Denise Zannu started as a self-taught scientist creating products for friends and family. In doing so, she developed scientifically formulated, nature-derived creations that were both effective and healthy for all skin types.
Zannu has focused her expertise and drive to build a B2B manufacturing company that hosts a retail, professional spa, and men’s grooming lines that continue to grow in the market. Black Mermaid’s sales channels include the retail and spa industries with a plan to export into Canada and Central America by the end of 2020.
Zannu has been featured locally in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Atlanta Business Chronicle, CBS’s Atlanta Plugged In, and Gwinnett Magazine. Black Mermaid’s Bath & Body participated in the SBDC Export GA program and a winner of the Gwinnett Chamber’s Amazing Entrepreneur Contest in 2014 and the Atlanta Metro Export Challenge 20118-19.
Black Mermaid’s Bath & Body participates in national and international industry trade shows for wholesale, private label, and international buyers and has performed lectures and seminars on product development and entrepreneurship throughout the industry.
With over 25 years of experience in education, business, and entrepreneurship, Zannu credits the company’s continued growth and success to her willingness to be open to opportunities and her commitment to high quality, clean beauty without compromise.
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia., it’s time for GWBC Radio’s Open for Business. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:18] Lee Kantor here. Another episode of GWBC Open for Business, where we spotlight some of the most interesting firms that are part of the GWBC community. And this is going to be a fun one. We have Denise Zannu with Black Mermaid Baths & Body. Welcome, Denise.
Denise Zannu: [00:00:36] Hey, Lee. Thanks for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:38] Well, before we get too far into things, tell us about Black Mermaid. How are you serving folks?
Denise Zannu: [00:00:45] Well, we are a natural skincare company. We have been around for about seven years. And our goal is to make everyone feel as beautiful as they are. We have been actually manufacturing. We’re a manufacturing company versus like a retail. We’re not a brick and mortar. So, we service B2B and wholesale. So, we have been available in retail stores across the southeast so far.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:14] So, now, the type of skincare or the beauty products that you serve, are there something unique about them?
Denise Zannu: [00:01:24] Well, all of our products are what we call clean beauty. And clean beauty means that they have been screened and formulated with no parabens, no sulphates, none of the things that would be cosmogenic. They are all plant-based. So, they’re all vegan, which means they have no animal byproducts in them except for … we have an exception because we do use honey. And so, that being the case, they’ve been scientifically formulated but naturally inspired.
Intro: [00:01:54] Now, did you start with one product, and then just slowly grow into multiple products? Tell us about how this began.
Denise Zannu: [00:02:02] Well, it began when I was a school teacher, and I was teaching chemical change to some of my special education students, and we didn’t have science equipment. So, what I was doing was using kitchen science to allow them to understand how science works in the regular world. And we created soaps that if I look back now, they were kind of bad, but they were soaps that the kids made on their own, and we would give them to teachers as gifts every year. And I had been doing that for several years, just giving away soaps.
Denise Zannu: [00:02:36] And one year, I had a teacher who offered to buy some of the soap, and she offered to buy them. I’m like, “Are you sure? They don’t look too good.” And she said, “Well, hey, did you know that there was a huge market for natural products, including natural soaps?” I had never heard of Whole Foods at the time. I’m so glad I know them now, but that was fantastic. And from there, we kind of went out and started doing it. We did one bazaar in the basement of a church during the holidays in December. And when we did the bazaar, we made over $500 in three hours. And I said this is a great business idea.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:14] Now, what made you choose to be kind of B2B and sell to retail rather than be like selling directly to the consumer?
Denise Zannu: [00:03:23] Well, one of the things we wanted to be able to do is to bring out a brand that was going to focus on the beauty of things that is natural. And so, being able to do that B2B allowed us to be able to present our products in a larger market with a greater reach than just selling it online or just selling it as a retail store. So, we wanted a bigger reach. And in doing a B2B and doing a wholesale allowed us to do that.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:52] Now, what are some of the challenges when your customers and like kind of the end consumer, how do you create a product that the retailer then can resell?
Denise Zannu: [00:04:03] How do we create the products?
Lee Kantor: [00:04:04] Well, do you work in partnership with the retailer? Do they tell or do they have input and say, “Hey, we’d like to see more things that are purple,” or “We would like you to do more things that are with this kind of ingredient”?
Denise Zannu: [00:04:17] Well, because we consider ourselves a micro manufacturer, we have a little bit of flexibility in that. When we started the company, we were starting, and I’d really just base it on the interests and needs of my current customers. For instance, I had a customer who was in a wheelchair when I met her because she had MS, and I met her at a festival, and she had been walking the entire festival or in her chair being pushed around the entire festival trying to find bath bombs. And she said none of the crafters or businesses that she had come upon had ever made or ever had that bath bombs.
Denise Zannu: [00:04:54] So, I kind of felt bad, and I talked to her about what she needed. And I said, “Well, if you can wait a couple of days, and if your local, I can get some bath bombs for you.” So, she’s actually been one of my longest-standing customers. We created bath bombs for her. I have tried to give her bath bombs from other brands and other companies, and she says no every time. She is a diehard Black Mermaid fan and customer. And we’ve helped her. The bath bombs actually helped her MS with being able to soak her muscles and relax. So, I’ve watched her go from being confined to a wheelchair, walking to marry, to the mother of two children.
Intro: [00:05:32] Wow. Amazing story. Now, has this COVID-19 crisis that we’re all going through impacted your business?
Denise Zannu: [00:05:41] Oh, yes. And I hope everybody and you and your family are safe and doing well. It’s been very challenging for everyone. I have parents who are elderly. And so, it’s been a big concern for us. We wanted them to stay in place and that was hard because they’re retired and are used of moving around, enjoying going when and where they want, even if it was just a store every morning. But actually, with the skincare line, and we also have a men’s line, which is called Poseidon Collection or Poseidon Men’s Collection, our lines, as far as the market and the industry, mostly retailers are not buying right now. And of course, we know, now, in Georgia, all the retailers are closed.
Denise Zannu: [00:06:24] So, we had to look and see, well, what could we do and where were we as far as our resources and the needs of the community. And in the area that I am in, we are a very close knit economic community and business community, and there was a big need for hand sanitizers. So, we pulled some resources together, and we started manufacturing hand sanitizer. And we’re really lucky because we’re able to do it on a continuous basis. So, it wasn’t just a one shot deal. It is now a part of our entire line. We call it our New Wellness line. And we’ll be doing hand sanitizer with the soap and a couple other products that we hadn’t carried before continuously now to help out.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:07] And that’s one of those kind of unintended consequence, right, where you didn’t go in to do this, to add something to your line. You’re trying to help. And then, now, you realize, “Hey, this might be something that we’ll be able to use going forward after this pandemic is done.”
Denise Zannu: [00:07:24] Exactly. Because we looked at … Not only that, we looked at the fact that there’s not just a need for the general community. And the big question we had was, “Well, what’s going on with the essential businesses that are staying open?” We’re an essential businesses that had the opportunity to stay open, but what about some of the municipalities that we’re staying open, what are they getting? And we kept hearing from the community, in particular, our local city government, it was hard for them to acquire materials or PPE. And so, we were like, “Well, we do have the alcohol. We do have things. We could make the hand sanitizer.”
Denise Zannu: [00:08:03] And so, we make it based on CDC requirement, but we make it. Ours is a hand sanitizing gel. It is at 70%, which is above the minimum standards for the CDC. And it’s actually been able to supply some of the police officers, some of the civil workers in different cities around Metro Atlanta, as well as even I think a couple of courthouses are going to be using them when they return back to work. So, a lot of the essential businesses who are trying to either stay open or preparing to go back to work, they now have a continuous source for product that they knew was going to be quality and they like it. And I keep hearing great comments and compliments about the scent and stuff like that.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:47] Now, you mentioned that you during your Black Mermaid’s evolution that you’ve expanded into men’s grooming and men’s skincare. Have you also expanded outside of the US? Do you do business in other countries?
Denise Zannu: [00:09:06] As a matter of fact, we had the opportunity to be a part of the Atlanta Metro Export Challenge last year, which is put on by several of the Chambers of Commerce throughout Metro Atlanta. And that actually helped our company to get export-ready. So, we’re really excited about that. We’ve gone through the classes and workshops. We are export-ready, and we are working with some businesses out of Canada, Central America, and the Caribbean to be exporting by the end of 2020.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:38] Well, congratulations!
Denise Zannu: [00:09:40] Thank you.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:41] Now, are there any … well, let’s say I don’t want you to neglect anybody, but are there any places that you’d like to talk about where people can find your products?
Denise Zannu: [00:09:54] You can find our products on line right now because we are sheltering in place and we’re practicing good safety measures. So, we, right now, are not doing … A lot of companies are calling, they’ll ask for pickup. We actually do deliver to municipalities who are asking for product in order. But they can order online. We are shipping within 24 to 48 hours. So, there’s no waiting for our product, and they can order it there.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:23] And then, talk a little bit about the GWBC. Have they helped you through this crisis? Maybe weather the storm or maybe open … maybe in the past, maybe have opened some doors for you?
Denise Zannu: [00:10:36] Well, I’m fairly new to GWBC, but I know that they’ve been really supportive. Right when the crisis is starting, I was talking to one of the members and officers, and she was giving me different ideas on things that I could do as far as helping to get the word out and helping to let other companies know about what’s available and about Black Mermaid as a whole and the things that we can do. So, it has been really great. I’ve definitely appreciated some of the educational seminars that I’ve been looking at, and I’ve registered for a couple. And I think those are going to be great as far as helping us build our business structure from the foundation and adding some depth to it that we didn’t have before.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:21] Now, any advice for the business owner out there that is dealing with a crisis of this magnitude on how to stay positive but realistic, and then look for opportunities maybe in places that aren’t obvious?
Denise Zannu: [00:11:37] The first thing I would say is brief. Take some breath. You’ve got to stay positive. You got to breathe, and you got to just think things through. Don’t try to tackle everything at once. There’s a African proverb that says, “Bit by bit, we eat the head of the rat,” which means you can’t eat everything or take everything on at one time. You have to take it one bite at a time and chew it slowly. But I would advise you to look at a different market or look at a different purpose. We re-purposed ourselves. Wellness, it’s not completely out of our wheelhouse, but it wasn’t not our direct market. And so, this shifted us to a different market and a little bit more of a different industry channel. You want to look at those things, as far as look at what your customer needs right now. If you’re considering what your customer needs, then indeed, you could meet those needs, so you’re in the right place and follow that channel.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:34] And this is probably a good time to have those conversations with your customers and ask them because their needs might have changed as well.
Denise Zannu: [00:12:41] Yeah. And that’s the thing. That was one of the reasons we started with the hand sanitizers. Our customers were calling us asking, do you have it or will you have it? It wasn’t something that we just decided to do. We had customers who are saying, “Hey, I know this is going on, and I’m going to start looking for hand sanitizer. I use your moisturizers. I use your lotions. I use your shaving products. Do you have a hand sanitizers or do you have something?” We sell face bars, and body bars, and soaps. And that was another thing that started selling very quickly. We’re like, “Well, we got to have soap. We’re going to go ahead and use Black Mermaid body bars.” And so, when they were saying, “Well, you have the body bar, do you have this too?” And so, they started asking for the other PPEs and other things that we just decided which ones naturally fit into our company’s mission and vision.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:34] Well, if somebody wanted to learn more to see what products Black Mermaid has available or to just kind of learn more about working with you, is their website?
Denise Zannu: [00:13:45] There is a website. You can visit us at www.blackmermaidsoaps.com.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:54] Good stuff.
Denise Zannu: [00:13:54] If you’re interested in-
Lee Kantor: [00:13:56] Go ahead.
Denise Zannu: [00:13:56] … I’ll say it again. www.blackmermaidsoaps.com. And if you’re interested in our men’s line, you can go to wwww.poseidoncollection.com.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:07] Well, Denise, thank you so much for sharing your story today.
Denise Zannu: [00:14:11] Thanks, Lee. I really appreciate it.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:13] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We will see you all next time on GWBC Radio.
About Your Host
Roz Lewis is President & CEO – Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®), a regional partner organization of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and a member of the WBENC Board of Directors.
Previous career roles at Delta Air Lines included Flight Attendant, In-Flight Supervisor and Program Manager, Corporate Supplier Diversity.
During her career she has received numerous awards and accolades. Most notable: Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2018 Diversity & Inclusion award; 2017 inducted into the WBE Hall of Fame by the American Institute of Diversity and Commerce and 2010 – Women Out Front Award from Georgia Tech University.
She has written and been featured in articles on GWBC® and supplier diversity for Forbes Magazine SE, Minority Business Enterprise, The Atlanta Tribune, WE- USA, Minorities and Women in Business magazines. Her quotes are published in The Girls Guide to Building a Million Dollar Business book by Susan Wilson Solovic and Guide Coaching by Ellen M. Dotts, Monique A. Honaman and Stacy L. Sollenberger. Recently, she appeared on Atlanta Business Chronicle’s BIZ on 11Alive, WXIA to talk about the importance of mentoring for women.
In 2010, Lewis was invited to the White House for Council on Women and Girls Entrepreneur Conference for the announcement of the Small Business Administration (SBA) new Women Owned Small Business Rule approved by Congress. In 2014, she was invited to the White House to participate in sessions on small business priorities and the Affordable Care Act.
Roz Lewis received her BS degree from Florida International University, Miami, FL and has the following training/certifications: Certified Purchasing Managers (CPM); Certified Professional in Supplier Diversity (CPSD), Institute for Supply Management (ISM)of Supplier Diversity and Procurement: Diversity Leadership Academy of Atlanta (DLAA), Negotiations, Supply Management Strategies and Analytical Purchasing.
Connect with Roz on LinkedIn.
The Greater Women’s Business Council (GWBC®) is at the forefront of redefining women business enterprises (WBEs). An increasing focus on supplier diversity means major corporations are viewing our WBEs as innovative, flexible and competitive solutions. The number of women-owned businesses is rising to reflect an increasingly diverse consumer base of women making a majority of buying decision for herself, her family and her business.
GWBC® has partnered with dozens of major companies who are committed to providing a sustainable foundation through our guiding principles to bring education, training and the standardization of national certification to women businesses in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.