Cherie Hoeger headshot.
Running a business

Cherie Hoeger is making waves in the period care industry

In honor of Women’s History Month, QuickBooks is spotlighting the success of small businesses by women, for women. Check the Small Business Stories hub all month to read their stories and find inspiration.

Name: Cherie Hoeger

Location: Boise, ID 

Business: Saalt

Cherie Hoeger headshot.

Tell us about your business.

Saalt is a woman-owned B Corp working to modernize the period and leak care industry for the mainstream consumer. We offer reusable and sustainable period and leakproof products including menstrual cups, discs, and period underwear that are good for both the body and planet. 

What makes your small business unique from others? 

We’re one of the only period care companies that offer both menstrual cups and discs, as well as period underwear, so users can experience a fully sustainable period from a strong brand they trust. 

We also manufacture our underwear from post-consumer recycled plastic — a process which uses less water and electricity, and emits less carbon dioxide than making virgin polyester. So we’re offering a reusable product that decreases plastic waste, is made from recycled material, and is a much more comfortable and dry solution than anything else on the market, reusable or disposable. In an era where cheap and disposable products offer more profit, we choose to stand by our commitment to sustainability and better health for our customers and our planet. 

Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started? 

It started with a phone call to my aunt in Venezuela. She explained to me that due to the country’s political instability at the time, there were huge shortages of basic consumer staples like pads and tampons. (Now that we’ve gone through this pandemic, we’ve all experienced just how fast store shelves can clear!) My family there had to go months without period care. I immediately thought of my five daughters and what I would do in that situation. Our unsustainable dependency on disposables kept me up at night, so I started looking into reusable options. 

That’s when I was introduced to the menstrual cup. I was immediately sold on the benefits — comfortable, healthier, could be worn for 12 hours (wow!), and could last up to ten years when manufactured with premium, medical-grade silicone. I purchased a few to test but could never find one that I was confident enough to recommend to friends and family. That’s when I roped my husband into helping me design one that met all of my ideal criteria. We saw an opportunity to take a highly stigmatized product in the already stigmatized category of period care, and showcase it in a beautiful and sustainable package for the simple, planet-saving, and more comfortable product that it is.

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Your greatest challenges can also be your greatest opportunities.

What is the biggest lesson you learned in the first year?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned as a business owner is that your greatest challenges can also be your greatest opportunities. When we started Saalt, we knew the long-held stigmas around periods meant we were entering a product category that is still pretty taboo for a lot of people. Instead of seeing that as a barrier, we decided to combat the stigma head-on by creating beautiful, high-end packaging that placed the menstrual cup on a pedestal and showcased the cup for what it actually is — healthier, more comfortable, and more sustainable for the environment than disposables. Through our brand imagery and voice, we've been able to elevate menstrual cups to sit on the same shelf as clean personal care products while actively working to normalize periods and educate consumers.

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner? 

What has surprised me is just how much being a mother has prepared me to run my own business. As a mother, you learn to do whatever it takes to keep moving forward, because you literally have no other choice! Motherhood is really the ultimate hustle, and the hands-on experience you get from motherhood really does so much to condition you for hustle and grit you also need to be a successful entrepreneur. 

As a first time mother, you jump into something you’ve never done before and suddenly have this human life you created that’s entirely dependent on you. It’s not like you can give the baby back when the baby isn’t sleeping and is colicky. That baby’s survival is entirely your responsibility no matter how hard it gets. You never just give up on your child and let them fail — that’s not an option when it’s your baby, and it’s the same as a business owner. 

When things get hard, you don’t have the luxury to give up when your business is your baby and you have employees whose livelihoods depend on you. The survival and success of your business is dependent on you as an owner and leader. And just like motherhood, it requires enduring through lots of ups and downs and pushing forward against all odds.

How does running your own business make you feel? 

Marc Andreessen of Andreessen Horowitz famously said as an entrepreneur, "You only ever experience two emotions: absolute euphoria and utter terror.He's right. Entrepreneurship can be an emotional rollercoaster of ups and downs that can sometimes come weekly. Sometimes daily. So it’s so important to keep up your motivation when things go wrong. You need to protect your confidence.

Starting a business is hard. It takes hustle, grit, and a whole lot of unbridled optimism to get your idea off the ground and keep people bought into your vision, especially when things don't go as planned. But remember that problems and uncertainty are exactly where entrepreneurs shine. You've conditioned yourself to question the status quo, problem-solve, pivot, disrupt, and find opportunities even in the most saturated markets. You’re the one in the arena. You got this.

As a small business, how do you handle customer service? 

Our devotion to the customer is unmatched in our industry, so much so that customers from other period care companies turn to our Saalt Coaches to ask their questions around reusable products! Being Devoted to the Customer is one of our company’s core values, and in our messaging, we like to say that you’ll never meet anyone that cares more about your period. Not only do we train our customer experience coaches to give personalized service to each Saalt user as they would to a personal friend, but we also give them a flexible budget that encourages them to go above and beyond to fulfill customer needs and delight them in personalized ways. 

Tell us about your approach to manufacturing and your supply chain. 

Saalt ensures ethical manufacturing practices in our supply chain. We focus on finding business partners that align with our standards of fair wages, safe and healthy labor conditions, and clean manufacturing. We keep toxins out of our ecosystems and out of our bodies by meticulously monitoring our supply chain and sourcing high-quality, medical-grade materials, manufactured using clean and ethical standards. Saalt Wear is made in a renowned factory in Sri Lanka that provides scholarships for its seamstresses, and provides vital infrastructure including schools, health centers, and clean drinking for the communities in which it operates.

What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome or are working to overcome? 

From the get go, we wondered “could we even be profitable selling a reusable product that lasted ten years?” Most successful CPG businesses tie their profits to disposables that you need to buy over and over again. 

I think the beauty was that profit really wasn’t our main driver. From the get go, we were fueled by this idea that the cup was just too good to not take mainstream. We knew we just had to get the word out! The first menstrual cup was created in the 1930s by an American actress. That’s over 80 years ago! Why had we never realized a cup was even an option? In over 90 years, no one had managed to really get the word out about menstrual cups? That just had to change. Fortunately we’re working with a large market of people with periods and have now introduced four collections of our absorbent underwear that people buy in multiples beyond just periods for leaks of all types. The unit economics of our apparel lines have made the business viable for repeat purchase and supplemental product offerings. 

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Don't be afraid to run your business as the strong woman that you are.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs looking to start their own business? 

As a female entrepreneur and busy mother of five daughters, my best piece of advice is: Don't be afraid to run your business as the strong woman that you are. We have such power as female founders and leaders to break barriers and empower the women we lead. Part of that means not being afraid to discuss the real needs of women, and especially mothers, in the workplace. 

Take childcare for example, which is one of the primary causes of the gender pay gap (even more so for women of color). The high cost of childcare is one of the biggest barriers for mothers who want to work. Because our team at Saalt is made up of 80% females — many who are mothers of young children — we decided to address the need head-on by offering a free, in-office preschool five days per week with three preschool teachers. It's been worth every penny. The result is high employee buy-in which is a win-win for both our company and team. Our working mothers (and fathers!) are so grateful for the added benefit because it gives them a chance to further their careers while still enjoying interaction with their children throughout the day in a positive learning environment. It's up to us as female founders to take the lead on finding tangible, creative solutions in the workplace that ditch antiquated work models and support working women.

What is your best advice to other small business owners for hiring and retaining staff? 

First, hire for competencies, not skills. You can train skills, you cannot train competencies. Likewise, character traits are harder to teach than subject matter. Second, find someone who you won't have to manage. Someone who you can show your vision to and trust that they will execute it in a way that matches your values. 

Also — do a work sample. This is the number one indicator of job performance. It’s far better than interviews, better than panels, better than resumes, and better than personality tests. And hire slowly. Interview until you have ideally three, but at least two people you’re excited about. It's like shopping for diamonds, you don't know how the first one looks until you have something to compare against. Make sure to have at least two great candidates to choose from and don't settle! 

For Women’s History Month, we’re talking a lot about the importance of finding a supportive community. Are there any communities or resources that have been a part of your journey? 

Female philanthropists like Melinda Gates and Sheryl WuDunn are my heroes for the incredible work they’ve done in women’s empowerment and advocacy. As a mother of five daughters, their work really hits home for me. 

I’ve also found a lot of value from regular coaching and networking with other female entrepreneurs in collaboration groups and coaching programs. Last year I joined a national coaching program called Strategic Coach that I look forward to every quarter because I always come back with new tools and ideas from the discussion among other entrepreneurs. 

I’m also part of our local Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). Those that are a part of YPO can attest just how helpful and therapeutic it is to have monthly meetups with other entrepreneurs in an intimate setting to discuss the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur and having a network of friends who are there to support you in your business and becoming your best self. 

What challenges do you feel are unique to women business owners?

I feel like the same challenges that drive women to become business owners are also what make us strongest. For example, when women become mothers, 48% of them are driven to take lower paying part-time work, which contributes to the gender pay gap. Despite equal pay legislation dating back 50 years, American women still earn 18% less than their male counterparts. And research estimates that the motherhood wage penalty is between 6 percent and 15 percent per child. The solution for many women to be paid what they should be worth is to take freelance and consulting work, or to start their own businesses where they learn to hustle, pivot, problem-solve, and succeed! 

What are your proudest moments? 

I'm most proud of leading our company's social impact mission to end period poverty globally. Since Saalt's launch in 2018, we've donated over 50,000 period cups and underwear in 50+ countries to provide long-term, sustainable solutions that keep girls in school and allow women to provide for their families with dignity. But we haven't stopped there. We also help fund educational scholarships for girls and employment opportunities for women to maximize our efforts to change the world by empowering individuals. Growing up, I always dreamed of making a tangible impact to improve the world, and it's been so fulfilling to make that dream a reality by embracing the B Corp model of using our business as a source for good through our 2% give-back mission. 

What are the next big plans you have for your business? 

We’re currently at a 45% growth rate and our business forecast continues to get stronger. Our Saalt cups and discs are being picked up in additional mass retailers this year, and for the first time, our Saalt Wear will be distributed in national stores. In the coming years what you’ll see from Saalt is more innovation in the space with supplemental product offerings that continue to offer our community a fully sustainable period and leak care experience. 

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going? 

No joke, “life-changing” is the number one phrase we hear every week from our Saalt community — and we never tire of hearing it. The way our products improve lives every day has always driven my passion to keep going, and it continues to do so. 

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It's time to ditch the mom guilt and shift our thinking to what we're doing instead of what we're not doing.

How do you maintain a work/life balance as a small business owner? 

Work-life balance is such a buzz-phrase these days, especially for working mothers. I prefer the term 'work life optimization,' because the concept of achieving absolute balance in all areas of life is an impossible goal. We are so hard on ourselves when we can't do it all. Friends: It's time to ditch the mom guilt and shift our thinking to what we're doing instead of what we're not doing. You simply can’t do everything well — you'll spread yourself too thin trying to balance too many demands. I believe you can achieve great success in a few key areas if you optimize each day to include what’s most important to you during the hustle and grind of starting a business. For me, those areas are my personal growth, health, family, and contribution to the world. So I simply ensure that my morning routine devotes time to each of those areas within the first two hours of my day before diving into work. It’s really a beautiful way to live because when you give time to what's most important to you and your family first, it doesn’t really matter how the rest of your day goes, because you start the day already feeling fulfilled. 

What’s your “power song” and why? 

I’m a big musical theater buff and have too many soundtracks I love to listen to that pump me up, from Newsies to Hairspray, Into the Woods, and Les Miserables. Any of their climatic songs will do!

To learn more about Saalt and support the business, visit their website or check them out on Instagram.

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