Cheryl Fork of FORK & MELON on her first major retail partnership, staying grounded, and building a digital footprint
Describe your business in a few words?
FORK & MELON is an elevated line of non-toxic hand & body care, created to bring clean luxury to your daily routine without making it complicated.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I had started cleaning up my own beauty routine and the products I was using in my home, as my husband and I were trying to start a family. I was looking for some of the more everyday products (i.e. hand soap, body wash, etc.) that were safe & effective, luxurious to use and look at, and that weren’t priced so high I wouldn’t want to keep reordering them. I also preferred to support a company that was trying to do some good. At the same time, I unexpectedly lost my job when I was 6 weeks pregnant, which was followed by miscarriage a few weeks later – an extremely low point in my life. After grieving the loss, I did some soul searching and realized I wanted to try to create the products I had been looking for myself, and eventually FORK & MELON was born.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
15+ years in Marketing/Brand/Business Management for global brands. I began my career in the NYC fashion industry before relocating to Southern California several years ago.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No – my entry into entrepreneurship was the result of a number of life factors coming together all at once, so much so that it felt like I had to do it!
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
Initial launch was with friends & family with no paid marketing spend. From there my primary focus was establishing our digital presence: building up our social media accounts, securing PR, optimizing the website for SEO, etc. It was definitely more challenging to break through than I had initially anticipated, especially as I was used to working with large budgets & resources in my time at other companies. But building our digital footprint has helped more business opportunities come our way organically, as people find our website via online search or see us on Instagram. I’ve since branched out in many different marketing directions to test and see what works.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
2020 was planned to be the year Fork & Melon started breaking into Retail. Our first major retail partnership was with a high-end gourmet grocery chain in our area, that was secured right before the pandemic hit. The buyer and I had planned to walk the retail floor together to collaborate on a merchandising plan prior to shipment, and we were planning launch activities that included featuring me and the brand as part of a larger female-founder marketing campaign. However, when Covid hit shortly before we were supposed to launch, everything shifted. Their stores were running low on hand soap, so they asked me to ship product to all of their locations right away, rather than the prior plan to test it in a few stores with thoughtful merchandising. It resulted in a larger order up front, but because we weren’t able to properly merchandise or train the sales staff (due to covid restrictions), our products were poorly displayed in hard-to-find locations, and they didn’t generate the sell-through needed for reordering.
I learned so much through the process. Much of it I couldn’t control, but it reinforced how important things like proper display, placement on the shelf, and staff training are to set your products up for success at retail. Now that more retailers are beginning to re-open at higher capacity and we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel with the pandemic, we’re in a better position to begin a stronger retail push.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I’m proud that I’ve made it this far and have stuck with it despite the many challenges. There have been notable achievements like seeing my product on Good Morning America and taking my mom to shop my products at a major retailer. Soon I will see our products in the hotel rooms of a gorgeous luxury hotel that’s opening next month. Those are all really exciting! But one of the things I’m most proud of is when I get emails or other feedback from customers saying they are in love with the products and that using Fork & Melon has improved their life in some way. It’s so fulfilling and really helps keep me going on days when it seems like everything is going wrong.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
Whether I’m hiring someone for a short-term project, hiring an agency, or looking to hire someone full-time, one of the first things I look for is a referral from someone I trust. If I can’t get a recommendation from someone else, then I like to see examples of work the person or agency has done for others. I’m not sure I have a go-to interview question that I ask of everyone – I like to have a conversation (or more than 1), and usually start the hiring relationship on a trial basis and go from there if it seems to be working out.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
The pandemic hindered our efforts to branch into more retailers like we had planned for last year, as many retailers were struggling with closures and/or limited capacity. We also saw some upside, as our web sales grew a lot early on when Covid hit, as people searched online for hand soaps & creams that didn’t dry out their hands with all of the frequent hand washing.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
One of my big priorities now is getting into more hotel properties and businesses that will offer our products to their customers on a recurring basis. Another big focus is continuing to grow our Subscribe & Save program, and gain more of these customers while maintaining a close relationship with them and offering additional perks. Our product line is purposefully streamlined and simple, but I do plan to launch additional products in the coming months. My vision of Fork & Melon is to bring clean luxury to your daily routine without making it complicated – there is much more to come in furthering this mission, to bring a little more ease and joy into our customers’ every day routine.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
When you have your own business you constantly have to shift priorities and react to new circumstances, and 2020 pushed that to the extreme. In addition to some of the other challenges we faced last year, another aspect that was difficult in 2020 was navigating how our small brand should respond to the many social and political issues that were brought to the forefront, if at all. Authenticity has always been a primary value for me, so I found that as an independent, founder-led brand it felt best when I responded in a way that is authentic to me, rather than to try to craft a PR-perfect message that may not be as personal. It may take longer to build trust, but if you’re consistent over time, people will stay with you.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I have picked up so many tips and tricks along my entrepreneurship journey that I wish I would have known when I first started! They always say you don’t know what you don’t know and that is so true.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
I’m usually a pretty grounded person by nature, and being a small brand with limited resources is humbling. In the face of all of the grief and hardship of the past year, I’m especially grateful for my health, loved ones, and the opportunity to keep pushing my business forward.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I think the key to work/life balance is flexibility. Sometimes you need to prioritize your personal life, and sometimes work needs to take precedence. I hope that post-Covid we will continue to see companies offering more flexibility to employees.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
Not sure what would be surprising? I am pretty much an open book when you get to know me, but I’m definitely more of an introvert and prefer building great relationships over time rather than sparkling first impressions.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
1) I have a regular morning routine where I set myself up for a productive day. For me that includes a bit of exercise, a healthy breakfast, and a nice shower.
2) I keep a running task list of things I need to accomplish, broken into either short-term or longer-term items.
3) At times when I’m feeling unmotivated or uninspired, I let myself take a break and regroup. Sometimes that means getting some fresh air, making a call, or looking for inspiration from new sources.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Being an Entreprenista means being part of a wonderful community of inspiring entrepreneurial women! I love lifting others up and want to continue giving back.