix of small- and medium- sized natural beauty brands, we will also have to reverse scale. For us, this means that soon (probably this summer) we will hit a subscriber number that we cannot go beyond. Otherwise, it will become so large that many of the companies we want to work with won’t be able to produce quantities to fulfill the monthly needs. Therefore, once we hit that number, we won’t be able to scale beyond it.

Even though it’s obvious to us now that this is the right decision, it was a hard one to make. As business owners, we too feel the pull to scale, scale, scale. We are ambitious women who do sometimes dream of being the next big leader of an industry. And for some products/businesses, scaling IS the right path. But for the goals of our beauty box, reverse scaling is what ultimately makes the most sense. It’s important to us that the box remains incredible for both our customers AND the brands we work with. We want to showcase other small businesses that are creating amazing natural beauty products. And we won’t be able to do that unless we stay small, too. We are committed to this type of quality. And once we made the decision, we knew it was the right one for us.

If you are a subscriber, or wanting to subscribe in the future, what does this mean for you? The good news is you can count on a box that is natural, a mix of products, high quality, and focused on introducing you to both small and larger brands. We’re aiming to find the very best natural products and brands out there and share them with you! But the bad news, and it’s really not bad news, is we won’t have an endless number of subscribers. Once we get to a certain size, we won’t have new spots open until other subscribers decide to opt out. This does happen, so I know we’ll still get to introduce plenty of you to our box over time. But it’s not going to scale to bigger and bigger proportions. And we think this is good because the focus will allow us to keep the quality high.

That’s it in a nutshell. We decided to share this with you all because we hope it not only signals to our customers that we are committed to high quality products, but I also hope that any fellow small business owners out there who may be facing similar issues will be encouraged by this. Business is tricky, and I know we don’t always feel like we know what we’re doing! Ha! But we think sharing our own struggles, concerns, and decisions might help others. Thanks for always letting us share. And thank you to everyone who has been a part of our business journey thus far—it seriously means a lot to us! xo. Emma, Elsie, and Team Oui Fresh

Credits // Author and Photography: Emma Chapman. Photo edited with the ACS for Desktop actions.
  • I really enjoy that you guys took the time to write this post. Very impressed with the transparency. I’m sure you ladies are also at an advantage because Oui Fresh is not your sole source of income, but nevertheless it is nice to see a company say, “Actually, scale is not the most important thing to us, so we’re not going to devalue the experience for the sake of it.”

  • I loved reading this! Any behind the scenes is so cool to me. I admire your hard decision. Thank you for sharing!!

    x, Paige

  • Such a cool look into your business concepts, and thanks for sharing! I’m sure that was a decision you went back and forth on, and I admire your transparency and reasons for making the decision you made. Annnnd now I’ve gotta order a beauty box before it’s too late! 🙂

  • I love this! As a small business owner – I sometimes get requests for more and more product and more and more discounted price and I’m not a mass producer by any means! As a small handmade batch business, it’s hard to say no when you want your business to flourish and grow, but you just don’t have the means to do so. I love when one of my retailers tells me they’re OK to wait or the understand that things take time (since a lot of what I do is dependant on nature itself). Those willing to wait and that understand are my favourite businesses to deal with and I’ll always go above and beyond for them because of that.

    I think that a lot of the small businesses you’re introducing to the world probably appreciate and feel the same way (because it’s AMAZING what you’re doing), so kudos to you guys! I love this transparency and that you’re providing this information to your following so that they can see the tough side of small business ownership for some of us, but also understand your goals and aspirations to help out smaller businesses.

  • Thankful I’m already subscribed! Phew. I love the beauty box. I can’t wait to get it every month. This post reminded me of an interview with May Lindstrom, very similar concept of keeping the quality high.

  • Thank you for posting this. Moreso, thank you for doing this!!! It is incredibly meaningful and makes me value you even more. And makes me thankful I’ve been a subscriber since the beginning…not gonna lie 😜 but i love how organic it will keep the box. I feel like if you didn’t do this, you’d pull away from your intentions for it at some point. YOU LADIES ARE AMAZING!!!

  • Thank you for sharing this idea, putting so much thought into your work and what you do! You all are such great role models.

    I am not a beauty box subscriber — I have been tempted many times, but ultimately I know I won’t go through many of the products, and it feels wasteful for me specifically, given my beauty routine habits. However, I am very interested in a lot of the products you include in the boxes. I would LOVE to hear what your subscribers think of the different products they’ve received, so that I can decide whether to try them or not (as individual products rather than getting a whole box each month). Is there any way to share that info from your subscribers to the rest of your readers?

    Xo — Christina

    • I think something like this would be great!! Maybe start a hashtag for customers to start sharing their experience with the product or something? Or something for those of us that don’t subscribe can get more insight into the products.

  • I am so glad that you blogged about this. It’s a very new business model that I would love to research, and I’ve never truly even considered it a possibility until now. I really like the idea of bringing back meaning into American businesses as I scale back on my own purchases and take the time to research the products I buy. Thank you for using your platform to influence this!

  • Thanks for sharing this. I love my oui fresh box and the fact that it supports small businesses. Some products and companies I would not tried if it wasn’t for the box.

  • Thanks for this post. I’m not a box subscriber but am a business owner, and really appreciated hearing your thought process. Have you considered scaling up to two types of boxes so that you can expand without overtaxing your suppliers? Entrepreneurial work/life balance is hard so absolutely no judgement if reverse scale works best for you, but I’d also love to see thoughtful women take over the world and it seems like you have a great product!

  • Thank you for this great, insightful post! As someone who has never owned a business and has worked in the nonprofit sector for my entire career so far, I can nevertheless relate to the concept of reverse scaling, in that we sometimes dream of scaling a project too fast because of the lure of a big donor, when in fact it would serve our cause, our beneficiaries, and our own team a lot better to go slower and more methodically, perhaps stopping before a certain tipping point. I was never able to articulate this phenomenon and you’ve given me some reading to do with Meaningful Work, can’t wait to check it out. xox

  • I love reading “behind the scenes” posts! As a non-business person, I’m so fascinated to learn more. I appreciate that you shared this, and I appreciate your decision! It’s not as easy for me to support small skincare and cosmetic businesses since I live in China, but I do my best! It means a lot of stocking up when I visit Canada in the summer, and a lot of money in shipping and duty, but it’s worth it!

  • I really appreciate this. It’s fashion revolution week as well this week, and I’ve been reading a lot about supply chain transparency and especially the lack of quality that tends to happen when companies scale—and the pressure that can put on companies to cut corners in protecting the people who make the products, and with environmental impacts. Good on you for supporting your suppliers in helping them make better business decisions for themselves and the individuals they touch.

  • Congrats on your success with this biz and your oui fresh line. Please consider making the box and your products even more natural by making them vegan. There is no need to harm animals to wear makeup and have nice skin.

    • Hi. I’m a subscriber. I’m not sure if EVERYTHING in the box is vegan, but a lot of it has been. I haven’t read every single ingredients label on every single product, but some items are clearly marked as vegan and some aren’t but probably could be. I think vegan may be the goal, but I do not know if it’s a guarantee.

  • I am so impressed with your commitment to quality over quantity and standing against the temptation to become “big”. I have a Sustainable Development degree and something I have been learning is how that Go Big mentality can have serious adverse affects on the world. It has been designed to be efficient but actually compromises our society’s resilience. In an ideal world we would have local business supporting local business supporting local businesses, in a distributive economy that spreads the wealth around as well as products. Greater efficiency and productivity often result in the greatest amount of waste in a linear system that does not actually distribute fairly or support localised economies, just dumps waste or unused resources (now pollutants) into the earth.

    I am SO GLAD that your business along with Askinosie and other businesses are making supporting other small businesses a priority! The allure of money and becoming big are serious temptations to resist, but better (for everyone and our precious planet) to live and work with integrity, to earn a living, to stand for good things and to bring useful services to our own communities.

    You become a leader through standing strong in your values. Another small business owner who might inspire you is Judy Wicks of the White Dog Cafe, here’s a video of her speaking of the values and ethics that underpinned her business journey. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kh_ZbNlTbn4. It’s so important for businesses to realise that pursuing capitalism above social and ethical responsibilities is actually not going to make anyone’s lives richer in real terms. Basically our society’s pursuit of capitalism has to change and it’s wise not to follow the current norms.

    Every corner you turn I am often so happy with the decisions you guys are making. As someone who seriously cares and is concerned about our little planet it is so good to see you use your platform to bring awareness to these issues step by step. It keeps me coming back as a reader. 🙂

  • Kudos to you ladies for the tough decision and sharing it with your fan base. I am an indie brand and at the present “small batch” and it is difficult for us to do 800-1000 jars not at retail. So I thank you for thinking about your vendors and learning about reverse scale. And we love your box and excited to see what comes every month ❤️

  • thank you thank you thank you! The more sustainable you become, the better your biz is for the planet! This post is so important. What really measures success? What is the eco footprint of a business, of an individual? This should be considered, especially as the earth’s health continues to decline. Your implementation of “green” living practices and posts are also so encouraging for the massive fan base to have! Yay you!