The economic impacts of the pandemic have profoundly affected the majority of people in the United States. The unemployment rate peaked in April 2020, to a major 14.8%. Though it declined to 6.7% in December 2020, many people are still struggling to find employment again, pay their bills, or put food on the table.
The current global pandemic has arguably hit small businesses the hardest. From having to lay off employees to see sales drop, many companies have struggled to stay afloat over the past year.
Like many other small businesses, Bettina Cosmetics had to send many of their employees to work from home when the pandemic hit. Those with manufacturing jobs had to file for unemployment with the hope that their jobs would still be accessible after the pandemic was over. Luckily, the light at the end of the tunnel was nearer than most have experienced.
This is the story of Bettina Cosmetics, a brilliant tale of the struggles of a small business surviving the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bettina Mercado is the CEO of Bettina Cosmetics, which has been operating from Puerto Rico for over 40 years. Her parents established the business in 1963 to be importers and distributors of independent Italian cosmetics. Named M & J, Inc. initially, many of the names of the colors they manufactured became “Italianized,” like Julietta and Bettina. The Bettina color sold so much and did so well that her mom was convinced that that name was blessed and chose that name for her daughter.
Though her family’s backbone was their company, they also utilized their business to help their children through college. This was how Bettina was able to get her education at NYU, where she studied acting. She spent ten years in New York growing her acting career and eventually moved back to Puerto Rico to take over the family business.
If Bettina had not taken over the family business, her parents would have resorted to their backup plan of selling their company. “I thought to myself, this is a business that my parents put their entire lives into, and they had already had it for 40 years when I took over. Almost 40 years. […] It was not fair for them to just lose everything when they had four children to go to, and I said, ‘Okay, let’s do something. I’ll give it a chance,’” she shared with Belatina News. Her parents sold her the company in 2013, and she changed the name from M&J Inc. to Bettina Cosmetics.
Though her formal education was not in business administration or accounting, her background as an actress made her feel confident in knowing the quality of cosmetic products. Bettina was determined to fully understand their products and their market, so she began asking people in the community what they thought of the Bettina Brand.
To her surprise, many folks loved Bettina cosmetics. Because of the products’ affordability and quality, the nail products were well-known, and Bettina realized that they already had some sort of equity within the market.
Bettina went to all of the stores in Puerto Rico that sold beauty products, and after trying on liquid foundations and powders at each, she realized that none complemented her skin color.
“I tried so many products, and they were too peach or too pink or too neutral or ashy,” said Bettina. “And that’s when I realized that we needed color cosmetics for our skin tones, and I started developing liquid foundation and compact powder as the first step into what Bettina could eventually become,” she continued. From then on, the most important sentiment underlying their marketing was that “[they] were from Puerto Rico and that [they] were developing something that was good for us and took care of our bodies.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Bettina Cosmetics had already survived one crisis –– Hurricane Maria in 2017. After building resiliency from that obstacle, CEO Bettina Mercado hustled to get as much help as possible for the business and its employees when the global pandemic hit.
Luckily, only about 30 days into the pandemic, Bettina got a call from Walgreens, whose supply for nail polish shot up due to people no longer going to spas for manicures during the pandemic. This call was a lifesaver for the company, and Bettina was able to bring back all of her manufacturing employees. She has not laid off any employee and has now supplied all 602 stores in Florida to sell Bettina Cosmetics nail polish.
The story of Bettina Cosmetics is a reminder to support small businesses and shop local, now more than ever.