Burt's Bees: Leaving the Hive
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Professor Luc R.Wathieu and Senior Researcher Laura Winig, Global Research Group, prepared this case with the assistance of Stephanie Lin (MBA 2007). HBS cases are developed solely as the basis for class discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffective management.
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Already, rapid growth had propelled Burt’s Bees products into mainstream outlets such as CVS and Walgreen pharmacies. Under Replogle’s leadership, the product range would be changing rapidly as well. It would still star the brand’s classics, including beeswax lip balm and lip shimmers, and “hand salve” and other esoteric creams and ointments contained in small, endearing containers. Many products would continue to carry the brand’s early (and highly recognizable) symbol: Roxanne Quimby’s original drawing of Burt’s bearded face, half shaded under a flaky hippie hat. However, new product lines, with a noticeably different look, were about to appear on Burt’s Bees honeyyellow product displays. Among them, a complete line of hair products would provide efficacious hair care thanks to unique and natural ingredients. The subtly fragrant “Super Shiny” grapefruit and sugar beet shampoo, for example, would be sold in a plain-shaped yellowish plastic bottle (made with 80% post-consumer recycled materials), decorated with a still-life drawing of its ingredients, and marked “98.80% natural.” Replogle and his teams were confident that these products, while arguably less “quirky” than earlier offerings of the brand, delivered authentically on the company’s mission, which they spelled out as follows:
When John Replogle (MBA ’93) became CEO of Burt’s Bees in 2006, sales had been growing by over 30% per year over the previous four years across multiple, increasingly diversified channels of distribution in the United States and abroad. The company’s brand leadership in the natural personal care category—itself growing by 15% per year over the same period—was secure, despite growing competition. Replogle’s mantra was that all this momentum gave Burt’s Bees a unique opportunity to bring natural personal care to the forefront of mainstream personal care in the coming years, a revolution that would be consistent with the original vision of Burt’s Bees founder Roxanne Quimby, who thought that the natural and earth-friendly products would ultimately reach “everyone, everywhere.” Replogle liked to provocatively claim that Burt’s Bees wanted to become the “Starbucks of personal care,” in reference to the niche coffee brand that won over its category by imposing superior product expectations and a renewed sense of meaning in consumption. Achieving this ambitious goal, however, would require many changes for the Maine-born brand that...