Skincare Brand Air Repair Flies Onto The Shelves At Walgreens As Part Of The Retailer’s Birchbox Partnership
Air Repair has hit cruising altitude at retail in mass-market distribution.
The skincare brand has entered six Walgreens stores as part of the drugstore chain’s affiliation with beauty subscription service Birchbox and anticipates rolling out to at least four additional Walgreens locations in the spring. The expansion could lift Air Repair’s sales to more than $1 million this year after they advanced 24% to reach $650,000 last year.
“Walgreens is the perfect place for us to be. Air Repair isn’t a department store brand,” says founder Denise Spanek. “It’s for the person who doesn’t want to spend hours in front of YouTube videos or on Instagram. They want a really good moisturizer that works at a good price point. They don’t want fancy, overhyped claims. It’s skincare for everyone.”
Air Repair’s Walgreens launch is the culmination of a long relationship with Birchbox. The brand first sampled its Rescue Balm with Birchbox in 2014 and, including that sample run, has now disseminated some 4 million samples via the company. In October, Air Repair released the product Protect + Prevent Hydrating Serum exclusively through Birchbox, and the serum garnered four stars out of five from Birchbox reviewers. In five years, Air Repair has racked up 120,000-plus reviews from Birchbox customers.
“Our subscribers have been avid fans of Air Repair’s high-quality skincare and the utility of each product since we first introduced the brand to them,” says Alex Azzara, director of merchandising at Birchbox, in a statement. “The goal of Birchbox at Walgreens is to scale that discovery experience and make it easy, efficient, and fun for each customer to find the best products for his or her unique needs and personal routine—in the most convenient place. A tried-and-true Birchbox customer-favorite brand, Air Repair immediately grasped our vision for this next phase of our retail strategy, and we’re thrilled to have them on board.”
It’s taken a while for Air Repair to find its retail sweet spot. Spanek, an aesthetician who helmed San Francisco makeup and skincare destination Visage Studio for a quarter century, is a frequent traveler and often bought unique products from indie beauty brands during her travels to bring back to her clientele. She began to notice there weren’t products addressing the effects of travel, climate change and pollution. In 2010, before anti-pollution skincare was a thing, Spanek established Air Repair to combat the influence of those elements on the skin. She shelled out $50,000 to $75,000 to get it off the ground.
“It’s for the person who doesn’t want to spend hours in front of YouTube videos or on Instagram. They want a really good moisturizer that works at a good price point. They don’t want fancy, overhyped claims. It’s skincare for everyone.”
Early on, Air Repair focused heavily on travel-related retail. It was in Harmon Pharmacy airport stores, for example, but they ultimately shut down. It was also stocked by travel-friendly personal care e-tailer and vending machine specialist 3floz.com, but it shut down, too. As the travel-related retailers it was carried in struggled, Spanek realized Air Repair could broaden beyond the travel sector.
“What we were learning was that people were using Air Repair for daily care and not just for travel. I would talk about not only flying, but daily stressors affecting the skin that Air Repair fights. I started repositioning the marketing message, and people were picking up on it because they were already using it for daily care,” says Spanek. “It was a nice way to be able to transition into the beauty market.”
Today, Air Repair has nine stockkeeping units. Single items are priced from $10 to $26. A five-piece kit is $49 and a duo is $21. Although Rescue Balm was originally Air Repair’s hero product, its Complexion Boosting Moisturizer is the current bestseller. The brand recently underwent refresh that enlivened its black-and-white packaging with bursts of blue.
“The Rescue Balm is such a unique product. It’s a salve and a balm. It’s complicated to make, and it is one of those products that people, because it is so unique, fall crazy in love with or they don’t get, whereas the moisturizer is a SKU that’s more universal,” says Spanek. “Just by nature of the SKU, if you put out a fabulous moisturizer, it has a bigger chance of speaking to a larger audience.”
“We’ve grown the old-fashioned way where we didn’t take on outside investors and spend big bucks on marketing. I’m proud of what I’ve done and how far I’ve come in my life.”
Going forward, Spanek views mass-market retailers as distribution growth opportunities for Air Repair, especially as they edge into masstige territory. The brand landed on Target’s website following the retailer’s 2013 acquisition of Dermstore, which recommended Air Repair to Target. Moving from the website to in-store Target placement would be a dream for Spanek. Further drugstore penetration is an objective, too.
“The beauty drugstore concept now is perfectly positioned for where people are at these days,” says Spanek, noting the Air Repair customer is looking for effective beauty products at convenient, unfussy locations like drugstores. “There’s a huge audience that doesn’t shop the Sephora’s. It’s just not for them. If I am honest, as I get older and go into Sephora, I get a little wiggly. I don’t want anyone to try the latest trends on me. I want, for lack of a better word, mature interactions.”
In 2016, Spanek, 58, closed Visage Studio and left San Francisco for New York, specifically North Fork, Long Island, to concentrate on Air Repair full-time. Investors have expressed interest in the brand, but they have asked for a greater share than Spanek is comfortable forking over. However, she’s not opposed to possible investor partnerships.
“I am pathologically passionate about Air Repair. This is my baby. I love it, and I’m energized every day when I get up, and I put my whole heart and soul into it. That said, it would be nice to have a major investor take it to the next level and stay on as a creative director, so we aren’t working so hard on the day-to-day,” says Spanek. “We’ve grown the old-fashioned way where we didn’t take on outside investors and spend big bucks on marketing. I’m proud of what I’ve done and how far I’ve come in my life.”