In Conversation with Nancy Pellegrino of The Route

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Describe your business in a few words? 

THE ROUTE can best be described as Medical Grade, Luxury Skincare. Our products are formulated to highly rigorous medical standards and our multi-tasking range addresses not just one, but the many reasons our skin ages. It gives you everything your skin needs exactly when it needs it most. We’ve combined the best of classic and modern chemistry with potent, award-winning actives from both nature and technology. Then we layered in the science of happiness and packed it all into a perfect airtight bottle!

What made you take the leap to start your own business? 

I met my co-founder Courtney Baber 12 years ago – she was my patient! We discovered we shared a desire to create a skincare brand that was both results driven and beautiful. With Courtney’s extensive executive experience in the prestige beauty industry and my expertise in treating thousands of women’s skin concerns, I knew together we could create something that was amazing, accessible and WORKED! We launched THE ROUTE together in November of 2019.

What was your background prior to starting your own business? 

I received my Masters in Nursing at UCLA and started my nursing career as a hospital nurse in the cardiac catheterization lab. I went on to nurse practitioner school and began working in internal medicine with a focus on women’s health. In 1991, I decided to make the switch to aesthetic nursing, a field that was largely uncharted. I’d also always been fascinated by makeup, and even worked as a makeup artist during nursing school. The field of aesthetics seemed to tie together these two passions, nursing and makeup artistry. I traveled around the country to learn the best techniques, participate in think tanks and find mentors. From there, I opened my own aesthetics business, NP Aesthetics, in 2007 prior to co-founding THE ROUTE. 

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? 

Yes, definitely! Both Courtney and I were paper route girls in our teens – that’s where the name THE ROUTE was born. We both attribute our entrepreneurial spirit and success to this early grit, and “can do” attitude that has stuck with us both to this day. 

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? 

When we launched THE ROUTE we focused on influencer outreach, PR and word of mouth to grow our brand awareness. My patients are also huge fans of the brand and have been some of our best advocates. In addition to our own efforts, we launched with Ulta Beauty in our first few months, which allowed us to have an even bigger voice in the beauty market. The first year has been filled with learnings – in the early stages of a brand you have to be nimble so you can finetune your strategy and grab opportunities that come your way. And you also have to pivot in the moment when things don’t go as planned. We are continually adjusting to our right track to grow THE ROUTE long term! 

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? 

As a Nurse Practitioner, I hold myself to higher than the highest standards. Putting myself into the public eye is new and different for me as a professional healthcare provider. My generation of Nurses and Doctors were taught it was gauche to overly advertise yourself, but now it is not only acceptable but expected. As a result I was a little late to the social media game. I’m proud of the fact I built my successful practice based on word of mouth, one person telling another about my bedside manner, results and expertise. It’s taken some time, but I’m getting into the swing of social media and plan to, above all else, project myself in the utmost honest, respectable way. The lesson I learned was to dive in and to always stay true to yourself. 

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date? 

We’re happy that through our different and unique expertise, Courtney and I have created a brand that exceeds the quality of products I carry in my aesthetic practice that looks and feels beautiful from bottle to application. We are both busy, working moms who don’t have time for the many steps required of most skincare brands so we’re super proud that we could simplify things. All of our products are multi-tasking and deliver transformative results in every powerful formula. 

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience? 

We think it’s important to glean in an interview how passionate the candidate is about THE ROUTE. Our team is small, but beyond passionate about the brand and so we know they go above and beyond each and every day. We focus on hiring the right people because Courtney and I are both strong believers that “you get what you pay for”. By hiring the right people we are able to tap into their expertise and skill sets to help us be a more successful brand.

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Although it was difficult when Ulta Beauty had to close all of its stores as a result of the COVID-19 stay at home orders, we were extremely grateful to have received a tremendous amount of business on our website during March, April and May. Sales skyrocketed compared to previous months. We readjusted our marketing plan to focus on things like #selfcarentine and The Party Peel® emerged as a hero product during that time because it’s a fun, effective at-home peel that gives an immediate lift and glow. We all need that right now with video calls all day or just when we want to feel a little happier at the end of the day. 

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years? 

In addition to Ulta Beauty and our own website, THE ROUTE just launched at Dermstore.com and we’re expanding our footprint in aesthetic nurse’s offices across the country. We also have some exciting new partnerships on the horizon! 

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020? 

2020 has been a year of challenges unlike any I have experienced in my 55 years on this planet. There have been many lessons but the one lesson that stands out among them is that I am responsible for my own happiness. I started studying the “Science of Happiness” while I was at UCLA and I’m a firm believer in the power of happiness which is why we infused it into THE ROUTE – both the products and the culture. This year has confirmed for me that my thoughts become my reality and if I change my thoughts, I change my reality. I get to choose. This is my power. I choose to be happy! 🙂 

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business? 

This is the second business I have started and they couldn’t be more different. I wasn’t afraid of working hard but I was always the girl who said I could do it all. What I know now is that if I want to stay healthy and happy I need to learn to say no. I could’ve avoided a couple little meltdowns along the way had I respected myself and my boundaries from the start. Being an entrepreneur is never easy and there are only 24 hours in every person’s day, so making the most of each day while TRYING to be a balanced person MOST of the time is the name of the game. No one is perfect, including me, and the more I embrace that and show myself some grace, the more effective I become. 

How have you managed to stay grounded this year? 

I think I couldn’t help but stay grounded given that I’m at home with my immediate family day after day. I had to find common areas and carve out my own private and work spaces. Keeping in touch with friends and vulnerable family on Zoom was the key to staying in touch without imposing risk.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips? 

I believe in TRYING to achieve a work/life balance. The best way is to take things one moment at a time. There will be time when life and work intersect, but the balance is knowing what takes priority in that moment. 

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you? 

I never had a brand new car until I was 50 years old! 

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day? 

  • Wake up and play my favorite music to get ready. If I want to really boost my mood, I blast 70’s Disco- nothing like some BeeGees to make you happy! 
  • Two cups of coffee–the first with organic agave and heavy cream and the second one black. 
  • If I’m in my home office, it must be tidy and well organized. I believe a cluttered environment is a cluttered mind. If I’m seeing patients in the office, I have no choice, head down gloves and mask on and go go go!

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you? 

Being an Entreprenista to me means that we get to create our own happiness. We have choices. We chose to be co-founders to share the burdens but it doubles the fun of the successes. We make the choice of who, what and why and it has to feel good and right or we don’t have to do it. We get to create the culture we want to work in that is hopefully attractive to the people we want to work with. We believe happiness is a journey and it is infused in our products and our day to day message and meetings. It’s not all fun and games, there are some really tough times in the crazy life of an Entreprenista but if your foundation is solid and clear, you may steer off track for a moment but the fundamentals will guide you back to THE ROUTE where you belong!

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