At Savor Beauty, Women Don’t Have To Lavish Time On Self-Care To Lavish Their Skin With Good Ingredients
In an era in which no one has time for anything, Angela Jia Kim, founder of product line and Manhattan spa Savor Beauty, endeavors to make effective natural skincare as time-efficient as possible. Her natural, Korean-inspired treatments and products are designed to pack a punch in a New York minute. Atop her business, Kim moves as swiftly as her formulas do. She changed her brand name, refined her management skills and adjusted her brick-and-mortar strategy without prolonged consternation. “I have the ability to pivot very quickly,” says Kim, a classical pianist turned self-care savant. Beauty Independent talked to her about business shifts at Savor Beauty, her decision to open a spa, the importance of differentiation in the clean beauty segment, and emotionally intelligent leadership.
What led to the creation of the brand?
I was a concert pianist about to walk out on stage for a performance. I had put on what I thought was a natural lotion on my body, and I was breaking out in hives in front of hundreds of people. It was just so humiliating. I’ve always had very, very sensitive skin, and I decided to look at the list of ingredients. I was like, “What is it in here that’s making me have this reaction?” I was shocked at the number of synthetic chemical ingredients that there were in this supposedly natural product. Just for fun, I went back to my kitchen and started experimenting with lotions and potions. I am Korean, and my mom and my aunts had placed a priority on skincare. I wanted to create something that my mom would actually use. I took coconut oil and blended it with olive oil, and that wasn’t good enough. It took me a thousand tries to get something that was. I was waking up 5 in the morning to try different formulas. I was really obsessed. I think my piano career was conducive to obsessing over it. After a thousand tries, I started giving out products to my family and friends. They wanted to start buying them as gifts to give to their friends, and I realized I had something special. That was the beginning of the whole journey.
When did you officially launch the brand?
It was a hobby at first, but what I did was put $60,000 on credit cards because ingredients are so expensive. I kept telling myself I could sell my Manhattan apartment if it doesn’t work out. It was between 2007 and 2009 that I was playing around in my kitchen. Then, I got pregnant with my daughter in 2009 and didn’t like the lifestyle of traveling all the time as a pianist. There were months I was traveling 8,000 miles, and it was too much. I quit piano cold turkey.
When my daughter was born, she was a creative force for me. I felt I like I had a partner in crime. One month after she was born, I opened up a holiday shop at the Bryant [Park] holiday market. I was literally breastfeeding while I was selling creams. I think I sold $40,000 worth of creams that holiday season, and I realized, “Oh, there’s a real business here.” That’s when I feel like I really launched. I launched initially as Om Aroma.
Because I was a pianist with zero experience and a poor starving artist, there were many elements that were against me. When I look back, I can’t believe I had the gumption to start a beauty business because I didn’t know what I was doing. I can’t decide whether that was good or bad. If I were to advise someone about getting into the beauty industry and they had as little business know-how as I had back then, I would advise them to go work for someone first. There were a lot of tough business mistakes and lessons I had to learn along the way.
What was one of those tough mistakes?
I was concert pianist, and I would show up to every single rehearsal or concert. Even when I got food poisoning and was throwing up — when you’re touring, you would eat food at sketchy restaurants — I would perform. The very first employee I ever hired was for the holiday market. She had fantastic hair and a great personality. The first day, she was supposed to show up at 3 and, at 9, she had still not shown up. I didn’t know people would just not show up. A theme for me has been employee management, and learning how to manage, lead and inspire people along the way. Now, I’m experienced, and I can tell by the way you write your resume or cover letter if you are going to be serious about a job. We probably have 1,000 to 1,200 applicants a year, and we have all these systems in place to help make sure I don’t make the mistakes I used to.
What prompted you to change the name of the brand?
I got sued. There was another spa that felt our names were too similar. I got really upset at first, but I had to change the name. I changed it to Savor Spa. There was the spa Savor Spa and Om Aroma the product line. Eventually, to solidify everything, we ended up calling it Savor Beauty. We rebranded and reformulated, and Savor Beauty was born on Earth Day 2017. Om Aroma was my first try and, at Savor Beauty, now we know what we are doing. I feel it better represents what the mission, which goes back to Korean rituals and is all about supreme self-care. A lot of Western women don’t have time to wash or moisturize their face, and they’re really stressed. We tell them to come in once a month to the spa for a facial and make that their non-negotiable time. Savor Beauty encompasses the notion of nourishing yourself in order to succeed in life.
Why did you want to open a location?
When I was at the holiday shop with my newborn, I would ask all sorts of questions. It was important to me to learn about my target market. When people purchased, I would always ask them about the neighborhood they lived in. They would say West Village, so I thought, “OK, let’s open up something there.” Jennifer Aniston had purchased her home there, and Annie Leibovitz owns a couple of properties. We were sandwiched between two Michelin-star restaurants [on Columbus Avenue.] I was so sure it was the perfect spot for us, but I learned that there’s a reason celebrities live on the street because there are no passersby. There’s a ton of privacy. That was another rookie mistake.
Someone came in and said, “Do you do facials here?” Somehow, a lightbulb went off, and I said, “Yes, we do. Come back in three days.” A lot of spas were using our products at the time, so I had protocols. All I needed to do was hire an aesthetician and transform a back room into a treatment room. The first facial was probably awful, but we didn’t stop there and, soon, we were getting great reviews. I think it’s because the products were so terrific. They are fresh, smell amazing and work. People were responding. We turned a bad situation of not having passerby traffic into a good situation by becoming a destination where people come to us. We’ve been there for eight years, and it’s thriving.
Can you tell us about the philosophy behind the products?
We simplify K-beauty rituals for modern lifestyles. The product line uses a number system. We have a double cleanse ritual that really thoroughly cleanses your skin. It starts with step zero, the Organic Pre-Cleanse Oil that has antibacterial ingredients such as lavender, jasmine and coconut. Then, you layer on step one, which is the Pearl Cleansing Cream. It sweeps away impurities with crushed grape seeds. It also has ginseng root extract, which is a skin strengthener, and rose water to help balance pH. If you are going to do anything before bed, cleanse your skin thoroughly. You don’t want to go to bed with free radicals on your skin that are going to break down elastin and collagen, and age you.
After that, you tone your face, which is the second step. We have five different toners based on skin type. We have lavender, which is a staple and is for sensitive skin. We have rose, which is great for anti-aging. We have neroli, which is a skin smoother; lemongrass, which is very refreshing; and tea tree, which is great for acne-prone skin. These are hydrosols, and we encourage clients to use them in conjunction with other products. You can add them to your serum to lighten the consistency.
The third step is serum, and we have three serums. The Renew Pumpkin Seed Serum is great for hyperpigmentation. We have the Glow Carrot Rose Serum, which is really high in vitamin A. It’s a great natural retinol. The third one is Nourish Raspberry Seed Serum. We call it our line-diminishing oil. It’s great for dry, mature skin. The fourth step is the Truffle Face Cream. White truffle extract is a rare ingredient that can cost up to $14,000 for two pounds. It’s called the white diamond of the because it’s rich with vitamin B that gives you radiance and luminosity. The fifth step is Caviar Eye Cream. That’s going to help with fine lines, dark circles and puffiness. It has CoQ10 in it and caffeine to wake up the eye.
We are coming out with a series of peels. The first one we launched is the Pumpkin Enzyme Peel, which has lactic acid in it, so it dissolves dead skin and targets brown spots. We use the peels in our back bar, and the peel products are a way for our guests to continue their facials at home. We are launching a Yuzu Lemonade Peel — it’s a salicylic acid peel — and a Berry Peel that’s pregnancy-safe. The reaction to the Pumpkin Enzyme Peel has been extraordinary. We clearly hit on something big with it. Up until now, the Renew Pumpkin Seed Serum was definitely our bestseller.
How do you handle distribution expansion?
We are very picky about our partners. We kicked off 2018 with partnerships with Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. We are distributed through spas because we feel that education is a huge component of what we are about, and we love aestheticians selling our products. In 2019, we will be partnering with more retailers. We are definitely a spa-level brand, meaning we are serious at skincare, but we also do well with Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus customers. I wouldn’t pigeonhole us into one area.
What about Savor Beauty’s website? How much does it contribute to sales?
It’s about a third of our business. We are ramping it up big time for 2019. I would love to see it at 50% to 60% of the business. I’m hiring really smart people in e-commerce and digital to press a lot of buttons to figure out what works.
Can you fill us in on overall brand growth?
This year, we are doing three times what we did in 2017.
Have you taken any external investment?
No. Eventually, maybe we will. I’m still experimenting on my dime, and I’m having a great time doing it. Part of the reason we want to focus on increasing online sales is because that’s where the profitability is.
What’s Savor Beauty’s social media approach?
We try a bunch of things until something works. Videos and Instagram Stories work best. We try to provide interactive Instagram Stories. We do a lot of Korean beauty master classes, and the people who come to those provide a lot of user-generated content. The majority of our clients are in their 30s and 40s. They can afford to come in for a facial, and they are not necessarily the people on social media all the time. But we just had an event, and people came in droves. I would ask them how they heard about us, and they said it was through somebody, so I think our social media is gaining traction.
What’s a tweak you made to the business that’s been impactful?
I will tell you one that’s tangible and one that’s not. The rebrand was huge for us. The first six months, we saw a major dip in sales because people didn’t recognize the brand. We had to reeducate our consumers, and do a lot of content and outreach around it. In the end, it really brought the brand together. The other thing that’s not so tangible is my mindset, investing in myself as a leader, and being laser-focused on people development. I hired a management coach and said, “I need to learn how to manage and coach people to take them to the next level.” We have emotional leadership classes now for my managers. I’m ramping up our self-care content, and I teach my employees time management. We have Savor life planners that really help them prioritize the day and take care of themselves. I need to teach them to lead other people in a really emotionally intelligent way. I’m hoping that, after they are done with all this emotional intelligence training, it will help them outside their professional lives.
What do you see happening in the clean beauty arena?
Brands are really going to have to stand out with a mission beyond the ingredients. At Savor, I feel very strong that what we are about is products that are tools to achieve inner and outer beauty. I think cosmetics brands are going to be encompassing more lifestyle statements centered around their mission and what they are doing to make the world a better place to live in.
What are some long-term goals for Savor Beauty?
If you told me 10 years ago this is where I would be, I would have said, “You are crazy!” I really want to build a company of leaders that are interested in emotional intelligence and a company that’s about women’s empowerment. It could be that we open more spas. It could be that we partner with major national retailers. It could be that we build a really tremendous e-commerce business. I’m open to a lot of different pathways.