Kate Somerville's hero products

Kate Somerville is diversifying its retail distribution.

Under new chief executive officer Michael Sampson — who is about 10 months into the role — the prestige skin-care brand will make four major moves in early 2018 that will define its growth trajectory for the next several years.

The brand in February will launch in the U.K., followed by China in April. In July, the full Kate Somerville line will launch on ulta.com and in August it will roll out to 360 of the retailer’s doors. These three initiatives are preceded by the brand’s exit from Neiman Marcus doors — one of Kate Somerville’s first retail partners. The brand will remain in distribution on neimanmarcus.com.

Kate Somerville — acquired by Unilever in 2015 as one of the first additions in its growing prestige beauty portfolio — is in high-growth mode. Industry sources estimate the brand — founded out of the chic Melrose Place clinic of Hollywood aesthetician Kate Somerville — currently does about $40 million in annual retail sales, but with the new distribution could triple in size in the next five years, hitting $100 million by 2021.

Driving this growth, Sampson told WWD on a phone interview from company headquarters in Los Angeles, is the brand’s straightforward problem-solution approach that has proven appealing to a wide variety of consumer psychographics shopping for skin care in the prestige market.

“We speak to the busy mother, female entrepreneurs, the go-getter and people who are looking for what we call optimal life balances,” said Sampson. “It’s because of the California lifestyle element to the brand. We’re seeing a very large influx of people [on a global scale] who are attracted to California and this balanced lifestyle that is portrayed within Los Angeles. We have the health food individual, the yogi [and] the person who takes wellness as a serious component of their life.”

“We feel these channels also have that customer base and that demand there,” he continued, referring to the U.K., China and Ulta. “It’s better to use all the resources we’ve dedicated to Neiman’s towards some of these other channels.”

In the U.S., Kate Somerville is also sold at Sephora, Nordstrom and on QVC. The brand has its own web site, which Sampson noted is its fastest-growing channel. Kate Somerville has a “small but growing” business internationally, with presence in Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea.

The brand already has fans in the U.K. — cult skin-care vlogger Caroline Hirons is among them — and will bypass traditional retail partners by launching exclusively with an e-commerce site. The brand is looking at Marylebone and Covent Garden as potential locations for a pop-up shop, slated to open in spring. The pop-up will host events and speed services.

Distribution in China will first begin in April via social selling — the brand hope to ultimately end up on Tmall and Alibaba. Sampson noted there is anticipation for the brand in mainland China due to excitement around it in Hong Kong.

Ulta will carry the entire Kate Somerville assortment, with a focus on the brand’s hero franchises: ExfoliKate, antiacne line EradiKate, the antiaging Wrinkle Warrior. Other cult items include the Goat’s Milk franchise. “The Ulta consumer demographic is a little older than Sephora and younger than Nordstom, so we have this middle layer we’ve missed and now can capture,” said Sampson.

Industry sources estimate Kate Somerville is growing at consistent double-digit rate, which Sampson attributes to product innovation. In December, the brand launched exclusively at Sephora the Tight’n Cryogenic Tightening Gel, an aerosol-spray mask said to instantly tighten the skin’s surface and provide long-term improvements in the appearance of firmness. The mask retails for $125.

“The positioning of the brand has been really good,” said Sampson. “[Kate herself] isn’t a doctor so she’s not one of these doctor brands, but she’s not this wealthy individual who just said, ‘I want to create a line.’ She was a child growing up on her father’s goat’s milk farm and her mother used goat’s milk to heal skin conditions. There’s a truth to the brand that relates very well, and now that we have this [excitement around] California, the brand’s equity continues to build.”

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