True Botanicals Pushes Into Retail As It Pulls Back From Wholesale
Inside True Botanicals’ 1,800-square-foot San Francisco store, customers can sniff ylang ylang, rose and sandalwood as they assemble custom scents, receive facials tailored to their skincare concerns with back-bar products not found elsewhere and check out the latest the brand has to offer at an onsite lab experimenting with various merchandise concepts in small batches.
“It wasn’t just about wanting them to come into the store and shop for beauty because they can do that efficiently and effectively at our store online,” says Hillary Peterson, founder and CEO of True Botanicals. “To us, what was important was to give them reasons to leave their homes, come in and see us in person. What are experiences that would motivate them to do that and would be worth the effort?”
In addition to providing reasons for shoppers to visit True Botanicals’ first brick-and-mortar location, the aromatherapy bar, spa services in three treatment rooms, product development station and free in-store skincare consultations foster deep connections between the brand and its audience. True Botanicals is concentrating on strengthening those direct interactions through its e-commerce arm and retail – stores are expected in five markets over the next five years – while shifting away from elements of its business that don’t support them as significantly.
True Botanicals previously sold products at Barney New York, Follain, Auberge Resorts and Violet Grey, but decided recently to no longer distribute to them. Goop remains a wholesale partner. “We have pulled the products and discontinued our wholesale relationships as we saw where the business was growing and how much our direct relationships with our customers really made a difference in terms of helping them select the right products and be successful with them,” says Peterson. “We were around 90% direct and 10% wholesale, and we have shifted to be exclusively direct with the exception of Goop because of its heavy editorial focus.”
Beyond a venue for sales, True Botanicals’ store, which sits underneath the brand’s 4,000-square-foot corporate offices, is a hub for communication between the brand’s team and customers. The idea is to gather insights for future stores, and test merchandise and other initiatives before rolling them out to True Botanicals’ broader clientele.
“It wasn’t just about wanting them to come into the store and shop for beauty because they can do that efficiently and effectively at our store online. To us, what was important was to give them reasons to leave their homes, come in and see us in person. What are experiences that would motivate them to do that and would be worth the effort?”
“What we are really loving is having a conversation with our customers. We want to learn what they are enjoying most in the store,” says Peterson. “In year one, we would be very happy if it pays for itself because it will bring so much to the brand in terms of learnings.”
Peterson describes the store as a California self-care oasis. In the window, a sign reads, “Welcome to your self-care sanctuary,” to announce the location’s intention as an escape from the busy world outside it. Conceived by interior designer Jeremiah Brent, its design is intended to create a comfortable, relaxing and inviting environment with earthy materials and plants. Peterson emphasizes engaging customers rather than racking up transactions is the main purpose.
True Botanicals’ assortment spans 25 items across face, body, haircare, sun protection and aromatherapy, its newest category. Made in collaboration with aromatherapist Kurt Schnaubelt, the brand’s debut essential oil blends priced from $36 to $38 are Stress Relief, Muscle Release and Immune Boost. Peterson shares, “I brought Muscle Release on a hike yesterday with my girlfriends. You put it on and, literally within two minutes, it stimulates nerve endings. You can have a tight spot on your back, and it really loosens it right up.”
Face oils are True Botanicals’ bestsellers. Its $110 Pure Radiance Oil is available in Renew, Calm and Clear options. Peterson mentions True Botanicals’ Vitamin C Booster is another stellar performer, and the brand’s Nourishing Shampoo and Conditioner are hits, too. It’s coming out with a product to supply the skin with intense moisturization for the winter months. True Botanicals’ products carry Made Safe certification verifying they’re formulated with safe ingredients.
“Our overall objective is to become one of the first, if not the first, top 100 beauty brands where every ingredient has been certified to be safe for people and the planet. Then, we will really know we have shifted this industry in a way that creates lasting change.”
Peterson reports four-year-old True Botanicals’ sales were four times higher last year than the prior year. “It’s a really exciting time to be a transparent brand that wants to build authentic relationships and deliver results without toxins,” she says, continuing, “Even five years ago, people would say, ‘I’m not sure people are ready to buy beauty online.’ That’s no longer a question. Our customer is absolutely ready to buy beauty online.”
Offline, Peterson suggests the brand is going to run pop-ups and pop-ins prior to opening additional stores. Additional stores will be located in key markets with strong True Botanicals’ followings. At the moment, Peterson says the brand isn’t seeking external funding to pay for the stores or fuel expansion generally. True Botanicals raised roughly $14 million in two rounds from investors that include Sonoma Brands, Unilever Ventures and Cue Ball Capital. The capital allowed the brand to conduct clinical trials and sign actress Olivia Wilde on as a spokeswoman.
“Our overall objective is to become one of the first, if not the first, top 100 beauty brands where every ingredient has been certified to be safe for people and the planet,” says Peterson. “Then, we will really know we have shifted this industry in a way that creates lasting change.”