Industry veteran talks about adjustments, humility and home-to-home commerce
By: David Bland
A seasoned global business executive, Clint McKinlay is CEO of Ruby Ribbon, an innovative, social commerce-driven women’s intimates company. McKinlay brings deep channel experience in sales, business development, international expansion, and general management to the company. Before joining Ruby Ribbon in January 2020, he served as a strategic advisor to Yves Rocher, and spent more than two years as VP, worldwide sales for JAFRA Cosmetics, expanding into markets across Asia, Europe, and South America. From 2014 to 2017, as VP, field development for Shaklee Corp., he led growth in North America for the billion-dollar wellness company. Previously he spent three years as national director, sales and training for Rodan + Fields, taking the skincare company from its startup phase to annual sales of over $350 million. A natural galvanizer and communicator, Clint stands as an advocate for women in business. He is also a husband and a father to three daughters and two sons.
Location: Burlingame, CA
SSN: You have transitioned from
leadership roles in nutrition, beauty and skincare companies to women’s apparel. What was that transition like for you, and what adjustments were required?
We could classify the adjustment into three areas. The first would be understanding the new product category itself. Let’s be real; I was not brought to Ruby Ribbon because I was an underwear baron. This meant I needed to go to school and get proficient in the benchmarks, metrics, and market growth for women’s intimates and athleisure. Turns out, it is a very fun category with great growth.
The second adjustment was about embracing a unicorn opportunity as a man in a woman’s world and stepping into greater advocacy for women. Fortunately, I had a background in other feminine product categories, and so moving into a company designed expressly for women felt comfortable. In cosmetics companies, you find a good number of men in various roles. With women’s intimates however, there are very few. As a man you must be an ally. And as a man at Ruby Ribbon, you must truly buy into our vision, mission, and values as a “better place for women,” and be all about fostering that. While it was natural and comfortable for me to do it, it was still an adjustment to embrace advocacy at a new level. In truth, I have enjoyed the adjustment. The women of Ruby Ribbon are strong, compassionate, and inspiring. I am so grateful for their support. I also have three daughters, and I care deeply about the lives
they are leading and the professional opportunities they will get. I am proud and grateful to lead a company that empowers women in so many ways.
The last adjustment has been a way-of-work adjustment. What I mean by that is that the old term “party plan” is not really an apt descriptor of what this company has become. We have successfully pivoted into a virtual model. And as the pandemic continues to ease, we’ll have a hybrid model, likely from here on out. So, the way of work is obviously an adjustment, for us all.
SSN: What is your philosophy on omnichannel, and how does it integrate with the direct selling channel? Is it a requirement in the next decade?
My point of view is that omni is here to stay, and we must embrace this reality in social selling channels. It is unavoidable, and I believe this is a good thing because omnichannel is customer-centric in these modern times. It is about meeting your customer wherever she is at. At the end of the day, delighting customers must be our North Star or nothing else works, including the Stylist opportunity.
This doesn’t mean that companies need to suddenly do something drastic. Nobody needs to make a hard right or left here. But I think channel executives should look more courageously at little forks in the road and make decisions to be brave, and to understand that this is about a couple of things: First, we have to give customers what they want; second, we have to be where they are. We can do both in omni, while driving the gig economy and helping independent female thinkers and workers to have successful careers. Being in multiple channels raises the water level for the salesforce. In other words, the boats rise, the water level rises. The execution is very strategic. There are a lot of different points of view on this.
Companies often reach a fork in the road with omni debates. Let’s use a scale of 1-10. Let’s call a “10” a completely omnichannel company, and a “1” is that old direct selling company, or that old retail company that will never entertain a new channel. Ruby Ribbon will be somewhere comfortably in the middle. That means we are seen and heard where our customers are in the digital world. Our Stylists benefit through increased digital brand recognition, new lead sources, and a stronger digital brand reputation from the get-go. This all supports our Stylists so they can be even more effective in what they’re doing. Our Stylists benefit 100 percent from these initiatives. I believe that omnichannel is a big win for the salesforce, and the company, when done right.
Here’s a term I’m trying to get into circulation, if you want to help with this one. It’s called “H2H”, which denotes “home to home.” This highlights the power of a woman working from home. The consumer is in her home and is connected to the entrepreneur in her home. They may be having a conversation, they’re doing commerce, a deal is getting done, gorgeous intimate apparel is being purchased, a woman is getting confident, and the world is getting better. The best part is that the two people in this transaction—the buyer and seller—didn’t even leave their homes to do it.
H2H commerce is here to stay, and Ruby Ribbon will continue to pioneer this way of work.
SSN: Speaking of transitions, how did you manage the changes brought on by the pandemic, and what was your biggest lesson learned from the experience?
It was a big lesson in humility and learning to pivot quickly when your plans go haywire. The biggest hurdle we had was something we call “operation mindset shift.” When I joined the company in January 2020, the source of our sales was roughly half from in-person parties, and the other half virtual parties. Over half of the revenue of the company was coming through physical shows with our salesforce in people’s homes because that was the way the business worked. When the U.S. president suspended flights to the EU on March 12, 2020, I sent employees home the next day and we became WFH as employees.
I didn’t know what was going to happen next. No one did. It was overwhelming for a period of a few weeks, but we worked hard to get it right. It was a mindset shift. I’ll never forget something that one of our more experienced Stylists told me during this time: “Clint, I put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into this business over many years, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose it because I didn’t pivot, because I wasn’t willing to learn a new skill. I am going to learn and I’m going to keep my business.” And I was like, “You go, girl!” It all happened pretty quickly between April and May 2020 because that’s when the business started to really respond.
We also changed our field compensation plan during this time, reflecting shifts in our priorities as a company. We significantly enriched the selling plan and kicked off a new way of work for our Stylists. Many people advised me against changing the compensation plan, but as a team, we knew the business and our Stylists needed it. The biggest lesson learned from this experience: When the business and the salesforce both truly need it, you can change the field compensation plan, galvanize the salesforce, and create a healthy momentum. It’s axiomatic that every time you touch a compensation plan, you are taking a big risk, and it’s not something we took lightly. However, it can be done when it is necessary for leadership and the company—and we did that in the middle of a pandemic. So, that was another big lesson learned.
SSN: What will your transition back to normalcy look like? Where will Ruby
Ribbon be in a year or two?
It’s going to be a hybrid model from here on out. I think there’s going to be a demand for an elegant device-based business, and that will never go away now because the genie is out of the bottle. People know that they can do this business from anywhere. We are seeing trends like the Californication of Texas. People are migrating, and the demographics of many states are shifting. People have more freedom than ever about where to physically do their work. The allure of that—not having to find your customers at the book club, the house of worship, the day job, or in a local group, is strong. To be able to augment your warm market with the smart and respectful use of social media and other ways of attracting business virtually—this is catching on because you can be more efficient than ever with your hours worked. All your friends from your face-to-face pastimes are online anyway, and they all remember you. I think this will continue to be a legitimate way to build, and I know we’re going to have a lot of women who want to keep doing it. Even though a lot of us want to get out and hug everybody and travel the world again, some people are going to want to be able to keep flexibility.
We are planning a hybrid convention this summer, a physical and virtual event. Depending on how the pandemic is at that time, we may have more people in the room. We are excited to gather again! It’s perfectly legitimate to join through streaming still, and I do think the streaming experience is going to continue to get better, and people are going to get wiser for it.
Ruby Ribbon has a very bright future because we have proven our character in a global pandemic, and we have grown our business in very difficult economic conditions. This is validating to the business model, and the company. In the future, we look forward to being able to help more women thrive. 2021 is the “year of the bloom” for Ruby Ribbon. This year, a lot of the investments that we’ve made in technology and in people will be coming to fruition.
SSN: What does the channel itself need to do just to stay on the upward trajectory, not lose ground, and to remain healthy in the decade ahead?
This could be just as simple as remembering that this is about delighting customers. And that has to be the primary focus, because the fact of the matter is there is no field, no economic opportunity for women, and no company if you don’t have a really good customer base. So, being real about the genesis of it all means being real about the fact that you’ve got to have delighted customers—not just people in a comp plan buying a product.
I believe that we are doing it right, and a lot of other companies are also doing it right. This is where we should be focusing. I think the right way to operate is to consider meeting the needs of customers first. Because if you truly do that, your salesforce will prosper, and they will have every opportunity to reap the rewards in the gig economy. If there isn’t a focus on product quality, sustainability, and the delighting of customers, it’s not a company that I’d want to be a part of. You have to be able to deliver the end result. As Elon Musk said, “Get out of spreadsheets and get on the shop room floor.” The salesforce does a better job of being true product evangelists when we emphasize customer happiness. So, a virtuous cycle can be created when a company focuses on its products making customers happy, and gets its salesforce truly bought into this. The talking starts, the advocacy begins, and then the compensation plan just takes care of itself. If that’s the mindset of organizations in social selling moving forward, we will keep our side of the street very clean.
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