“Tell Your Partner That You Love Them Every Morning Before Work” Words of Wisdom with Ronnie Shugar and Donda Mullis
“Tell your partner that you love them every morning before work. As a working couple, work-life intermingled with everything else can sometimes be overwhelming. Make sure you say those loving words prior to hitting the office as the day goes by way too quickly. By the time we get home we’re exhausted and drained, sometimes these important words are forgotten.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ronnie Shugar and Donda Mullis — Co-Founders of Raw Sugar Living (look for the white bottles with the Bamboo tops!). Ronnie comes from three generations of custom formulators in Southern California who led the industry in developing natural, vegetable-based, eco-friendly bath and body products that are good for the individual and for the environment. Co-Founder and Creative Director, Donda has been at the forefront of the retail industry for over 20 years and has been instrumental in bringing some of the most recognizable and high-profile brands to market in the US. Donda’s passions include clean healthy living, along with the empowerment of women in business. She’s a strong believer in spreading the word to “love the skin you’re in”. Their company’s accomplishments over the past three years include: expanding to 1,800 Target retail stores nationwide, tripling our workforce (all women), a 1,000% revenue growth rate, increasing our product line (from 9 item SKUs to 30 item SKUs in five beauty categories), organically growing to 65,000 social followers, and donating over 1.5 million bars of soap to families in need last year.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Our brand story was inspired by something so profoundly simple: love. It evolved, actually, from the love that Ronnie and I have nurtured over what seems a lifetime. We met many years back while working in the same retail field. We had different focuses then but were always the perfect complement to one another. Our plan was to always do something bigger — together — that would inspire and connect our retail background with a meaningful cause. We fell crazy in love, but then lost each other.
Fast forward 20 years — we ended up finding each other in one of those “by chance” meetings. We renewed our love and our shared belief of wanting to inspire others to live from a place of self-love and wellness. For us, it was about sharing our passion for clean and healthy living while preserving a 60-year family history of making natural hand crafted natural soap and personal care products that are good for the body and that nourish the soul- and that people can feel good about using.
In 2014, Raw Sugar was born from this love and passion we share, as partners in both business and in life, and promoting our message of self-love and wellness to consumers — whether it’s through our natural product ingredients, our packaging designs, or our philanthropic cause.
Our core belief is that all persons have the right to clean, healthy living at an affordable price. We believe that feeling beautiful is being beautiful. It’s really the heart of our story.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
Donda and I were at the Minneapolis airport going through security check, and the TSA agent who was checking our ID’s against the airline tickets noticed my last name, Shugar (people tend to make fun of my name when they see it). She casually noted that coincidentally, she had just purchased a “sugar body wash” and that it was her new favorite. As if on cue, Donda and I asked her in tandem: “What is your sugar body wash?” “Lemon Sugar, from Raw Sugar,” she replied, “that stuff smells amazing!” Donda and I looked at each other and smiled. I told the agent she smelled wonderful… smiles flowed in both directions.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Two key stand-out aspects of the Raw Sugar brand are our products and our company culture.
Our products are made with natural ingredients, eco-friendly packaging and sustainable Bamboo tops — all branded with the ‘Living Purely Unfiltered’ tagline and personalized with a Sugar note (love note) about loving the skin you’re in. Our products are jam-packed with fruit and vegetable nutrients, enzymes and certified organic extracts. A key differentiator is that we process these products through ColdPress Technology (think Cold-Pressed Juice, but for skin!), which means preserving more of the whole fruit and whole plant to nourish skin. These products derive from the demand of our fan base, as we leverage a consumer-driven strategy to continually innovate.
Our company culture also differentiates us, as we heavily invest in our employees and consciously create a happy culture based on love, kindness, integrity, respect, authenticity, innovation and empowerment. Our high employee retention rate is a testament to that. Excluding our CEO, our entire staff is composed of women, representing diverse backgrounds, cultures and strengths. We provide them with educational/training opportunities through the local trade-tech college, and cross-pollinate so employees learn from each other. We offer generous health and benefits packages (including pension plans) to set them up for success in all aspects of life.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My life mantra’s and constant source of inspiration was shaped by my mother, and the women in my life. I am the youngest of five girls. Growing up, I became a human sponge for all my sisters’ mishaps and life lessons — all of whom have been amazing role models in one way or another. My mother, with her traditional and kind southern roots, was the master role model for us all. She was a survivor of so many tragic happenings in her life that often rob people of their self-worth and dignity. Using the power of positive thinking as her default mindset, she found a way to rise above it all. Self-taught, hard-working and determined, my mother became a powerhouse designer. She carved out a new retail business model within a male dominated trade, and with no foundation of a stable home or parents. “Learn from adversity, it’s part of life,” she would say. “When you don’t like something change it, and if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Most of all, if you’re going to do it, do it with love. Own yourself, respect yourself, you are entirely up to you!” She also instilled the notion that we help ourselves by helping others. These life experiences helped to create my vision for the company. It all comes back to creating with authenticity, feeling good about ourselves and helping others thrive through encouragement and, of course, giving back.
My inspiration comes from my mentor and father, Arnold Shugar. From an early age, he taught me the meaning of hard work, dedication and passion. With these three principles in mind, I moved forward through life despite hardship and struggle as I knew that my resiliency would prove fruitful. Believe me, it took years until I had my first understanding of success. Even then I wasn’t sure, but I kept to the passion that my father instilled in me and have never looked back. As my father grows older, I often remind him of the days that he’d take me for a ride in the old station wagon to visit the family factory and of the way he used to insist that getting a better education (he was only in school through grade seven) would allow him to make a better life for my siblings and me. As we reminisce, he welcomes my entrepreneurship with glee. He always smirks, knowing that he did good. I always say, “you did more than good Dad, you did great.”
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Raw Sugar Living is a lifestyle brand on a mission to promote clean and healthy living through products that are good for the body and that nourish the soul. As Co-Founders, we built this brand to mainstream the highest-quality, hand-crafted natural soap and personal care products and deliver them to any and every consumer, no matter their wallet size.
With this in mind, the Raw Sugar Initiative was born. For every product purchased, Raw Sugar donates a fresh bar of soap to a person in need. In 2017, Raw Sugar donated 1.5 million bars of soap to the Direct Relief organization, and set a goal of 2.5 million bars of soap for 2018! The Raw Sugar Initiative was designed with our truth that it’s the simplest acts of kindness in the world that promote real change — one healthy bar at a time.
With this Raw Sugar Initiative, we connect the retail experience and consumer relationship with something bigger and more important: giving back. Whether it’s our message of self-love, or our adherence to philanthropic causes, we always strive to bring goodness to the world.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my Start-Up” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Tell your partner that you love them every morning before work. As a working couple, work-life intermingled with everything else can sometimes be overwhelming. Make sure you say those loving words prior to hitting the office as the day goes by way too quickly. By the time we get home we’re exhausted and drained, sometimes these important words are forgotten.
- Focus on your strengths — we all have certain aspects of business to which we excel, and other stuff that we just figure out; even through failure we learn the biggest lessons. There is often never a perfect “right answer” — so take action with confidence.
- Surround yourself with talented people, but good people. Our journey and success with Raw Sugar is about true teamwork. We are so fortunate to have found the right team. But without grace and kindness any amount of skills are not important to us.
- If you are unfamiliar with your mode of advertising, LEARN. There is nothing to be ashamed about if you do not understand a new approach to advertising. We are all learning. Four years ago, I had no idea what an emoji was, Boomerang Post or a Facebook Ad!
- LOVE AND BREATHE THE MISSION — don’t just say the words. Engage and embody your mission with action and with passion.
I was always better at learning from my own mistakes than taking in advice from others (probably mistake number one). That being said, here are the lessons I’ve learned and embrace every day:
- Lead with love and from the heart — everything else will fall into place for the right reasons. Don’t let someone else’s opinion of yourself define you.
- Grow organically and strategically innovate. If you create a product or service that people truly enjoy, benefit from, and that spreads good will — profitability will follow.
- “Let go of things that no longer serve you” — relationships, business deals, attachment to things. Reserve your time, intensity and spirit into projects and people that reflect sincerity. Nurture back what nurtures you.
- Learn to honor your inner voice and trust your own vision. This has taught me to explore my own story as my source for inspiration. This is what gives our work integrity and stands out from the crowd. Self-doubt happens all too often, so learning to lead and think with your intuition is so important.
- Avoid perfectionism and people pleasing! I have struggled with this for years, and I think many women can relate to the notion as well. Growing up in a pretty dysfunctional family, I always put so much pressure on myself to “be perfect”, thinking that I could create the calm that would fix and save all that needed saving. I was so wrong. I’ve learned that success comes from striving to be the best version of yourself and yourself only. You can’t change others, but you can be an instrument of goodwill. I have learned that It’s impossible to be 100% of everything to everyone. Rather, focus on being 100% authentic to yourself and to the audience where you vibe. To this day I’m still working on the power of saying no.
- When someone shows you who they are, believe them.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Growing up in Los Angeles, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several influential business people, sports heroes and celebrities alike. As human nature dictates, we are always in awe of people with wonderful stories of success and accomplishment. When Donda and I had our 1st donation of 500,000 bars of soap at a small local clinic in Santa Barbara, we both helped in the “kitting” process of handing out essential items to those in need. As the lines grew longer, we started asking their names and about where they were from. The responding smiles on those faces brought me to tears. For them, for us, it was an emotional connection to bring happiness and hope to each one of them, at least for that immediate moment. For that reason, I am grateful and ever more resilient in making a change in people’s lives, even if it’s one bar of soap at a time. Having a private dinner or breakfast with any of these people would be an absolute honor.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!