BEVERLY HILLS — Pola, a technology-driven Japanese prestige skin care and cosmetics brand, is saying konnichiwa — or hello — to the U.S. market with a new spa here.
Located in the heart of the shopping district on the corner of Bedford Drive and Brighton Way, the flagship spa, called Pola Kirei, is the first of 20 planned for the country within five years. The company plans another unit next year in Santa Monica on upscale, boutique-lined Montana Avenue.
Founded as an Avon-like direct-to-consumer firm by Shinobu Suzuki in 1929, Tokyo-based Pola has evolved into a string of skin care-centric spas, with 130 in Japan and others popping up around the world, including South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Singapore. Pola’s 100-plus skin care and cosmetics lines are also carried in some 12 high-end department stores in Japan.
Designed by Culver City, Calif., architecture firm WHY LLC, the 2,000-square-foot Pola Kirei is doused in white, with touches that communicate the brand’s Japanese origins. Granite, a staple of Japanese gardens, is used in a centerpiece table, and vertical lines on the wall hint at bamboo.
“We tried to keep it simple but luxurious,” said Yo Hakomori, a partner at WHY who studied architecture in Japan. “In Japan, [the spas] felt more like a dental clinic. Here, there is a sense of austerity, but it still has comfort.”
Pola has secured San Francisco-based Ammo Marketing to get its message out. The firm specializes in tapping so-called “influencers” — people who keep up on trends and whose word carries weight with their friends and acquaintances. A group of 50 influencers, aged 30s to 50s, is working to introduce the Pola brand to Americans.
With the influencers’ help, Pola estimates that its U.S. revenues will hit $4 million in 2008. The company declined to disclose its marketing and spa construction budget.
Pola Kirei brings to the spa experience aspects more likely found in an Apple computer store, where technology is an integral part of consumer interaction with products and sales people. Visitors spend nearly two and a half hours on their first visit getting a thorough computerized skin analysis and customized treatment suggestions. As an added bonus, treatment rooms have iPod docking stations so customers can listen to their favorite tunes during facials.
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To kick off the skin analysis, which covers everything from texture to discoloration to hydration, aestheticians snap skin pictures and take a skin cell sample from customers’ cheeks. Samples are dyed and examined in a small lab at the spa. Customers are then given a skin score — 100 is tops for an age group — and instructed on which products and treatments can remedy specific skin problems.
“We will let them know from the research and results what they should focus on,” explained Stacey Hsieh, manager of Pola USA Inc.’s salon division. “Let’s say you have dry skin. Even though you are dry, you still have oil secretions, so we look at what will help them increase.”
Pola’s APEX skin care line was developed with information gleaned from millions of analyses and features at least 500 product variations reserved for customers whose skin has been analyzed. The packaging is in muted colors and made to resemble chemistry beakers. Products and treatment included, a first visit costs up to $200. After that, a signature facial goes for $135.
Pola is carefully entering the U.S. market by selecting spa locations and products intended to hone its reputation as a deluxe beauty resource. Including APEX, the company is only offering about seven of its highest-end lines at Pola Kirei and is waiting until 2010 to roll out products to department stores, when it has established a reputation domestically.
“We would like to explain our brand first and have people understand the brand,” said Takako Tracy Okabe, general manager of the salon division. “In Japan, customers know the Pola brand is prestige.”