Davies Gate: Watching the Garden Grow

NEW YORK — Two years after giving birth to twin boys, Ellen Davies is watching the growth of more than just two toddlers. <br><br>Davies and her husband and business partner, Jack, have been winnowing, refining and adding to their product...

NEW YORK — Two years after giving birth to twin boys, Ellen Davies is watching the growth of more than just two toddlers.

This story first appeared in the August 16, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Davies and her husband and business partner, Jack, have been winnowing, refining and adding to their product assortment, and have seen their company grow more than 30 percent in that period. While they wouldn’t quantify that with numbers, industry sources estimate that the company does about $11 million annually at retail.

Now, they’re ready for even greater growth. In fact, notes Jack Davies, the last eight months have been a sort of soul-searching exercise for the couple, as they’ve fine-tuned the brand and its distribution.

“The conclusion that we reached is that we are a wellness brand with a predominant theme of gardening and things from the garden — like Garden Made, our first collection,” he said. “Our goal is to be in touch with the rituals and relaxations and with all of the good things mentally that come to you from working in a garden. That was the original inspiration for the company, and that’s what we’re tuning into.”

The company was born 10 years ago, when Ellen, a Rhode Island School of Design-trained artist, stopped making custom-made bath-and-body products as a hobby and turned it into a full-time gig, assisted by Jack, then a corporate lawyer. Ellen did the product development and packaging, Jack the business side — an arrangement that is still largely the same.

“The other focus in the last six or eight months has been on innovation,” said Jack Davies. “Every established company is putting that in the forefront; with the softened economy it’s more important than ever. We have a slew of things in the pipeline.”

Since late last year, the duo has systematically moved through each of their seven collections, looking at what fit each collection’s theme and what didn’t. “It wasn’t necessarily about the packaging or the formulation,” said Ellen Davies. “It was more about whether or not they made sense in the context of the collection.” The two spent the first half of the year streamlining, but also looking for places to add.

The results will begin rolling out in late September. For instance, the Seeds and Grains line, first launched in September 2001, will get a new product, Cardamom Foot Butter — an ultra-hydrating foot cream — which will retail for $24 for 6.5 oz. “The point of that line is to use one seed or grain per product, one that serves a specific purpose,” said Ellen Davies. “For instance, one top seller, our Poppy Seed Exfoliator, works so well because poppy seeds are irregularly shaped. That makes them excellent exfoliators.”

The year-and-a-half old Davies Babies line —?formulated, in part, for Ian and Jens, the couple’s sons — will get Boo Boo Stick, a $10 healing balm formulated with natural essential oils and herbs, this fall. “The boys get hurt like every hour, so I was smearing aloe and other things on them,” said Ellen Davies. “Finally, I decided to whip up a formula that could be duplicated. It’s easy to throw into a diaper bag — but it works well on grownups, too.”

Several of the other collections will add new items as well. Garden Made will get a new stick lip balm with SPF, $5, as well as a new hand cleanser, $12.50. The Perennials Collection — the second line introduced by the duo, which focuses on florals like sage and lavender —?will get a new Herb Rub with Dead Sea Salts, $23, available in four different scents, as well as a new scent, Lemon Thyme, which will be available as an option in all 10 of the line’s products, which include body wash, body mist and lotions.

The Flower Garden lineup of six fine fragrances, each of which retail for $35 for 1.5 ounces, will get matching hand creams, $23 for six ounces. SunTree, an Asian-inspired line of candles, bath salts, perfume oils and home fragrances, will get soy wax candles, a switch from the paraffin they currently use. “It’s a cleaner burn, fits the brand better and soybeans are an abundant natural resource,” said Ellen Davies. The candles retail for $25 each. All candles within the company are being switched to soy wax, she added. A seventh collection is Fleur de Pearl,which focuses on the mystery of pearls, along with exotic blooms.

Distribution is also a focus. Davies Gate products, initially launched in a handful of California-based specialty retailers — including Fred Segal Essentials and the gardening chain Smith & Hawken — are now in more than 1,200 doors, including Sephora and Canyon Ranch. That’s a narrower number than it was two years ago, when the company was in 1,700 doors, but both Davies are quick to point out that it’s been a positive move. “When we launched the brand, it was initially in a gift-store type of marketplace,” said Ellen Davies. “As we’ve grown and evolved —?particularly with skin care — we’ve discovered that much of our customer base is actually a day spa and apothecary-style consumer.”

Added Jack Davies: “We’re moving away from retailers that do not have beauty as their core area of focus. And we’re already seeing the dividends on that. You don’t sell a facial cleanser to a gift store, for instance.” Within the next two years, both believe, the brand’s more focused distribution rollout should be complete.