Caudalie, a spa and skin-care line rooted in the French wine country of Bordeaux, is sprouting new branches in New York with the opening next week of a boutique at Lexington Avenue and 74th Street. A second, larger store is also on the way, scheduled to open downtown in Greenwich Village at the end of November.
This story first appeared in the October 12, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The strategy of Caudalie’s founders — Mathilde and Bertrand Thomas — is to use the shops as consumer recruitment and awareness builders for their main base, the 8,000-square-foot Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa at the The Plaza, which opened in 2008.
Caudalie has 10 spas in the world and a global volume of 100 million euros, or $129 million at current exchange, according to industry estimates.
The boutique that is expected to open next week measures about 300 square feet. The second store, located at Bleecker and Grove Streets in the Village, has 500 square feet of space, which Mathilde Thomas proudly calls “the worldwide flagship of Caudalie.” Bertrand Thomas noted more than once that the couple’s intention is not to open a new vein of retail distribution. In addition to The Plaza spa, Caudalie’s 60-stockkeeping-unit face- and body-care range is already carried in 500 U.S. specialty stores — Sephora, Blue Mercury, Space NK, Nordstrom and 120 independent boutiques.
The goal is to connect with new customers and tell the story of Caudalie and its derivation from the wine-growing process. “We want them to feel the story, to feel the values of the brand,” Bertrand Thomas said, noting that the couple is putting its toe in the retail waters with a sense of humility and modest commercial hopes. The most prominent wall space is devoted to a display called the history wall.
“You’ll be able to understand how we produce the active ingredients,” Bertrand Thomas said. “We think the new customer, they vote with their dollar. They buy the product if they agree with the values of the brand. We want to tell people there is a genuine story, there is a doctor, there is a woman who is committed behind each formula.”
Another prominent feature is a countertop island, whose sides are clad in the same oak wood used in the cooperage at the couple’s Bordeaux vinery. It therefore has been dubbed the “beauty barrel.” A video wall will flash images from their Bordeaux estate.
Bertrand Thomas points out that a very small percentage of the space is dedicated to actually selling product.
To win over customers, licensed aestheticians in the boutique — generally the manager — will give shoppers quickie facial treatments. Bertrand Thomas noted, “We know that if we tell you, ‘Give us two hours,’ you are going to say, ‘No.’ We know if we tell you, ‘Buy this product, it’s great, in two months you’ll see a result,’ you are not going to buy it. This is a showcase for Caudalie. [If we] say, ‘Come learn more about our history and if you can give us seven, eight, 10 minutes of your time, we will make our best effort to meet your expectations.’”
While the owners’ primary objective is not profit, at this point, clearly there is little appetite for losing money. No projections were provided, but industry sources calculate — based on size and location — that Caudalie’s average break-even point is $1 million a store.
The owners have created what they call “urban spas” within existing spas around the country, where five signature Caudalie treatments are offered. While the Thomases say they are not interested in opening more boutiques in this city or country, the company is on the verge of opening units in shopping malls in São Paulo, Brazil, and Hong Kong. “That proves the goal is not to roll out all over the U.S. and try to be better than all the retailers,” said Bertrand Thomas. “The goal really is to establish the brand awareness.”