Burt's Bees: Up From Craft Fairs

In a Q&A, CEO John Replogle on keeping a homey touch while expanding big time

Brand expansion isn't just for big business. Two decades ago the founders of Burt's Bees were peddling their handmade beeswax candles and lip balms at craft fairs in the Northeast. Now the Durham (N.C.) company's eco-friendly personal-care products, some of which still sport the bearded visage of Maine beekeeper and retired co-founder Burt Shavitz, can be found in 22,000 stores, including recent additions Walgreens (WAG ) and CVS (CVS ). Sales at the company, which was acquired by private equity group AEA Investors in 2004, are expected to rise 25% in 2006, to $250 million. Writer Andrew Park spoke with Chief Executive John Replogle, 40, who joined Burt's from Unilever in January, about managing the explosive growth of this offbeat brand.

What drives decisions about brand expansion at Burt's Bees?

We receive over a thousand phone calls and e-mails a week from consumers. It's through that dialogue that we know where to take our brand. For example, consumers tell us they absolutely adore products in our hand- and foot-care line. And they say, "Can you help me by giving me a product like that that's good for all over my body?" That's what really led to our recent launches of a full range of body lotions.

Where do you want to take the brand in the future?

We're trying to meet consumer needs from head to toe. We're going to be moving into a men's range and a fuller line of personal cleansing products, to shampoos and conditioners. We just launched a body wash, and we'll launch more products next year. We'll be offering hand soaps and washes early in the new year.

Any plans for the baby-care market, which is hot right now?

We're just about to introduce a head-to-toe baby wash. Mothers really understand the need for natural care. A lot of our consumers actually [discovered the brand] with their child.

Any products you'll stay away from?

Household care. There's a lot of damage to our planet [from synthetic] things that go down the drain, and our philosophy has always been to be gentle. Frankly we've decided not to move into it at this time.

Have any new categories been disappointments?

Color cosmetics such as eye shadows or blushing creams. Those have not been strong sellers for us.

What's the end game for Burt's Bees?

We don't really see a limit to what we can do. Health and wellness [are part of] a megatrend, and so is the greening of America. All you have to do is listen to major retailers talk about sustainability, and you see the confluence of consumer trends and retailer trends. We're right at the heart of that.

Do you risk alienating your core consumers as you move into mainstream stores?

[Our consumer] wants access to her favorite products at all of her favorite retailers. The authenticity of the brand shines through regardless of whether we're in 10,000 or 20,000 or even 30,000 stores.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.