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Kate Bould
Communications Manager @ Yotpo
January 20th, 2021

Q&A With Kemper Brennan, Director of Retail & eCommerce at Kao USA Inc

“When you don’t have an example or mentor to turn to for advice, become that example.”

As part of our Amazing Women in eCommerce program, we’ve been highlighting women who are making their mark in the industry.

This month we’re talking to Kemper Brennan, Director, Retail & eCommerce at Kao USA Inc. We spoke to Brennan about taking calculated risks, what comes next for the eCommerce industry in turbulent times, and the importance of strong women role models.

Can you tell us a bit about your current role and how you got there?

I have the privilege of working with a team of talented brand enthusiasts at Oribe Hair Care. My team manages all non-salon business inclusive of eCommerce, retail, travel retail, and anywhere else we decide to venture across the Americas. I am also responsible for Oribe’s global strategy as it relates to non-salon channels.

I began my career in the beauty industry at The Estee Lauder Companies. I was considering going back to school for an MBA when a good friend reached out about this startup that was looking for a sales rep in the Southeast. I dropped my plans for business school and took a chance. My parents were a bit concerned that I walked away from such a supportive, employee-centric company as Lauder, scratched my MBA, and took a huge risk on a 1-year-old company. That start-up has been the best business education I could have ever received – and they paid me for it.

Over my eleven years with Oribe, I have had the opportunity to work across a few different functions, including sales for our salon channel, leading our retail and eCommerce business, defining and developing new channels and working alongside the most passionate, dedicated people in the industry.

Can you share some tactics or examples of what you’ve done to ride through the uncertainty of 2020? How are you keeping customers engaged? Have you had to make a shift in your marketing?

Over the last decade, we have scaled our business through our relationships with our partners. It is one of the most important lessons that I have learned from Daniel Kaner, Oribe’s President and Co-Founder. Daniel has amazing relationships throughout the industry. We look at each customer as a partner, not as someone who simply has our product listed within their salon, on retail shelves, or site. 

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone. I have had some of the most challenging conversations of my career with our partners this year. Our partnerships have actually strengthened as a result of those conversations. I was able to navigate this with positive results because of the relationships we have been cultivating for years. The trust is there. We are weathering the storm of 2020 together, side by side.

What do you think comes next for the eCommerce industry? Are you expecting any big or exciting changes for 2021?

2020 has been a tidal wave, an upside-down pineapple cake, and, at times, a quick response to recapture sales. I hope that our future is less promotional, that we see less month-long sales. Let’s return to storytelling and connecting with our consumers for the long-term game. Otherwise, it’s a quick race to the bottom. Those companies creating communities and memory-grade experiences combined with commerce are winning and I hope that continues.

Can you speak a bit about what it’s like being a woman in this space? This could include challenges you’ve overcome, the importance of having women role models, and so on.

I have benefited from having several strong female role models, including my mother. It is paramount to have strong women in your life with whom you can talk freely — women that have your best interest in mind.

Once my husband and I decided to start a family, I found myself without someone to talk to about things like: how do you have children, come back to work, and then somehow make it all come together? As amazing as my mom is, my maternity leave and return to work was very different from when she was on maternity leave thirty-four years earlier. Oribe was also a very small, young company at that point in time. I didn’t have someone internally to speak to about managing work and family.

So I decided I would try to lead by example so that other women had someone to talk to if they needed it. I wanted to find a way to have children, excel in the job I love, AND continue to further my position in the company. Over four years and two maternity leaves, I built a team of 13 strong women, grew our business YOY, defined new sales channels, advanced my position within the company, and helped the brand transition to a new parent company. In fact, Oribe now has a predominantly female-led senior leadership team that works together to support one another, both professionally and personally.

Don’t stop when it gets hard. You can do it. It is very bumpy along the way, and mistakes are okay. When you don’t have an example or mentor to turn to for advice, become that example.

What advice would you give to other women in eCommerce?

My four-year-old daughter and I are reading these books titled, What Do You Do With a Chance? What Do You Do With a Problem? What Do You Do With an Idea?

If you have a chance, take it. Calculated risks make life more exciting and the payoff is more than you can imagine. If you have a problem, confront it and work through it. You will be stronger on the other side. If you have an idea, share it. It could be the idea that changes your business or your life.

To learn more about Amazing Women in eCommerce and to get involved, visit our site and sign up for the newsletter, or join our social community!

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