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SeneGence Ramps Hand Sanitizer Production

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SeneGence International will have made nearly half a million units of hand sanitizer in the next two weeks, if all goes according to plan.

The Foothill Ranch-based beauty and skincare company, which distributes its products through a network of more than 500,000 sellers across 17 countries, has already produced more than 100,000 bottles working with multiple manufacturers, company officials said last week.

The switch was made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hand sanitizer was not one of our original products, but we saw the need and we stopped doing what we [were] doing, of course, and tried to find a way to pull it all together. So many people had bits and pieces of [the ingredients] but couldn’t do it all because of how difficult it is now to get the raw materials,” founder and Chief Executive Joni Rogers-Kante said via phone last week, from her Sapulpa, Okla. ranch.

The company has distributed the hand sanitizers to organizations it’s been linked with in the past. That includes the Ronald McDonald House and CHOC Children’s Hospital in Orange, along with organizations and facilities in Oklahoma, where Rogers-Kante is from.

SeneGence, Orange County’s largest woman-owned business with an estimated $1 billion in annual revenue, also began including a bottle of hand sanitizer free with every order beginning March 26.

Changing Focus

SeneGence, which last year ranked No. 22 among OC’s largest private companies, is one of several local firms that have stepped up in recent weeks to lend their manufacturing expertise, time or money to helping address shortages of supplies or food.

Santa Ana-based Blinking Owl Distillery received FDA certification as a drugmaker and is now making hand sanitizer at its distillery; its efforts were profiled in the March 30 print edition of the Business Journal. Brea-based apparel basics manufacturer AST Sportswear Inc. is making masks, while St. John Knits of Irvine recently began making protective gowns.

“Obviously, we’re doing all the things that we’re told to do,” Rogers-Kante said of how the pandemic has impacted business.

“Most of our employees are at home. We only have essentials that continue to ship.”

The company has always used the cloud-based conferencing system BlueJeans for internal management meetings and Facebook Live for daily communication with its seller network. Those modes haven’t changed since stay-at-home orders were put in place; there’s just greater frequency of those meetings now, she said.

Counterintuitive Index

The CEO cited the lipstick index—a concept created by Estée Lauder chair Leonard Lauder to describe the uptick of cosmetics sales during the dot-com bust of the early 2000s—as explaining the start of a surge in business SeneGence is now seeing.

“Everyone is relegated to their home and we have a home-based business,” Rogers-Kante said.

“Now that the economy has taken a dip because of the [coronavirus] situation, everybody’s buying lip color and people want to start a home-based business.”

The lipstick index posits that sales of “small luxuries” like cosmetics go up in time of economic trouble, while consumers hold off on larger purchases.

Tax Relief?

Rogers-Kante, when asked if the company could benefit from the stimulus package signed off by President Donald Trump late last month, said it wasn’t at the top of her priority list.

“We will divert our funds as much as possible to keep all of our employees employed at their full rate,” she said.

“We don’t plan on cutting our salaries. We are, of course, going to make any sacrifices we can to make sure that everyone’s at a full-time rate for as long as it takes to get through and if that means we’re giving away profits, then we’ll do that. That’s just what you do when you have hardships.”

This is also the time, the CEO said, for people to create a contingency plan if they don’t already have one in place, particularly with unemployment on the upswing and expected to continue to increase.

“Expect the best, prepare for the worst and I’m encouraging everyone to create a backup plan within their home,” Rogers-Kante said.

“Right now is the time to put that plan into action so that, as we’re moving through this, they’re not impacted by what will ensue after this.”

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