In this episode, we chat with Cynthia Herrera, Chief Executive Officer at Sun Bum. Sun care essentials originally created for friends and family that evolved into a globally recognized brand. Today, Sun Bum maintains its essence of being a planet, animal and family-friendly, and simply good. Tune in to hear how Cynthia's experience in some of the biggest CPG companies like SC Johnson, Nestle, Pepperidge Farm, and Nabisco has helped shape her marketing knowledge throughout the years and prepared her for her role today.
how did you get your role at as CEO of Sun Bum?
Reid Carr: Oh, it's so glad to have you here. First, I just want to level set here is how did you get your role at as CEO of Sun Bum?
Cynthia Herrera: Well, it's probably a little bit of luck and a little bit of hard work. Well, probably a lot of both actually, if I'm being honest. Honestly, Sun Bum is such a great company, so I'm really fortunate to have landed not only with the organization, but in an opportunity to lead it. I would say the diverse background that I've had in different roles with organizations, some of the companies that you mentioned, anywhere from sales, marketing, whether it be domestic or global experiences, a lot of that has really prepared me for this role and kind of brought the skillsets that are needed to look at an organization like this and lead the team.
Reid Carr: When you set out on your career, did you have your eye on being CEO someday?
Cynthia Herrera: No. Oh my gosh, no, not at all. I think it's interesting. So when I grew up, I think about my parents and how we were raised and everything, and in my household women could do anything and be anything. My mom raised my sister and I to think we could do anything and take on the world, but growing up and then getting into school and then going through the workforce and whatnot, you didn't see a lot of people that looked like you in those kinds of roles, so you just didn't think it was possible. And so that's one of those where it's not part of the mindset or it wasn't part of the mindset, but I was again, just driven to do what I could to just be the best I could in any role that I took on.
Reid Carr: Well, and you took on a lot of different roles, as you said in sales and marketing and so on, that well-rounded experience that's prepared you for here. We talked about brands like a Nabisco and so on, in some of those experiences, maybe you have some stories that lead to how you lead the company now. Is there any particular experiences that stand out that influence how you operate now?
Cynthia Herrera: Yeah, I think how I operate now is really a culmination of all of those experiences, from all the organizations and all the different teams that I've either been a part of or have led, and also the mentors and leaders that I've had in my career and in my life. Some of the ways that I approach it, people are super important. I think any organization really has to look at the asset that they have in their people and really pay attention to that, and I think people at the forefront of it, they want to be seen, heard and valued, and that's a really important part to any business, and it's an important thing for any leader to know as well. So I think that's the first thing. I had a lot of great leaders and mentors in my career where they really saw me as an individual.
Cynthia Herrera: They were invested in my career, invested in me as a human being, and it felt authentic. So that was really important, and that's one of the things that I paid attention to, and I wanted to make sure that how they made me feel, that I had the ability to make others feel that way as well. Some of the other things, I think you have good leaders and sometimes you have not so good leaders and some different experiences that aren't the best. I think that also shaped it. So when I talk about people being very important and being the most important asset that a company has, I think when you look at some of the experiences where you didn't feel valued or you didn't feel seen or anything like that, I think those are the moments where you try to remember that and not be that way as you lead.
Cynthia Herrera: The other thing that's really important is just getting a bunch of different experiences. I think you need to have a better view of the organization in a totality. So for example, my roles in sales, there's an area that you impact the organization in a certain way. There's a way that what you do and deliver impacts the organization in a certain way. Roles in marketing, they'll impact the organization in a different way, but both of those roles and how they impact the organization are important to the whole picture. So that's another piece I think, and how I lead today is just making sure that I'm curious, I'm asking questions and I'm trying to get the whole picture versus just a piece of it.
How do you magnify Sonny as a brand asset?
Reid Carr: Speaking about people as assets and the values that you have as an organization, you also have a pretty powerful other core asset, which is Sonny and the powerful Sun Bum brand. How do you magnify that or how do you innovate off of that where it is now?
Cynthia Herrera: That's a really good point. I think when you look at Sun Bum in general, there's so many folks. The company's been around since 2010, and through that building of the brand, some very smart awesome people built the brand where it is today, and leveraging Sonny is that mascot of that character is just genius because it takes a pretty serious topic of skin cancer, in trying to prevent skin cancer, and it makes it feel more approachable. It gives it a little bit of a personality and it allows you to talk about it in a little different way, which I think is really important.
Cynthia Herrera: And so, keeping that innovation alive, we always have to go back to where we started. It's really important to remember why did we start. We started to protect our friends and families from the damaging effects of the sun. So when we innovate, we want to make sure that we're always going back to that core piece of it. We also are a company that has a little bit of edge. While we're talking about a serious topic, we don't take ourselves too seriously, so we want to have a little bit of fun with that. And so it's important for us to always remember that piece of it. Again, it's a serious topic, but we want to make it relatable so that our community will protect themselves and take it seriously, but enjoy life as it were.
How do you maintain that entrepreneurial spirit in Sun Bum?
Reid Carr: Well, so then how do you maintain that entrepreneurial spirit and surface ideas? You talked about the benefit of all the different teams and the breadth and experiences that you have. I'm sure great ideas can come from anywhere. How do you maintain that entrepreneurial spirit such that people are willing to present those ideas?
Cynthia Herrera: I think the focus is really trying to make day-to-day interaction in business approachable and making sure that people feel comfortable at every level having conversations. So, we're still a smallish kind of scrappy company. We've grown a ton over the years, but I walk through the building every day, or the buildings every day. I do some of our, I'll call them OGs, folks that have been there from the beginning, I'll call them up or walk by their desk and say, "Hey, let's go hit some stores together." So I really try to be a approachable and accessible, and I like for everybody on the team to feel that way as well.
Cynthia Herrera: You can talk to anybody about anything and any idea that you have, bring it up and let's talk through it. Again, it's trying to go back to our why, and the question is, should Sun Bum do it? And if we should, why? How would we do it? Because we wouldn't necessarily do it the way maybe you would expect it to be done, which is kind of fun. So I do like to get ideas from anywhere, and honestly, it's that fun. It's creating that space of fun and not taking yourself too seriously that allows some of that creativity to come through at every level.
What is the value of Sun Bum being in San Diego?
Reid Carr: Yeah, I mean, speaking of space or the sense of place, I mean where your headquarters are, you're here in San Diego. I mean, there's an option to be maybe anywhere. I mean, presumably you need to be near to the beach, but maybe you don't necessarily have to, it's not exactly a CPG capital of the world over here. How important is place to you in this case, of recruiting the talent and getting talent together and the value of being here in San Diego?
Cynthia Herrera: I think I'd start with the most important thing for the brand, and what I think we need to do and focus on is the authenticity. So if I think about us being authentic and we've been an authentic brand from day one, where we are kind of matters and who works within the organization kind of matters. And so our organization, our headquarters, right in Encinitas, we're just a couple blocks up from Moonlight Beach. It's a pretty kick ass place to be, quite frankly. So I can't complain about the space at all. And I think the team really does embrace that beach lifestyle, that outdoor lifestyle. We've got a lot of folks on our team that surf, some that don't, but that's okay. It's again, that inclusivity and that authenticity.
Cynthia Herrera: I think if you look at our social and you look at our website, it's really important to us that what you see in those spaces or through those venues is actually who we are and how we operate, and that's really important. So where we are, we could be anywhere, but it's really meaningful to be actually where we are in San Diego and in Encinitas. The other great thing about being where we are in San Diego is there's so many other cool brands, lifestyle brands that are in this space as well. When you think about Nixon and Brixton and Viori, I mean, there's just so many cool brands in this space that when you're just paying attention and watching what they're doing, you get inspired. So it's pretty fun.
Reid Carr: Well it is interesting. I mean, juxtapose that lifestyle brand versus CPG, and I think that you're talking about certainly where you've come from and then the attitude that you embrace and that sense of higher purpose as it relates to preventing skin cancer and so on. Now, how do those considerations, the lifestyle aspect of it, how does it change as you expand globally and into new markets? What are some of these considerations?
Cynthia Herrera: So, when I think about expanding globally and taking that lifestyle brand into consideration, first and foremost, we're this beach lifestyle brand and there are beaches everywhere. So really we want to look at areas that are true to that lifestyle and what people are looking for. So a lot of our early expansion had been into maybe destination vacation places or different countries and places that were more focused on vacation, beach lifestyle, surf environment or surf lifestyle, if you will. But I think as we continue to grow, what we're really looking for, honestly, we want to prevent skin cancer, so we want to go wherever that sun goes, and that sun goes everywhere. And I think the important thing is to look at the market itself, the opportunity within that market, but go thoughtfully. And that's one thing that the brand has done really well over the years.
Cynthia Herrera: It's not a brand that just goes everywhere all at once. It's a brand that really tries to stay true to where we came from, what we're about, our why, and then going into a market or a channel or a retailer in the right way at the right time. And that's been kind of our thoughtful approach. We approach international the same way we did domestically with that thoughtful strategic approach.
How do you balance short-term goals with long-term aspirations?
Reid Carr: And so, I would imagine then for the long-term aspirations, the goals that you have there, how do you balance short-term goals with that long term?
Cynthia Herrera: It's hard. I mean, I think anybody will tell you, trying to figure out where you want to go today and tomorrow, you're constantly looking at all angles and seeing what do I need to do today that's going to get me in the future or where I need to go in the future. But I think most importantly, it starts with a strategic plan, kind of setting the stage of here's where we are today, in three to five years here's where we want to be. And then as you approach each year's priorities and expectations, I think that's where you break down those shorter term goals that also ladder up to the long-term view of where you want to be. And then course correct as needed, but I think you have to know where you want to go in order to build that roadmap from where you are today.
Reid Carr: So, with your experience then, from on the sales side and the marketing side, I mean, I think marketing oftentimes is seen as kind of long term and the brand piece with sales being in the short term because you get that sale. How do you connect those two things together given your experience, whether it's operationally or setting those goals? I mean, what's from your past experience, how do you balance those two aspects together?
Cynthia Herrera: I think it's a little bit of healthy tension. So when you think about, you're right, marketing is looking at that long-term play. They're looking at what do they need to put in place now that's going to then pay dividends down the road as the brand continues to grow, how do you set that foundation and while sales is after that first part or that sale, I think having a healthy tension between the two departments and having the conversation on what each are trying to get to and build, you just have to have space for that conversation. And you can do that in any way, whether it be annual planning, whether it be just normal conversations, whether it's an innovation meeting that the brand is leading with input from sales. There's a number of different ways to have that conversation, but both sides have to see each other for what they're trying to do because both sides are important to that long term goal.
Reid Carr: So how do you foster those relationships between one another in that case, but then also building that up into the C-suite? How do you balance those conversations such that the C-suite understands what's happening in the organization, the organization knows how to meet the C-Suites goals, you talk about this healthy tension, what does that look like in the boardroom or in some of the meeting spaces that you have?
Cynthia Herrera: I think we're still a company that we have a lot of conversations on a regular basis at all levels, which is great. And I know that that's not always possible as a company gets bigger and grows, but that's really important to us. So one of the most important things that we try to do is really this open and transparent communication with the organization. So we do that in a couple ways. We do it through either monthly meetings where it's kind of like an all hands meeting. We call them our Sunny Sessions, or we do it through our Leadership Team Connects where we're bringing each other along with what each department is focused on, what their priorities are, what their strategies are. But we do try to make sure that communication is in the forefront of everything we do and that we're leveling that open, transparent communication all the way through the organization.
Cynthia Herrera: I do a weekly “What's Up?” email to the team still, and a little bit of it is fun, a little bit of it is business, a little bit of it as what's coming up. And we do like to try to bring that personal piece to it. But again, it boils down to I think communication and making sure that you're communicating the right thing continuously to the team at all levels so that people kind of have an idea of what am I doing today and how does that match up with where we're going so that people aren't thinking their work doesn't matter or is it valued.
What is your general channel strategy at Sun Bum?
Reid Carr: So, have a few questions related to your channel strategy, because I want to dig in a little bit on that and where some of the opportunities are for our listeners. I mean, can you give us a sense of just your general channel strategy as it relates to Sun Bum? Where are you sold?
Cynthia Herrera: Good news is we're sold in a lot of places now. That's really grown over the years, which has been pretty exciting and it's still pretty humbling to see. Anytime I go into a store and I see us on shelf, I always get excited. It's just a cool feeling. But we've got an e-commerce presence, we have our own D2C, our own website where we sell product as well. And then we're in a lot of what we call our mass customers, like your Target, your CVS, your Walgreens. And then I would say one of our most important and founding channels would be what we call our specialty channel. And these are really, whether it be resorts, surf shops, boutiques, kind of the channel that's been with us from the start is a really important channel that we never want to lose sight of.
Cynthia Herrera: And no matter where else we go, no matter what else we do, our conversations are always going back to how do we continue to take care of our specialty channel? How do we make sure that we're keeping them special, as you keep specialty special is kind of a mantra we use, but it's a balance between each of those channels and in specialty we get to tell our story and bring our lifestyle to life, if you will. D2C on our website, it's less about selling product, it's more about telling our stories and just being the brand for the community and communicating that way.
Reid Carr: I'm glad we got to that because that's the one of the more interesting things, I think in a lot of ways because I would imagine that the data that you get from that channel or some of the breadth of channels maybe is not always as clean or perfect as you might like. So I would love to hear about the role of technology and data in your overall ecosystem and then still obviously preserving what you think is true, from a channel strategy, to the brand.
Cynthia Herrera: When I look at data, I think as a company gets bigger, they get so much data that they can be paralyzed at sometimes and they don't even know what decision to make, or they have a hard time making a decision in a fast enough timeframe because of all the data that's around them. So that's good and bad. So for us, we haven't always had a lot of data points to work with. Over the years, we've gotten more data as we've expanded into mass. So there's a little bit of data balanced with gut, and I think it's that art and science that you look at. So the data's important as we grow to figure out how are we doing in the category as a whole, and what do we need to focus on to continue to ramp up or amp up in those categories or within the category and drive the business.
Cynthia Herrera: But the gut really tells us how does it feel and does it feel like the right thing to do? Does it feel like we're going in the right direction and for our brand, because we want to continue to be authentic and show up authentically, that's a piece that really matters to us. And you're right, the specialty channel is not a channel that's going to give you a lot of data, but the data's actually in the conversations, the data's actually on the shelf. The data is with the consumers that are walking in, and that's some of the richest data you can get.
Reid Carr: Absolutely, and that's one of the things I always try to communicate to people is getting out in the wild and seeing your product on shelves and having those conversations. So those are obviously clearly critically important to you. And I think you had mentioned something much earlier in our conversation about grabbing someone and going to visit a store. I really think it seems like that's where the authenticity actually comes from. It's not coming from a spreadsheet.
Cynthia Herrera: Yeah, it's so true because I think you can be stuck in an office, and you can be stuck on a piece of paper or on a computer screen and not really see what's going on. And I think that's why literally each one of us are consumers. When you're in the stores, when you're even talking with consumers, just pay attention. Look at what you see. See what jumps out at you, whether it's packaging, whether it's presentation, whatever it might be in the sea of everything that's on a shelf, just pay attention to it.
Do you think there is something in the marketing space that’s maybe overdone or overused?
Reid Carr: Yeah. Now getting into a little bit on the trend side is do you feel like there's anything in the marketing space that's maybe overdone or overused right now? Or do you think there's anything, and I should say, is there anything on the horizon that's worth really paying attention to?
Cynthia Herrera: I think the overused, overdone, boy, I want to say you've got a lot of brands that are trying to promote causes, I think. And so I want to be careful with how I say this because I think there's definitely a point of it and there's a need for it. I think if it's done in an inauthentic way and it doesn't make sense to the brand, that's where it gets to be kind of overused, overdone because there's no tieback. The consumer's like, you don't even have a right to play in that space. What are you doing? So I think if you're going to play in that kind of space and really try to focus in on consumers and get at their heart, if you will, it needs to be authentic and it needs to be relevant and realistic as a tieback to your brand. Yeah, I think that's one.
Cynthia Herrera: On the horizon, I don't know, there's so much that's happening so fast when you think of even where TikTok was just a couple years ago, a few years ago, to where it is now and how that's expanded greatly. I think anything in that digital space is going to be something to pay attention to. But I think the most important you need to do, or the most important thing you want to think about is how are you leveraging that particular venue for how the consumer takes in that venue? So all of the digital venues right now, if you think about Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, any of those, put the appropriate content for how the consumer is using that versus kind of cookie cutter or peanut butter spread across that. I think that's pretty important to pay attention to.
Reid Carr: Yeah, and I would imagine there is an aspect of it that is about resources, what resources you have available that can do that in an authentic way, because everyone has limited resources. I've never heard of anyone, just regardless of how big the company is that says, oh, we've got abundant resources.
Cynthia Herrera: Exactly.
Reid Carr: So how do you apply the resources at Sun Bum toward these things that you think are worth exploring?
Cynthia Herrera: We try to look at and have folks weigh in no matter what department they're in. I think you do have departments that are dedicated in certain spaces to do and achieve certain things related to the organization, but we've got folks that run events on weekends and sometimes the content that comes from that is a great feed in for our social team to leverage. So it really is the team kind of leveraging each other in situations and just sharing that back and forth in addition to a defined department.
Is there anything that people assume about the Sun Bum brand that maybe it’s not accurate?
Reid Carr: So last question I want to get into. Is there anything that people assume about the Sun Bum brand or anything that you feel like they should know about the brand that maybe they don't?
Cynthia Herrera: I think people assume we might be way bigger than we are. Well, we've grown a ton, but we're still a small kind of scrappy company, which is kind of fun. So I think as we grow, it's been a lot of fun to watch that, but there are times where people might assume we're bigger than we actually are. So that's the one thing I would say there. What I think I want folks to know that they may not know about Sun Bum is first I would say Trust the Bum. So that the tagline that we have, we all take that really to heart. That means a lot to us. So we take that pretty seriously and pretty personally as a promise that we make to our consumers and people that work with us and in our community, that we want to be kind of that trusted advocate, that trusted friend or family for them.
Cynthia Herrera: So that matters a ton to us. The other thing I would say is that if you look at our social media, and if you look at our website, those are folks that work for the company. Those are some of the crazy, silly, ridiculous things we do in the office sometimes. Those are actually our people. So you probably may not know that. But even when we do just lifestyle photography, a lot of those are part of our community and friends, friends of the family, if you will. So we really try to keep it real and keep it authentic.
Reid Carr: Oh, that's lovely. Well, Cynthia, it's fantastic having you. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for educating our audience and always a pleasure.