When the husband and wife team Serenity and Joe Carr launched Serenity Kids in 2017 with a first-of-its-kind line of pouched baby food inspired by the paleo diet they knew “there was a huge white space,” but they never anticipated the exponential growth that they have experienced in the last three years, said Serenity Carr.
“Everyone had said that we were on a rocket ship, and now we are finding out that they were right. We are having exponential growth. We are expanding our product offerings and just seeing crazy amounts of sale,” Serenity Carr said.
Indeed, the brand’s retail revenue is growing 30% month over month, and it is projecting an annual revenue of $10-12 million this year – up from $3 million last year – thanks in part to its rapid retail expansion from three stores to 2,000 in 2019 and a projected 4,000 stores by the end of the year, according to the company.
Serenity Carr attributes the company’s fast growth to parents being “desperate for this product,” which offers a “very different nutritional proposition” from the competition with its “high fat, higher protein, lower carb, lower sugar, fruit free” pouched purees.
While Serenity and Joe Carr are elated with the company’s success so far, they agree that it has come with unexpected growing pains, including challenges hiring employees with the right skill sets at the right time, raising sufficient funds, supporting retail partners and finding time to take care of themselves and their 2-year-old daughter Della, who is the inspiration for the brand.
How to grow a team for sustained success
By far the biggest challenge that Serenity and Joe Carr say they have faced while scaling Serenity Kids is hiring and effectively managing their employees.
“We went from one employee in January 2019 to 14 employees today, and four or five of those were hired this year. … So, it’s constant growth,” said Joe Carr.
He explained that as a startup with limited resources, Serenity Kids has only been able to hire new employees after someone else is “already doing multiple people’s jobs for several months and somebody is near the breaking point. … So, it has been stressful on us and the team and we’ve lost some people because of that. Not everybody is built for that kind of overwork and people get burnt out.”
Unhappy with this arrangement and unwilling to see employees suffer, Joe Carr said the company is “really trying to get ahead of [hiring] and working with some experts to make a future org chart,” identify new hires who can fill in existing gaps and thrive in both a scrappy startup culture and as part of the “pretty big company” that Serenity Kids will be in less than a year.
Serenity Carr recommends that if companies can afford it that an early hire should be an “HR expert. You don’t just want to hire your cousin to do the job. Maybe they could do it, but if you are on a rocket ship, you need rocket engineers, frankly. If you are really growing that fast, then learning on the job isn’t an option.”
After running into “that hitch a couple of times and finally seeing the light that we really need people who have already done this,” Serenity Carr said she and Joe Carr now look for experts with specific CPG experience who can say, “I fixed this kind of problem before. You need this kind of tool and it going to take this long and this much budget.”
To help vet potential employees, Joe Carr said the duo now often hires potential employees first as contractors to complete specific concrete tasks – a strategy that allows them to see the quality of the employees’ work and gives potential employees a chance to experience the culture at Serenity Kids to determine if it is a good fit.
They also use the KOLBE work personality test and match their executive team with a personal coach to help develop business strategies that fit both the company and the staff.
Finally, Joe Carr said, the company is exploring different project management software that will help staff do their jobs more efficiently.
“We’ve always done everything in Google Docs or Dropbox or Slack channels and Zoom meetings and phone calls,” and while those are great options, “we’re trying to get organized with a project management software so that we can worker smarter, not harder,” he said.
Creative solutions to drive velocity, initial trial
Hiring experts can be expensive, but Serenity Carr said it is a worthwhile investment because it allows the company to sufficiently support retail partners and build brand awareness – two other pain points that the company has successfully managed over the past year.
Driving velocity at new retail stores is a challenge for any new company, but lockdowns to help control the spread of the coronavirus pandemic have further complicated the task for Serenity Kids. However, unlike other CPG brands, Serenity Kids never relied on in-store demos – preferring instead on-shelf promotions and in-home sampling programs.
“We always did in-home sampling, which included moms giving our product to other moms, or sharing the product at mommy groups or mommy events. While those have slowed down some, we’ve actually engaged with a new firm called Moms Meet that has a pretty cool model and a huge list of moms” who sign up to deliver or share sample boxes with 20 other parents, said Joe Carr.
He explained that through this program Serenity Kids hopes to reach upwards of 400 parents who will all deliver their product to 20 other parents in Texas to support the company’s roll out this month to 100 HEB and 45 Kroger locations in Houston.
In addition, he said, “we’re starting to play around with paid influencers. We’ve been very fortunate to have influencers all do it for product or affiliate revenue so far. But now it is time for us to be more targeted and to buy the influencers in the right places.”
The duo also is working with retailers to better activate the brand through curbside pick up programs, which have proliferated during the pandemic and which Joe Carr predicts will continue to capture at least 10% of business even as communities re-open.
“There is so much potential for advertising to a mom curbside. Like, we could give her a free pouch if she put another competitor’s pouch in her cart. Or an app could tell if someone has ever bought [Serenity Kids] before and we could send them a pop-up,” Joe Carr said. “Unfortunately,” he added, “many of the apps are not optimized for that since curbside has been such a small part of the business. … But we’re really talking those retailers that are ready to act and optimize curbside as soon as we can.”
New products in the works
While Serenity and Joe Carr acknowledge that they have their hands full with the company’s rapid growth, they still continue to push innovation with the hope of expanding beyond just baby food to include options for older children.
“We want to be a billion dollar children’s food brand and make nutrient dense foods that taste great for kids of all ages and are convenient for parents,” said Joe Carr. “The strategy is essentially to first dominate baby and hook them young – both moms and children – on these nutrient dense, low sugar, good tasting and convenient foods.”
But from there, the duo plans to grow the business along with their daughter, who at 2 years old still likes the baby pouches but “really wants more protein, more complex flavors, so we have a new line of pouches that is coming out as a national exclusive off-cycle with Whole Foods in September that will be formulated for toddlers,” Joe Carr added.
He added the company also has “two completely new product lines that are not pouches” that will be ready to launch in February 2021.
The new products, just like the existing ones, will be uncompromising on quality, even if that means using more expensive but healthier ingredients, said Serenity Carr, adding, “Babies don’t get to pick what they eat – their parents choose it for them and I’m here for those babies. I want to offer them the most nutritious thing possible to really make every bite count.”