When Terry Cutshaw and his wife Chikako turned the Charcoal Guam brand into a maker of handcrafted bath and beauty items in August 2019, they envisioned that their products would be in some local retail stores’ shelves by now.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on their business, Cutshaw said, is not so much on the sales volume but on its market reach.
“We’ve not experienced the growth that we expected. We should have been in retail outlets by now,” Cutshaw said in a Zoom interview with The Guam Daily Post.
Charcoal Guam continues to pursue talks with local retailers to carry their products on their shelves, so people who don’t necessarily shop online can have ready access to their products.
Customer loyalty, Cutshaw said, is mostly needed at this time, coupled with a small business’ ability to rethink their strategy not only to survive but also to grow.
“I’m praying every day for all the small businesses out there. Right now, they’re the ones that really need the customer loyalty and everything. I’m happy to see it. I’ve seen it a lot,” he said.
Charcoal Guam is primarily a “Made in Guam” e-commerce business, providing free product shipping to Guam, the Northern Marianas and the stateside in one to three days.
Their daily beauty and hygiene products such as facial soaps, body scrubs, solid cologne and teeth whitening powder are infused with elevated charcoal, used in Asia for thousands of years for its “absorptive properties in wellness and purification applications.”
They also carry biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes with soft bristles, which work well with their most popular item, the Charcoal Guam teeth whitening product.
They sell their products through charcoalguam.com and have maintained heavy social media presence such as on Facebook and Instagram.
Despite the challenges, Cutshaw is glad that they’re already on e-commerce, which has proven to be useful in doing business during a pandemic that comes with social distancing and stay-at-home restrictions.
Now at Navy Exchange
Prior to the pandemic, Charcoal Guam was already working with the Navy Exchange in Santa Rita and other local retailers to carry their products in their stores.
“We were very aggressive with our marketing and everything, but when COVID came around, everything kind of ground to a halt,” Cutshaw said.
Fortunately, despite a five-month delay, the Navy Exchange started carrying Charcoal Guam products in early July, Cutshaw said.
However, they also want to reach out to residents who don’t have access to the base.
They’re hoping retail stores will be able to carry their health and beauty products before the end of the year.
“Now that it seems like the restrictions are loosening a little bit, we’re starting to rekindle some of those discussions; but absolutely, it sets us back nine months in getting it out, readily available to the public,” he said.
They were initially planning to pair with other businesses to market high-end cosmetics set for tourists shopping in Tumon, which is now devoid of tourists.
Now, they’re channeling all efforts on placing their products on local retailers’ shelves for the local market while continuing to grow their online retail.
“We don’t know when the tourists will come back. We like to think January, February. That’s just not realistic. Even if the airlines are flying” at the time, he said, tourists may not be traveling yet.
Bazaars and community events
He said it’s not talked about much, but small businesses such as Charcoal Guam make sales during bazaars and community events such as last year’s Christmas bazaars at the Agana Shopping Center, Andersen Air Force Base, and an event at the Tamuning Senior Citizens Center.
With the pandemic, no such festivals or similar fairs have been held so far this year.
“It was really a good way to get our brand out there, you know, and meet the customers and people that really don’t know anything about us,” Cutshaw said.
Prior to owning Charcoal Guam in 2019, Cutshaw and his wife were already into making products at home, mostly for personal use.
“This business is a passion project for us,” said Cutshaw. He and his wife have three children.
Cutshaw, a federal civil service employee at Naval Base Guam’s NCTS site in Dededo, earned his master’s degree in business management from the University of Guam.
He said they’re fortunate enough that he and his wife do not rely on Charcoal Guam as their main source of income because it’s hard for a small business to survive during these times.
“It’s just a sad time for Guam’s economy right now,” he said. “Hopefully, I like to think that once everything opens up, everything will be back to what it was before. But that might be asking too much.”