Pūrlisse Does Retail Its Own Way (Hint: Not Too Much Of It)
After the recession forced Pūrlisse to retrench from its retail distribution, founder Jennifer Yen smartened up about her skincare brand’s presence in stores. Today, she doesn’t sign off on going into a traditional retailer unless it makes an impact, and Anthropologie makes a big impact.
“Every time I go into Anthropologie’s beauty departments, I find interesting, niche products. It’s very curated, and they handpick products that fit for their consumer,” says Yen. “Consumers have changed a lot. They are not loyal to one brand like Lancôme. They may use Lancôme’s blush, Pūrlisse’s cleanser and IT Cosmetics’ brow product. Anthropologie is in tune with how consumers shop.”
Pūrlisse, which launches Oct. 5 on Anthropologie’s website with around 20 items, is pretty in tune with consumers, too. The brand has been humming with a mostly direct-to-consumer strategy. Last year, its sales skyrocketed 275%, and Yen foresees similar growth this year. Samples have been Pūrlisse’s jet fuel, and the brand unloads 3 million samples annually through Ipsy, Birchbox and Allure Beauty Box.
“I’m so appreciative of the online business now. We shipped out 500,000 samples [of Tinted Moist Cream SPF 30] with Ipsy in May, and it became a bestseller,” says Yen. “How am I supposed to get out 500,000 units of product to 500,000 customers in a store? That would take me what, 10 years?”
“I’m so appreciative of the online business now. We shipped out 500,000 samples [of Tinted Moist Cream SPF 30] with Ipsy in May, and it became a bestseller. How am I supposed to get out 500,000 units of product to 500,000 customers in a store? That would take me what, 10 years?”
Yen wasn’t always so digital-savvy. She went the standard store route at Pūrlisse’s start in 2008. The brand entered Fred Segal, Henri Bendel and C.O. Bigelow. Then, the economy crashed, and Pūrlisse’s retail revenues shriveled. Yen decided to regroup for a year and lower prices to suit cash-strapped consumers. When she was ready to bring Pūrlisse back to the retail market in 2011, the retail market wasn’t ready for it.
“The retailers were no longer interested in taking on risk. They only wanted tried-and-true brands that could bring in revenue. It killed our momentum. I was stuck. We went almost to zero. That’s when we got a little bit more creative. I connected with MyGlam, now Ipsy,” recalls Yen. “They needed product, and the more established brands weren’t willing to give it. We had a ton of product, and no one really wanted to take us on, but MyGlam did. They said, ‘We are going to actually drive consumers to your site.’ That was what we needed.”
With an assist from Ipsy, Yen pulled Pūrlisse through the downturn and gained a fresh perspective. Subscription sample services could push beauty-hungry millennials to the brand’s e-commerce platform for profitable sales. Yen sought not to leash her brand’s fate to retailers and only venture to physical locations on a limited basis.
“We approach some stores, and they approach us, but they have not shifted the way they do business. They still want 60% margins. It’s the exact same conversation I had eight years ago. Meanwhile, so many changes have taken place. We really try to figure out who we should continue to talk to and who we shouldn’t talk to,” she says. “Amazon sells more than any store we have ever been in. The whole retail model for small brands never really made sense. Now, there are so many different ways of distributing your product.”
“We approach some stores, and they approach us, but they have not shifted the way they do business. They still want 60% margins. It’s the exact same conversation I had eight years ago. Meanwhile, so many changes have taken place.”
Yen wants to expand Pūrlisse abroad, and she’s not leaving the lessons she learned domestically behind if she does. Yen is evaluating digital destinations such as Amazon Canada and Vipshop in China. Back in the U.S., she would consider rolling out to Anthropologie locations as long as Pūrlisse takes a cautious approach by adding a handful of stores at a time.
“If we can bypass brick-and-mortar in another country, we want to do that,” says Yen. “I lived through the recession, and I never want to live through that again. The way I see it now with experience is that you hedge against brick-and-mortar with direct-to-consumer relationships. Whatever you get with retail is great, but don’t depend on it.”