Clean Beauty Pioneer Lather Adds Two California Stores To Its Retail Network
When Lather opened its first store in Pasadena, Calif., two decades ago, it was a strategic move to play to the clean beauty brand’s inside-the-jar strengths.
“At the time, there was so much emphasis on beauty product packaging, and it was so expensive. I wanted to have my packaging very minimal, and we were able to do that and spend money on the ingredients by not having to compete on the shelves with everybody,” says founder Emilie Davidson Hoyt. “The retail store allowed us to get to know our customers, and walk them through the line and explain why I felt it was important to use the ingredients I used.”
Today, Lather’s retail remains strategically advantageous to help the brand stand out in a clean beauty field that’s become incredibly crowded and make it memorable to customers increasingly accustomed to shopping for price and convenience in impersonal digital environments. The brand is accelerating its store network, now at four units, with two upcoming California locations. A store at the Long Beach development 2nd and PCH is slated to open next month, and one at City Center Bishop Ranch in San Ramon will be welcoming shoppers before the year is out.
To evaluate retail real estate, Hoyt says, “We think about who the neighbors are and why the customer is visiting that center or street. We are also thinking about our customer database and where our customers live. Do we have pockets of people that we have noticed order from an area or have we done successful events there?”
Lather’s Long Beach store neighbor is Warby Parker, and other tenants at the imminent 2nd and PCH development will be Whole Foods, Urban Outfitters, Athleta, Lulemon, Be Fit Pilates and Gorjana. At City Center Bishop Ranch, Lather joins Sephora, Madewell, Anthropologie, Equinox, LaserAway and Pottery Barn on the directory of shops and fitness destinations.
“The retail store allowed us to get to know our customers, and walk them through the line and explain why I felt it was important to use the ingredients I used.”
The size of Lather stores is ideally 700 square feet and, although the brand doesn’t have a set number of locations it’s attempting to reach after the California additions, it’s looking for expansion opportunities. Year to date, same-store sales at the brand’s locations have been up nearly 30%. Lather’s hospitality and wholesale divisions together constitute a larger portion of its business than retail, but Hoyt foresees retail approaching 50% of its revenue in the years to come.
In choosing locations, Hoyt pays close attention to store economics and her brand’s relationship with the landlord. “Landlords today are very open-minded in structuring their terms. So, it’s not always necessarily the 10-year lease that maybe it used to be, and we like to talk to the landlord about what protects us if this isn’t a good fit, and it’s not working for both of us,” she says. “While landlords recently have been incredibly open to that, it’s not as easy as people think to get leases in the great centers. There’s a ton of competition.”
And there’s a ton of competition for customers’ time. To draw them to stores, providing a unique experience is more crucial than ever. Lather’s locations contain sinks to encourage shoppers to try products and blending bars for creating customized essential oil blends. Hoyt acknowledges the blending bars aren’t huge profit centers for Lather’s stores, but they’re impactful for forging bonds with customers.
“People really love interacting with the oil and telling us what they are looking for, and we love to share the story of where the oils came from. We learn about them, and they learn a ton about us,” says Hoyt. “We keep everyone’s recipe, and we are able to track different trends in oils. We can see if everyone is coming in excited about chamomile or cardamom, for example, and what the seasonal changes are.”
“If you’re going to have any hope of surviving, you need to have excitement. People want to learn and see new things.”
The experience goes well beyond blending bars at Lather’s locations. Events are integral to it. Hoyt details that the brand hosts two main kinds of in-store events: Pamper parties for which hosts receive a $50 gift card, and guests take home goodie bags and are privy to 10% off products; and nonprofit fundraisers during which 20% of the proceeds is dedicated to a charity. In cities with Lather stores, the brand has the staff and point-of-sale system to easily host pop-ups at co-working spots, offices and retailers. In the past, it’s done pop-ups at West Elm and Williams-Sonoma.
Bestselling products vary from location to location due to climate, local demographics, events and the enthusiasm of the staff. In its Fairfax, Va., location, Hoyt mentions masks perform well because facial mask parties are held frequently. In dry and hot Phoenix, Lather’s moisturizing Australian Plum Night Crème and Honey Moisture Mask are standouts. In Pasadena, the Ultra Mild Face Wash, Bamboo Lemongrass Foaming Body Scrub and olive oil soaps are strong sellers. Products are arranged by skin concern within Lather’s stores.
Currently, the brand is spotlighting its 20th anniversary product Celebration Body Scrub, a limited-edition twist on its hero item Bamboo Lemongrass Foaming Body Scrub with Indian botanicals. A dollar from each sale of the scrub is committed to Sundara, an organization that hires women in India and Myanmar to turn old hotel soaps into new bars. At Lather’s stores, Sundara is featured, and Hoyt emphasizes it’s critical for the locations to stay fresh with rotating merchandising and activations.
“If you’re going to have any hope of surviving, you need to have excitement. People want to learn and see new things,” she says. “If it’s the same story you’ve had, there’s almost no reason to be anymore.”