By: Mary Bemis
Founder & Editorial Director at InsidersGuidetoSpas.com
Three leading natural retailers explain how to get in the door and on their shelves
Here’s a refreshing—and important—truth about getting into the green beauty market: “Brands are not really competing with each other in green beauty; it’s a positive movement, and we’re all in it together,” says Romain Gaillard, CEO and Founder of The Detox Market. “Green beauty represents such a small fraction of the beauty world, that we’re much better off sticking together.”
These are not only wise words for an emerging market that continues to define itself, but a fresh new approach to doing business in a market that demands transparency like never before. I recently spoke with experts from three leading natural beauty retailers to find out not only what they look for in natural brands, but how these brands should approach them. Here’s what they shared.
A Perfect, Tiny Showcase for Green Beauty
At 350-square-feet and located in Toronto’s historic Union Station—Canada’s busiest transport facility where close to 300,000 people pass through each day—The Detox Market’s newest (and fifth with two more in the works) venue was open a mere nine days when I caught up with Romain Gaillard to talk shop. Recently renovated, Union Station is not only a bustling train station, but home to a creative mix of the best independent retailers, restaurants, and cultural offerings that the region has to offer. A best-of-the-best selection of businesses, The Detox Market was chosen as the best beauty retailer. “It’s a super-tiny space that looks so much bigger,” says Gaillard, who hired Toronto-based LEED-accredited Suulin Architects to design the space. “There are a lot of people walking through the station, just commuting, who want to get to work and get home. We have a corner spot, and we wanted to create a very warm place that people want to step into.” At The Detox Market in Union Station, Gaillard wanted to not only showcase the best of green beauty, but make it accessible to everyone, beginning with $4 lip balms and $8 deodorants.
While the Union Station shop may differ in size and location from his other shops, how he and his team go about choosing green brands doesn’t waver. “As a company, I don’t try to impose a model from California to Canada. At the end of the day, it’s what the store manager looks at what makes sense.” For example, at the Union Station shop, he curated smaller, less expensive items and a lot of travel sizes. “If you’re in a rush, you just want to try something,” Gaillard explains. Many of the key brands that The Detox Market loves and supports are also stocked. Some of those brands include Odacite, May Lindstrom, RMS, Rahua, and Ilia. A local, and one of his key brands from Toronto, is Province Apothecary, “a beautiful brand from a local aromatherapist.”
Have his standards changed from the humble beginning of his business as a pop-up shop in 2010? “I feel we’re getting more difficult with the years,” Gaillard laughs. “We started out difficult in how we curate a brand.” Gaillard is referring to the list of ingredients that are not allowed in the products The Detox Market carries. “The list is clear, and we stick to it,” he affirms. Every Thursday he meets with his team. There are about 12 people trying products, some experts, some users. They have a discussion with the buyer, then the assistant buyer presents the brand and the story. The products are divided among the team to try, and they meet the next week to discuss, then do another two weeks of product testing. “Brands don’t usually like this,” Gaillard states, “They want an answer right away! Sometimes we start with a negative opinion and don’t think it will work, and then it becomes an amazing brand. Sometimes we look at a brand and love it, but then it’s a no-go.”
Gaillard and his team look at about 30 to 40 new brands a month—out of those they’ll choose six brands to actively try. He says that a third of all these brands have obvious problems: a formula has separated, a scent isn’t good, or “the whole experience is terrible.” If Gaillard and team really like a brand that has some issues, they’ll sit down with them and explain why they can’t sell it, but give helpful advice on how to move forward. Eighty percent of brands find him and reach out to The Detox Market before they release their product to see if the shop will carry them. “We do love to find brands,” says Gaillard. “The ones abroad, a new cool French or Australian brand . . . those are the ones we find.”
Most important to Gaillard? That he and his team collectively, as a group, “agree that we love the brand, its mission and product—and that we’re going to stand by them. We’re a group of very kind people who do want to help people. At the end of the day, we really want to have a connection with the brand.”
The Detox Market Union Station
Best Advice for Brands
- Familiarize yourself with our no-nos, shares Gaillard. “Look at our process and ingredients listed. If you have an ingredient on the list, it’s just not going to work. Don’t waste your time.”
- Present to retailers when you’re ready to launch! “Don’t rush it; there’s no upside to rushing unless it’s clearly stated that you’re working on a formulation. This kind of open dialog works, though we can’t always do it,” states Gaillard. At the end of the day, the entire mission and value of a brand is based on someone, especially if it’s a tiny company. “Everything is based on the founder at the beginning. We prefer founders who are formulators or closely involved with the formulation process.”
- Never have a negative message. You cannot say I’m the best, the rest don’t work, advises Gaillard. “That cannot possibly be true. Don’t go that route. The message has to be about your brand and what makes it special to you.”
A Holistic Approach
Pharmaca is a pioneering retail chain that opened in Boulder, Colorado in 2000. Now, with 30 locations, mostly in the Western states, and growing—the most recent outpost opened in Chicago—Pharmaca has set itself apart as a full-service pharmacy and one-stop-shop for integrative healthcare guidance with a unique and knowledgeable staff comprised of licensed healthcare experts that include naturopaths, herbalists, estheticians, and nutritionists. At all locations one can find a Natural Beauty Bar, offering expert service and personalized consultations. Top-selling natural brands that have done quite well with Pharmaca since its beginning days include Jane Iredale, Dr. Hauschka, and Jurlique.
Curious about how this natural beauty behemoth chooses its brands, as well as what its loyal customers look for in green beauty, I spoke with Mary Catherine Horgan, Category Manager, Health and Beauty, who has been with Pharmaca since 2007.
Pharmaca’s beauty shoppers—mostly women, age 35 to 55—are looking for natural products that are efficacious. And this is where the trained estheticians on the sales floor come into play. “Our team members come in with a sophisticated understanding of natural skincare, and they continue to hone their expertise through ongoing training,” Horgan explains, “That equips them to help customers identify the best skincare for their needs.”
The three most important things Horgan takes into consideration when choosing a new natural brand are: ingredients (what’s in there and what’s not); making sure the ingredients align with the brand; and how the brand will fit in with Pharmaca’s other offerings. “I need to understand how they’re marketing themselves, what their packaging looks like, and I need to know that their message aligns with their ingredients,” she shares. “If a brand claims that everything’s made on a farm, and then they have propylene glycol listed as an ingredient, it obviously won’t work.” Also key factors: What a vendor really means by “natural,” “green,” and “clean.”
Brands looking for space on Pharmaca’s shelves should also make sure that they have enough of a line to tell a story. “It’s awesome to have a superstar product,” says Horgan, “I want to know if you’re eye cream is the best in the world, but it’s hard to move forward unless there are six, eight, ten products in the line. I can’t just put one product on the shelf; it’ll get lost.”
Horgan, who works with between 100 and 150 brands, looks for a cross-section of offerings, so how a brand fits into what’s already on Pharmaca’s shelves is key. “I can’t have fifteen rose-based lines,” she says. “We need to be offering different solutions to different people.” Not surprisingly, of utmost importance is whether or not a brand offers support—including a vibrant social media channel.
“I just can’t put it on the shelf—you have to help me sell it,” advises Horgan. “I may be asking a lot of a vendor, but it won’t work unless we partner together and get support and training from the vendor. I know it’s hard for small companies, but we can’t do it all on our own. Luckily we have a lot of really strong vendor partners that do provide that support.”
Two Brand No-Nos
- Don’t send a mass email pitch, advises Horgan. “I want to know why the vendor wants to work with Pharmaca specifically. I’d much prefer they find a way to reach me directly.”
- Don’t send unsolicited samples. “I always feel like I want to tell smaller brands, ‘don’t send samples unless someone asks for them,’” shares Horgan. “If I’m interested in your line, I’ll ask for samples. If you do have limited resources and want to be strategic, don’t send samples—use that money to work with someone you’re already working with.”
A Passion for Clean Beauty
Credo launched with a website in January of 2015, and opened its first store in San Francisco later that year. (That first shop was a former Jurlique shop that was outfitted with a treatment room that Credo kept intact.) A year later, its store on Prince Street in New York City opened its doors—and just last year, in 2017, six more stores opened. “We opened six stores in nine months,” Annie Jackson, COO, Credo, shares with me. The core customer is 25 to 45. Jackson says most customers shop in a way that when they finish using a conventional product they want to replace it with a clean product. “They’re not familiar with most brands in the store, and they like to explore the brands and like to hear about each brand founder.” Overall, Credo customers are pretty well-educated on the better options, and many come into the store “on a mission and well-versed in ingredients.”
Top-selling brands at Credo include Marie Veronique, Tata Harper, Josh Rosebrook, and Lily Lolo. The lion share in assortment is in skincare, with about 45 brands. The biggest hurdle? “There are a lot of different little ones,” says Jackson. “When we [she and the late Credo Founder, Shashi Batra] started Sephora, our mission was to open stores as fast as we could with the biggest beauty assortment we could. Opening Credo has been very cathartic . . . we could take a measured pace and open stores in neighborhoods that we felt aligned with Credo.”
In the early days, Credo took a risk on too many brands “that needed too much of our help to launch,” says Jackson—and that proved to be tough on her team. “We were three people for the longest time. Now we’re ten. It takes a lot to mentor small brands and grow the business. Unless brands are ready to hustle and have the resources, it’s really tough to be successful at retail.”
Credo receives quite a few product submissions per month. “We get a lot of submissions out of the blue from brands with just products in a box and no more brand information,” shares Jackson. Credo now interviews brands “pretty intensively” to ensure they are set up to support a retail business and know how to efficiently operate a brand. And they are becoming “much stricter with our brand standards,” with new ones being announced imminently.
BEST BRAND APPROACH
- Write a compelling email. “The most successful approach is to get in touch with us and hope your email is compelling enough so that we’ll arrange an in-person meeting,” advises Jackson.
- Be prepared. At your meeting, bring a deck that clearly illustrates your brand positioning and why it’s different. “Bring product samples, and be prepared to leave them behind so we can try them,” shares Jackson. “We don’t have a lot of time. If you have a meeting, with any retailer, bring your A game.”
- Leverage a relationship. Jackson is open to meeting new brands through recommendations.
- Listen to the experts. “I’m always open to giving advice. I’ve been a buyer for twenty-two years,” says Jackson. “Most people are happy to help, if you ask for it.”
Want to learn more about the products these three retailers carry? Check out their online shops:
The Detox Market: https://www.thedetoxmarket.com